As a young Marine, I was to experience Marine life in several forms, as have all young Marines during their tours of duty. So to say my Marine life was exclusive to me and my experiences would be a false statement, as all Marines will have experienced the following at one time or the other. We all experienced the fear of leaving our families. But the Corps would be, in time, our new and even better family, in one sense — that being the kinship that all Marines know and share. I don’t care how old or what color you are, all Marines are brothers in heart and mind. There is nothing that one Marine would not do for another Marine — even giving his life to save another Marine. That bond is with us all; it matters not that one Marine dies because the soul of the Corps will go on forever as long as there is a Marine Corps, and an America to serve.
At different times in the Corps, the young Marine will have experienced total boredom and loneliness for days and months, to the point of being never ending in his young mind. At different times, that boredom will have been punctuated with moments of pure terror, horror and fear of death. That is part of the price the Marine has paid to be called Marine. For the last 241 years there have been Marines, proud Marines. But from time to time, the boredom that I wish to write about has been a problem for all Marines.
I can only tell you about my experiences and other Marines that I was close to. I don’t really take any pride in some of the foolish things that I did as a young Marine, but it did happen and so starts my tale of a bored Marine.
Sometime back in the early ’70s, I was lucky enough to have been re-stationed to Parris Island Recruit Depot at Beaufort, South Carolina after being stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and other duty stations. My mind was still burning with the memories of those lovely sunsets in the evening as the drill instructors drank sweet tea and watched the sand fleas and mosquitoes eat us alive as we stood locked up at attention. The D.I.’s did this as part of the discipline that they were instilling in our young minds and bodies. I think it was just meanness on their part, as this was also done to them in their training days as recruits.
The island was not a real bad place if you were not a recruit. But it was still the “Island” — a place of very unpleasant memories to all Marines who were trained there. A beautiful island of tidal swamps and all that would go with a sub-tropical island, even though we were not in the tropics. The heat and humidity was unbelievable to say the least. Now add to the picture, a picture-perfect Marine in uniform. During those days, the uniform was the starched utilities and starched cover (hat in the real world). Take into consideration this was a recruit depot. All the Marines stationed on the island were examples of correctness, as we were the poster children for the Marine Corps, prefect Marines in all ways. That meaning, I at times changed my uniform as many as three times a day so I could project what a real Marine looked like. The recruits would be, in time, turned into this perfect picture after three months of intense training. This was a benefit for the parents of the recruits to see what their sons would look like. At times, I think it was a bit much, but this was the Marine Corps of that time in Corps’ history. Prim and proper to say the least. It was about pride and still is. Pride in Corps and self.
The boredom was something to deal with; you had to have some type of release. Some drank, some did not, but the most of us did. At times, this drinking did lead us astray and we did things that I have no way of telling you why. It was just the moment that we were caught up in and the shear boredom. We were just seeking for something to entertain our selves with. On the night in question, alcohol was involved.
As we road around on the back roads of the county, it started to rain. After a bit it turned into just a heavy mist. You would have thought that we were in a Stephen King horror movie. I had never seen anything like it — you would have thought it was raining frogs. Frogs were everywhere. These were not bullfrogs or toad frogs — they were unknown frogs. I had never seen frogs like these. I can only call them swamp frogs. I know they had a name but that name did not matter at the time. I will say in defense of the other three Marines in the car that I was the instigator. I was bad about getting things started that should have never taken place.
It was my bright idea to pick up the frogs. I’m not talking about just a few frogs. I’m talking about gallons of frogs — ten gallons of frogs to be exact. Don’t believe me? Just ask Bo Bo Grooms, he was there. He claims to this day that he did not have anything to do with it, nothing at all. Don’t believe it .
Now here we were, four almost-drunk Marines, one driving two miles an hour, the other three walking in the rain with five-gallon buckets picking up frogs. Big ones, little ones — it did not matter. Cars were going around us; none stopped. I don’t think I would have either. Now at the time of the frogs being picked up, I had no Idea of what we were even picking them up for — no idea at all.
As time went by — and we did get soaked in this mist of a rain — it popped into my sick mind of what to do with the frogs — all ten gallons of them. By the time we got them into the car, one of the buckets got turned over. What a sight it was to see. I guess about two gallons of them frogs got lose in the car. The driver and owner of the car was not happy, as he did not really want to go frog hunting . The only light we had was his headlights and that did not help inside of the car. He had no interior lights. The gas station outside of the main gate to the island did have lights and we did stop. I would have loved to have had a video of this sight. The driver was mad at this point and all he did to help was to sit on the sidewalk and curse us all for the frogs being all over the car. We tried to find them all — it didn’t work. He found dead frogs two weeks later. Not by sight, but by smell. You know that might be the reason that he did not let us ride in his car anymore. What do you think? As we went through the main gate the Marine on guard duty just waved us through . Lucky us. How would you explain 10 gallons of frogs to anybody?
When we got back to the barracks, the driver dropped us off at the motor transport and bakery squad bays. The instigator’s sick mind was at work. It was lights out at 9 p.m. No one was in the squad bays. They would not come in until about 11 p.m., the other Marines that is. We took the buckets of frogs and to work we went.
With the lights out, we knew the other Marines would not see the frogs until it was too late. After lights out, they could not be turned back on, except by the Officer of the Day. We put frogs in the sinks; we put frogs in the toilets. We even put frogs in their individual racks (beds in the world). If we could get into their wall lockers, they got frogs. The mission was almost over — now it was time for the recon. The three of us sat on the outside porch and waited. A bit before 11 p.m., it started. You would have thought we were in a squad bay of 4-year-old little girls. The first screams came from the head (bath room). It seems the first Marine to come in contact with a frog was a sergeant that wished to wash his face before bed. He had filled the sink with water scooped it up and did splash a hand full of frogs into his face. I can only imagine the shock of something alive in your hands when there should have been nothing but water.
As the Marines came into contact with the frogs, it got bad. During the night we heard thump, thump and more thumps. Those thumps were the sound of the frogs being thrown into the wall lockers. The next morning when the Sgt. Major came in to the squad bays, he was pissed. Not happy at all. All leave was canceled and the clean up started. No one owned up to the Frog War of Motor T. I didn’t want to die. If not death, I would have been beaten almost to death. Such was the life of a bored Marine on a rainy night in South Carolina.
Robert Lee is a concerned citizen and U.S. Marine veteran who owns and operates Rockingham Guns and Ammo. His column appears here each Saturday.