Marine Corps bootcamp battalion commander calls on Private Minkler-1966
(Note: "Minkler" was the family name I was born with; I changed it to "GoldWinde" later in my life)
Mystery question: as you read this story,
guess the life principles that are expressed. My answers are at the end.
Parris Island, South Carolina
I enrolled in the Marine Corps Reserves to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War and ordered to kill people who I would otherwise enjoy visiting with. See Dodging the draft.
In June 1966, I rode a military bus with several other recruits over causeways and bridges onto the Marine Corps military base in Parris Island, South Carolina. At nearly 22, I was a few years older than the other inductees on the bus who were either 17 or 18.
As I had been "forced" to put my regular life on hold for six months to get the draft off my back, I found myself surprisingly content and curious. As the bus rolled into the main gate of the base, I couldn't help but wonder, "What will it be like?!"
I was surprised by a few things
Seventy of us formed a platoon, led by a drill sergeant and an assistant drill sergeant. Our living quarters consisted of barracks with double-bunk beds. Following a strict routine, the lights-out time, waking up from bed, and one-minute-shower time were all enforced. These customary features of boot camp did not come as a surprise to me.
Punched in the belly
I was taken aback by the sergeants' coarse language and the physical punishment inflicted for minor infractions such as failing to address them with the proper respect. However, having been brought up with my mother's emphasis on using "sir" when addressing any male, regardless of their age or status, I managed to avoid trouble in that regard. Only once did I receive a punch in the belly for some other infraction.
"I wish I had known"
I was the sole reservist in my barracks, whereas the rest had enlisted for a two-year commitment as regular Marines, to avoid being drafted into the army for the same amount of time. The boot camp for the Marine Corps was cut short to eight weeks, from the usual 12 weeks, just so they could send as many troops as possible to the jungles of Vietnam.
I can recall several of those 17- and 18-year-old young men, upon realizing that I wasn't headed off to Vietnam, lamenting, "I'm screwed. I wish I had known about that."
I was perplexed that my fellow Marines, who were threatened with losing two years of their lives and even their lives themselves, didn't explore their options more before feeling compelled to take the only one they were aware of.
"Kill those gooks!"
While not entirely unexpected, it was unsettling to hear one of the rifle trainers give an enthusiastic pep talk about our duty to go overseas and kill those gooks. Even then, I had a sense that the purpose of this training was to eliminate any natural feelings of compassion or humanity that we may have had toward the Vietnamese soldiers. Moreover, the trainer was exploiting the in-group favoritism bias to his advantage. For various reasons, which I won't delve into here, I was able to observe the trainer as he garnered mostly positive reactions from my fellow Marines without it affecting me, other than being relieved that I was immune to this indoctrination.
Assistant drill sergeant screaming in my face
I cannot recall the specific offense that warranted the assistant drill sergeant to confront me, but he reprimanded me in a severe manner. Nonetheless, I stood upright and at attention, listening intently to his criticisms. Despite his biting tone, I remained curious if there was any validity to his claims. To my amusement, he made accusatory statements such as "you must be a great disappointment to your parents for your lack of respect." However, he was unaware of the respectful dynamic that I shared with my parents, particularly my mother.
Excused from squatting
During target practice with the M14 rifle, my marksmanship scores were high when I was lying down, sitting, and standing up. However, when it came to trying to fire from a squatting position, I would always fall over backwards. Upon realizing this, the instructors excused me from shooting in the squatting position as it could have endangered others around me.
"The first is for fighting and the second is for fun"
As we marched in formation, I found some humor in the "not in polite company" chants that we echoed after the drill sergeant. One particular saying that stuck with me was when he corrected us for referring to our rifles as "guns". With a firm voice, he declared, "This is my rifle," (hefting the rifle) "this is my gun," (pointing down to his cock) "the first is for fighting, the second is for fun."
Why did the battalion commander summon me?
During my time in boot camp, there was a mandatory rule that all recruits attend church services on Sunday mornings. However, there was an alternative option available. One could opt-out of the services by visiting the Officer of the Day. At the time, I was an atheist but still attended the church services as they were somewhat interesting. However, after a few weeks, I thought it would be more interesting to visit the Officer of the Day.
Despite my drill sergeant's displeasure with my decision, he was bound to follow the rules like everyone else.
How do you decide on your moral beliefs?
After informing the Officer of the Day about my disbelief in God, he ordered me to compose a six-page essay about my moral beliefs. In response, I penned an essay that mainly centered around my conviction of ensuring all my actions were selfish, both short-term and long-term. My conclusion was that if a decision was selfish, then it was moral. At the end of the hour, I handed the essay over to him and went back to my barracks, not giving it another thought.
Again, my drill sergeant is not happy
Four days later, the assistant drill sergeant was marching us through a series of maneuvers on the hot tarmac. Suddenly, my drill sergeant pulled me out of ranks and led me to the battalion commander's office. Though I was uncertain of the reason for the summons, the commander and his XO greeted us with ease. To my surprise, the essay I had written for the Officer of the Day had found its way to the commander's desk.
With a curious tone, the commander asked, "Private Minkler, if you don't believe in the Bible, how can we be sure you'll be loyal to the Marine Corps?" I knew he was likely referring to the Book of Matthew, where Jesus instructs, "So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
Without hesitation, I replied, "That's easy. I'm loyal because you'll throw me in the brig if I don't do what you tell me." The commander seemed to accept this answer, acknowledging that half of the new recruits on the base would likely say the same thing.
To my surprise, he added, "I actually think selfishness can be good sometimes." From that moment on, my drill sergeant liked me and seemed to appreciate my straightforwardness.
Underlying principles that guided my actions
I expressed the value of curiosity
Right next to the value of courage is the importance of curiosity.
Rather than dwell on how things "shouldn't be" like many of the others, I chose to accept things as they were and instead found ways to make the experience enjoyable and interesting.
I didn't abnegate my responsibility to think for myself
Although I acknowledged the possibility of making mistakes in my own thinking, I also recognized that entrusting others to make decisions about my life was less likely to benefit me (and possibly even them). While I was open to listening and learning from others, I asserted that I was the ultimate decision-maker when it came to choices that impacted my life.
I knew that my primary responsibility was to take care of myself
While I appreciate the input of others regarding what they believe is best for me, ultimately, I will carefully consider their suggestions and make my own decisions.
I didn't let what others thought of me affect negatively how I thought of myself
While it is pleasant if others hold a favorable opinion of me, ultimately, it is crucial that I have a positive self-perception regardless of how others perceive me.