This is a photo of me from Parris Island Boot Camp—September 1971. I joined the Marine Corps to avoid being drafted in the Army because I was in the last Vietnam War draft pick of the year in 1971 and my number was four, in April of 1971. I joined while still in high school at Father Judge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that same year in May of 1971. I signed a Marine Corps contract of two years active duty and four years inactive reserve duty, and was going to Boot Camp after high school graduation in what was called the “Buddy System.”
I was not in great shape when I entered Parris Island Boot Camp on July 6th, 1971. I weighed about 200 pounds and I was not athletic at all. I went through every battalion, 1st, 2nd, and finally 3rd Battalion, while at Parris Island, being transferred constantly, all through my training at Parris Island that lasted eleven weeks. This always met, going through different platoons in those battalions and different Drill Instructors at every battalion I was transferred in. I had to stay an extra week on the rifle training field also, because I couldn’t shoot straight. I was tutored by an expert Shooting Instructor that week and passed as a Marksman. I also had to stay in the “Fat Body Platoon” for an extra week to lose more weight and gain more strength and to qualify to graduate as a Marine.
During my stay in the “Fat Body Platoon,” we exercised from the early dawn to late at night with little rest. We exercised through the pouring rain and thunder and the fields of prepared mud and the hot sand flea-infested, Parris Island, South Carolina sun. I had celery sticks and skim milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I carried around a makeshift steel bugle stick with a coffee can at both ends filled with cement, to strengthen my body. And every night I had to stand guard for one hour over the rejected recruits, who were housed in another building before being kicked out of the Marine Corps Boot Camp for not meeting the high standards of Boot Camp Training to graduate. They had to sleep at attention every night and we were ordered to wake them up if they tried to sleep any other way.
This extra training I went through made me realize how much more I wanted to be a U.S. Marine, and that I was going to fight to the end to graduate. When I was training to climb ropes I constantly failed, so toward the end of Boot Camp I had to do a thousand push-ups in order to graduate. Both hands were full of rope burns, but I did those thousand push-ups while I was in Platoon 365 and made the D.I. proud enough to enter me in a push-up competition with the other battalions at Parris Island. I only came in third that day, but I did complete those push-ups in the allotted time that was given during the competition.
I was a real fighter throughout Boot Camp and would never give up, always being faithful to myself and other recruits and my Drill Instructors and praying throughout my training that somehow God would allow me to graduate a United States Marine. I went to Catholic Mass every Sunday during my eleven weeks of Boot Camp at Paris Island and received Holy Communion at every Mass from the Catholic Chaplain. I came to graduate by the “Grace of God,” weighing 165 pounds lean, mean and green, in the third week of September of 1971 as a United States Marine and I will never forget the pride and joy of that graduation day, “OhhhhRaHHHH!!!”
“Semper Fidelis,” F.E.Walters, Jr.
Frederick Edward Walters, Jr. is a Vietnam-Era Veteran who lives in Philadelphia, PA. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1971 – 1977.