Monday, September 22, 2008

September 22nd...the day I became a Marine.

Today is September 22, a very special date. Yes...the first day of fall, but something much more important to me. It is a birthday for me. Not the day I was first born, but a birthday no less. On September 22, 1976, I graduated from Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. It was the day when I became a Marine and was first called by that title. It still brings a thrill to think about it.

On June 28, 1976, six nervous recruits left from the AFEES building in Atlanta for the airport where we were flown, courtesy of our dear Uncle Sam, to Charleston, South Carolina. There we were met by a Marine Corps liaison and began meeting other young men from around the country who would share one of the most frightening experiences of our lives -- our arrival via bus. Our "incarceration" had begun. We were limited to a small area of the airport where we were able to have supper, but those who wanted alcohol to settle their nerves found out everyone there was in on the plot. Just like the flight attendants on the flight to Charleston, the airport staff would not serve any recruits alcohol. It was all for the best, because it would be three days before we would be allowed to sleep again.

The ride from Charleston to Parris Island was made in the dark of night. We weren't to be allowed the pleasure of scenery, or to comprehend the route to the island that would be home for many of us for the next three months. As we rode past the sentries, we all realized it was about to happen. We were about to meet the people we'd had nightmares about for months. The Marine who came onto the bus to deliver our "welcome" didn't disappoint. We all flew off the bus and headed for the yellow footprints which would give us our first lesson on how to stand with our heels together at a 45 degree angle. Throughout the night, we were shuffled from place to place, filling out paperwork and having instructions barked at us...more instructions than we could possibly remember. Around 4:00 a.m. we were marched into the barbershop for a "trim". Stout South Carolina barbers were waiting to begin the first step of making us all look alike -- our first step of becoming a uniform outfit. The haircuts were brutal -- shears were pressed onto our scalps, and with long sweeps off came hair, warts, moles or any other obstacles that might reside on our heads. I saw several recruits come from the barber chair with lines of blood streaming down their heads.

Over the next several days we went through medical tests and inoculations; had every possession we arrived with bagged , marked, and taken to a warehouse; were issued our clothing and 782 gear (basic field equipment); and spent hours marching clumsily from place to place and standing in lines for hours. About the third day we were loaded into a trailer and taken to our permanent barracks where we met our platoon's senior drill instructor and drill instructors. While this was another nerve-wracking experience, it was also a relief from the stressful days of formation. We ran into our barracks -- my platoon was on the second deck (floor) -- and found the rack that corresponded to our laundry numbers. Since I was Bohannon, my laundry number was 4, which put me only one set of racks away from the DI hut. We spent 30 minutes standing at attention on our knees on the concrete floor. The senior drill instructor explained a few days before graduation why they do this -- they have to weed out quickly anybody whose knees won't take the strain of prolonged pressure.

Marine Corps basic training takes place in three phases. Phase 1 is a period of complete breaking down of the individual. The stress, physical and emotional, is intense and never lets up. We have our initial PFT (physical fitness test) and begin PT (physical training) and lots of drill. We learned how to do a school circle -- which is usually four even columns. Our classroom instruction did not take place in chairs or desks, but sitting at attention on hard floors.
Second phase consists of the rifle range, water qualification, and various other training. The breakdown period of first phase transitions into a phase of grooming Marines, but the pressure still never lets up. Third phase we finally get to get high and tight haircuts instead of the shaved heads that we've worn through the first two phases. We are becoming Marines. We've qualified with the rifle and passe other important tests; we are feeling more like fighting men.
Third phase consists of intense combat training. We get to participate in military maneuvers and learn important combat skills, like how to throw a hand grenade, how to use the bayonette to look for landmines, how to detect booby traps, etc. The training culminates in several intense days which are now called "The Crucible", but when I was in boot camp it was called Individual Combat Training (ICT). There was also the Essential Military Subjects Test (EMST), where we were examined in 12 areas, including NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical warfare -- which includes a visit to the gas chamber), UCMJ (the Uniform Code of Military Justice), Close Order Drill, Marine Corps History, Military Customs, field stripping the M-16 and putting it back together, identifying various grenades by touch, and first aid.

One of my favorite parts of boot camp was the Confidence Course. There are various structures designed to intimidate and test courage and strength. Probably the most well-know obstacle is the Slide for Life. The recruit slides across a rope stretched over a pool of water. There are three positions: the recruit begins with his stomach on the rope, one foot over and one leg hanging down; at the changeover point, the recruit hangs by hands and legs with head facing the destination; finally, the recruit changes to the same position but with the feet heading toward the destination. Anyone falling has to snap to attention and yell "Marine Corps!" till he hits the water. Fortunately, I didn't fall -- even though two mischievous DIs began shaking my rope for their amusement.

There is no way to put into words adequately the stress, the uncertainty, the homesickness, and all the other emotions and sensations of the training that leads to becoming a Marine. All I know is on the final day it was all worth it as I marched across the parade field and heard that depot band playing the marching songs, then standing at attention as we were first called Marines, then hearing the "Marine Corps Hymn" for the first time as a Marine. Fortunately, one of the benefits of becoming a Marine is -- Once a Marine...Always a Marine. Don't call me an ex-Marine. I am a Marine. And today is my birthday. And I'm still proud, and the "Marine Corps Hymn" still gives me goosebumps and leaves tears of pride in my eyes. SEMPER FI!!! and OOH RAH!!!
  • James O. Bohannon, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Alpha Company, Parris Islcand, South Carolina, graduated 22 September 1976.
  • The yellow footprints that greet every new recruit to Parris Island.
  • The Slide for Life (I notice now there is a "net" -- we were over water the entire time).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Storm Lee Bohannon...the newest member of the family

On Thursday, September 4, 2008, at 12:32 p.m., we welcomed into our world Storm Lee Bohannon. Everything went well with the labor and delivery, except for a brief scare as Storm's heart rate began dropping just before delivery. He is a healthy, beautiful little boy. He was 6 lbs. 4.3 oz. and 19 inches long.

This afternoon I got to spend some time holding him. He seemed to be just fine with me talking to him -- he slept right through it. His big brother, Rain, isn't too sure about having to share the limelight, but his cousin David (my other grandson) definitely loves him and can't wait for Mommy to have his little sister or brother in February. I guess it goes without saying, but I must say it anyway -- I love this little boy with all my heart. During this hurricane season, finally a Storm we can be glad to welcome!

A Survey from MySpace...

If you have a MySpace account, then you are familiar with the Bulletin Board, where you can post something so all your friends can see it and respond if they want. Honestly, I rarely ever check the thing, because the bulletin board gets so cluttered with stuff, and I don't have time to fool with it. But...occasionally I will check out somebody's "survey" and even reply, and it's a lot of fun. Here's a reply to one that my buddy JohnBoy posted. They are the same questions he had answered, but the replies are all mine:


Do you miss the way things used to be?

There are many ways things used to be, and I miss many of them. I miss being a child and standing on the couch looking out the window...I miss being an active duty Marine...I miss college and all the friends I had then...I miss seminary at Emory University...but I'm continually looking forward to new things, even while relishing the way things used to be.

Who is the oldest person on your top friends?

Cris (my wife).

Who is the youngest?

Angel Grace (my sweet Angelita).

Last person you gave/received flowers to/from?

Cris (my wife)...but I've also given flowers to my daughter, Elizabeth; my friend, Terri; my mother in law; and my sister in law. I haven't received any, but I'd like to!

Would you ever live with anyone on your top friends?

I already do...Cris, my wife. Also with my son, Patrick, and my daughter, Elizabeth.

Is there anyone you wish would just fall off a cliff?
Osama Bin Laden and every terrorist, every dangerous ideological extremist, and every street thug out to pop a cap in somebody for fun...and I'd help push to get them started.

Last fast food you ate?

I don't do fast food anymore except under duress, but I'd have to say a fish sandwich at Burger King a few months ago.

What's the most fun you've had lately?

Being with the "young people" (don'tcha hate that term!) at the Hopewell lock-in a few weeks ago playing games and acting silly the whole night long...playing with my grandson, David...and getting to hold my new grandson, Storm, this evening.

Do you have text messaging on your phone?

Don't have a cell phone anymore, but I used to have it -- and, by golly, I know how to use it too!

Do you have a lava lamp?
No...but they are kinda cool, in that 60s nostalgic sort of way.

When you drive, do you use your rear view mirrors?

Yes...and the windshield and windows too!

Do you miss anyone?

Lots of people -- especially my mama!

[Mama & me in 1993]

What kind of mood are you in?

A pretty good one...but I'm sort of frustrated at all I need to get done.

Are you tan?

Some places yes...most places no.

Have you held hands with anyone in the past three days?

Of course I wife, and my grandson

What do you think your best friend is doing right now?

I haven't the foggiest idea.

What is your favorite thing to eat?

Yogurt and raw spinich salads (not necessarily together), from a sheer nutritional standpoint, but one of my all-time favorite meals is fried salmon patties, mashed potatoes, and English peas.
Have you kissed anyone in the past three days?

I sure have...I kissed a girl, and I liked it! :)

Do you like your hair?

It's okay. Sometimes I look like Einstein, but it's okay -- I like Einstein. All of us geniuses have to have weird hair!

Is there someone on your mind that shouldn't be?

Yes...probably...oh, I don't's my mind, why shouldn't somebody be there if I want them to be!

What do you think of people who smoke?

They're human beings just like the rest of us -- they just don't smell as good.

Do you prefer warm or cold weather?

Nice crisp autumn weather, or the first hint of spring in the air after a cold winter.

What was the last thing you laughed really hard about?

Something funny my grandson, David, did -- I can't remember what it was...he's so amazing, he's always doing things to make me laugh.

Could you go a day without eating?

Sure...but I wouldn't like it. And you wouldn't want to be around me!

Have you ever kissed someone and never saw them again?

Yep...and that's all I'm gonna say about that!

Are you still best friends with the same person as the beginning of the year?

Of course I am! Why wouldn't I be? I'm a fantastic friend.

Do you think a lot of people think bad things about you?

I'd like to think not, but I'm sure some people do, but they probably have no reason to. There's a lady at church who for years refuses to speak to me, treats me very rudely whenever I see her there or elsewhere, and generally acts like I'm invisible to her. It hurts, and I've racked my brain trying to remember if there was anything I ever did to her to make her hate me so...but there's nothing I can think of. And if there was...there's no way it was intentional. This has gone on for years, and it always hurts just as badly -- and there have even been times I considered leaving our church because of it. It's a very private pain.

What are you excited about?

Several things: being a grandfather several times over, sculpting and writing projects, getting re-aquainted with some old friends on FaceBook, and making lots of new friends.

What was the first thing you said when you woke up today?

I am exhausted! I barely slept at all last night!

Have you ever had a best friend who was of the opposite sex?

Most of my best friends are and have been of the opposite sex. For some reason I have always been more comfortable relating to females.

Was your morning good and why?

No...I slept like crap and was exhausted -- the house smelled like something dead was under it (and I didn't have a chance to go under there and check till tonight -- and sure enough, there was...a very dead cat!). Tomorrow's got to be better!