The Marine affair

The train we boarded for Little Creek was a local.   Under contract to transport military personnel, it carried the lowest form of rail priority.  With this priority, we moved onto the siding to allow freight trains to pass.  With 500 midshipmen aboard, the trip across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia consumed over two days.  As we had nothing better to do, these 48 hours became an orgy of drinking, card playing, and reliving the hair-raising experiences at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi.  Following these two very long days, we arrived in Little Creek exhausted, but ready for the games we knew the Marines would expect us to play.

Little Creek was the Marine headquarters for training in amphibious landings.  We were issued a complete set of khaki uniforms for making us look like marines.  We were then assigned to Quonset huts for living accommodations, and advised to prepare ourselves for a full scale amphibious landing within a few days.  A fleet of ships and landing craft had been assembled for our invasion, which was to emulate the real thing as closely as possible.  We were issued M1 rifles, drilled in their assembly and disassembly, and instructed in their use.  Then we were taken to the firing range where we practiced firing at an assortment of targets.

As our invasion was to be staged from the sea, we were all assigned to individual ships.  The ships included a troop transport, a landing ship tank, and dozens of smaller vessels. As we were now marines, we had little to do with operating the vessels.  We were simply passengers as men, equipment, and supplies needed to capture and maintain a beachhead in hostile territory, – a remote stretch of beach south of Little Creek.

I was assigned to the troop transport, which was to carry the first and second waves of assault forces.  The troop ship looked like a liberty ship built by the hundreds during the war.  Its sleeping compartments were huge areas with bunk beds stacked up to seven levels high, requiring a certain amount of climbing ability and some care to reach the top bunk safely.  One such compartment would hold several hundred bodies.  You can imagine the sound effects at night from several hundred men trying to sleep in the same compartment.  Next you should imagine the same compartment on a hot day with no air conditioning, and virtually no ventilation.  The living conditions were miserable for the troops being transported, but vastly superior to sleeping in trenches.

With hundreds of troops on board, all the facilities were stressed beyond a reasonable capacity.  A large number of midshipmen never slept in their bunks, but found it far more comfortable sleeping on deck under the moon with a breeze.  On arising in the morning, the first chore was to stand in line for the head and related bathroom facilities.  Then we stood in line for breakfast, ate breakfast, and left the mess hall.  Lunch and dinner followed the same routine.   Meals were served on a continuous basis, as the mess hall was small, and there was little else to do.  The majority of the first day was spent standing in line.  War must have been hell.  The consolation was that these circumstances were better then what might follow.

The second day was the amphibious exercise.  As with all exercises, they must always begin well before dawn.  We were awakened at 3:00 in the morning, and instructed to prepare for our assault.   During the evening, the LSD had unloaded dozens of LCVPs for transporting us from the troop ship to the beach.  It all happened just like you see it in the documentaries of WWII.  The LCVPs circled by the ship until it was time to load the troops, then they came alongside one by one and took on a full load of troops and equipment.   As soon as they were all loaded, they formed a straight line and moved toward the beach so as to arrive simultaneously.  It all went without a hitch from the troop ship.

As with the former cruise, not all participants survived the training experience.  One midshipman was killed when he jumped off a pontoon as it was moving toward the beach.  He  jumped into the water before it was fully beached.  The list of fatalities is now up to four from two training cruises as follows:  USS Wisconsin (2), NAS Corpus Christi (1), and Little Creek Marine Base (1).

The Marines were successful in recruiting one classmate, fraternity brother, and travel companion into the Corps.  Jim Todd had an aversion to ships or water, or other things in the regular Navy.  He affiliated with the Marines and was commissioned into the Corps on graduation from Oregon State.  At one point, Jim had boasted that he had slipped through the stringent Navy swimming qualification examination without taking and passing the test.  This may have been his incentive to avoid the Navy.  Shortly after his entry onto active duty, he was engaged in another amphibious exercise off San Diego.  According to the stories, his landing craft was swamped in the exercise.  He did not survive the ordeal.   Jim is shown below, decked-out in Marine Khaki in front of our quonset hut in Little Creek.  The stain is compliments of Kodak.


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