It never fails to amaze me how certain dates, smells and sights can bring back memories from long ago.
The smell of the ocean brings back memories of my 21st birthday. I spent that special day somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in transit to Long Beach, Calif. My daughter's birthday brings memories of her birth. These include a bitter-cold day in the valley, a rush to leave a Rotary meeting to pick up my wife and take her nearly 50 miles to the Richland hospital and mixed emotions of, oh I don't know, terror and excitement.
But October 20 is always remembered as a day of infamy for my life. That was the day I went to Marine Corps boot camp.
That day is today and it has been 23 years since I first stepped on the yellow footsteps. As I remember it, the day was much like the day of my daughter's birth. It was a day mixed with feelings of excitement and sheer terror. The recruiters had done a good job of messing with the recruits' heads. I had viewed all the movies I could that had portions of Marine Corps boot camp in them. I thought for sure R. Lee Ermey was going to be slapping and cussing me to no end.
The first week of boot camp was more annoying than anything. I and the other members of Hotel Company, Platoon 2109 arrived last on that Tuesday. We were all expecting the drill instructors to come charging on the bus, yelling and screaming for us to disembark. We were instead greeted by a D.I. that calmly told us to get off the bus and place our feet on the yellow footprints painted on the ground.
We then spent the next 24 hours getting haircuts, shots and new uniforms.
I'll never forget getting my head shaved for the first time. At 18 years of age, that can be a traumatic experience. I remember not being able to recognize anyone I had been with and that included the three guys I had traveled to San Diego with. Three guys I had known for almost six months.
When we were finally at the barracks I had to whisper the names of these guys to find them. Being in a sea of 80 bald heads was confusing.
The most horrifying experience came that night when I finally got a chance to look at my newly shorn head in the mirror. I was stunned. I couldn't believe anyone could be that ugly. If I had known then what I now know, I would have immediately started hair restoration treatments after leaving boot camp. But hey, hindsight is 20/20.
The yelling and cussing was kept to a minimum those first 24 hours and the most annoying memory is of civilian nurses screeching at us to wake up.. After being up all night every single one of us was trying to get a few winks of sleep.
"WAKE UP RECRUIT," would be screeched by one of them. "YOU MUST STAY AWAKE."
Oh man, I'll never forget that sound. It still angers me. What followed that day was a week of boredom.
It was so boring and basically quiet I was foolishly starting to think boot camp was going to be a piece of cake. Why was it so boring? It was because we were just in the receiving part of boot camp and hadn't been turned over to our real drill instructors yet. When that day came boot camp failed to be boring any longer.
I remember the drill instructor who turned us over to our regular D.I.s seemed almost apologetic. He knew what the next 12 weeks were going to be like and I think, in some small way, he felt sorry for us.
"Gentlemen, I now turn you over to your drill instructors."
That sentence unleashed a torrid amount of abuse on the recruits of 2109 instantly. We were like, "What the heck is going on? Where did this come from? Who flipped that switch and how do you turn it off?"
It was very confusing and very brutal, which I'm sure is exactly what the D.I.s had planned. To say the poop hit the fan is an understatement. I think it was at that moment when I seriously questioned my decision to sign those papers. College was looking really good at that point.
What followed was 12 weeks of them making our lives hell. The pressure never let up. I remember I got thrashed (the term used to describe discipline in boot camp) on the day of graduation. I was very happy to leave that place. Ironically enough, I was also very proud of having been there in the first place.
Some years I don't think back to my 21st birthday, or several years may pass before something might trigger an experience I had overseas or from a time in high school.
But every single year on Oct. 20 I remember those 13 weeks that changed my life forever. And that's OK.