Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Morning

Forty years ago this morning, the Colonel was standing in formation on the physical training field at the Marine Corps' Officer Candidate School.  

It was a surreal moment.  

It was Independence Day, the 4th of July 1977.  But, for the 250 officer candidates (and their trainers) it would be no holiday.  It was business as usual.

"Business" that day meant 0500 reveille, a rushed breakfast, an hour and a half of calisthenics and a run, a rushed shower, a few hours of classroom instruction, a rushed lunch, a couple of hours of close order drill, more classroom instruction, a rushed supper, and several hours of gear and barracks cleaning -- all the while closely supervised by very vocal and highly demanding drill instructors. 

The candidates knew it was the 4th of July.  They knew that under any other circumstances they would be observing this day in a far different fashion.  And, yet...  there was not the slightest hint in the demeanor of their trainers that morning that suggested they had a clue that the day was the most significant of American holidays. The battle-hardened Marine senior NCOs with urgent, gravelly voices, and company grade officers with stern reinforcing looks, were doing their duty in the same superbly professional way; as if the day was the last day they would ever have to impart discipline.

The candidates had formed into 50-man platoon blocks surrounding a waist high platform on which a drill instructor stood, square- shouldered and square-jawed, crisply barking out the directions of the exercise routine.  With a couple of weeks' reinforcement, the words had already ingrained themselves in the candidates' psyche.  The Colonel's memory of them is as sharp as the way they fell upon his young, non-tinnitus-ravaged ears those long dewy Virginia mornings ago.

The drill instructor sang out, "The next exercise will be the Marine Corps Pushup!"

The candidates responded with a lusty "Ooorah!"

It wasn't lusty enough. "I said," the drill instructor's voice climbed an octave and ten decibels higher, "the next exercise will be the Marine Corps Pushup!" 

"Ooorah!"

"The Marine Corps Pushup is a four count exercise!  I will count the exercise and you will count the repetitions!  Front leaning rest position.., move!  

On the command "move," the candidates dropped quickly from the rigid position of attention to the pushup position, in the "up" position, bodies stiffly planked with heads inclined up and eyes locked on the Marine on the platform.

The move was not quick enough.  "Not fast enough, candidates! Position of attention, move." 

The candidates scrambled back to the position of attention.

"Front leaning rest position, move!"

The company of candidates dropped as one, as if hit by the same stun gun.

"Ready..., exercise!  One, two, three..."

On the completion of the first two pushups, which counted only as one complete exercise in the Marine Corps world of never too much of a hard thing, the candidates shouted, "One!" 

"One, two, three..."

"Two!"

"One, two, three..."

"Three!"  

There is something deliciously motivating about the Marine Corps Pushup...

...for the one leading the exercise.

That morning, it began to dawn on the candidates, as they pushed the planet away en mas, that something was amiss.  

The drill instructor had not announced, in the pre-exercise directions, how many Marine Corps Pushups the candidates would be doing.  

At the "ten" count, wheretofore the exercise had been complete, the drill instructor continued, "one, two, three..."

"Eleven!"  

"One, two, three..."

"Twelve!" 

"One, two, three..."

"Thirteen!"

The counting and the pushing continued.  The planet began to move ever so slightly away from the sun...

Yeah, maybe not...  But, it seemed that the exercise would not end until the problem of global warming was solved.

Sometime later, the exercise concluded.  The Colonel retaineth not the ability to recall the specific memory of exactly how many Marine Corps Pushups were executed that morning.  

As the candidates stood panting and "shaking out" abused arms and shoulders, rebellion brewed.

Suddenly, a candidate, possessed of a fairly good singing voice, if little sense of self-preservation, began to sing,

"Oh, say can you see?  By the dawn's early light..."

A few more brave souls joined in, "What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight's last gleaming."

Five hundred eyes turned to the Marine on the platform.

He was at the rigid, disciplined position of attention.  

So were the rest of the Marines and officers in charge of the company.

The rest of the company snapped to attention and the candidate choir filled the air with the best rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" the Colonel had ever heard, or has ever heard since. 

It was glorious!

As the anthem concluded, the Marine on the platform filled his lungs to announce the next exercise.  Before he could expel that air past raspy vocal chords, another candidate began to sing,

"From the Halls of Montezuma..."

Discipline reigned.  Marines stand at attention for the Marines' Hymn.

Marines and Marine officer candidates sang the song of their people.  All three verses.

It was glorious!

As the Marines' Hymn concluded and loud cheers echoed across Quantico's hallowed hollows, another candidate, hoping to forestall the continuance of physical exercise, began to sing,

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain..."

Alas, there is no proscription for standing at the position of attention for "America the Beautiful."   

"No, no, NO!  Shut your mouths!  Position of attention!"

"The next exercise will be Mountain Climbers..."

It was a tall mountain.  The candidates smiled as they climbed.

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