- Incident at Camp Matthews
EVERYONE was upset with Tinsley. Banks, his squad leader, was upset; Kniess, the right guide, was upset; I was upset; but, most particularly, Corporal Richards, our junior drill instructor, was upset.
“Goddammit, Tinsley!” he kept screaming. “Bend, man! Bend!”
“Lock those elbows, Tinsley! Spread those fucking knees!”
“Push, Tinsley! Push! Get your ass down there!”
It was toward the end of our second week at the Camp Matthews Rifle Range, with the beginning of qualifying marksmanship just two days away. Tinsley still could not assume the sitting position. He could assume it, but he couldn’t maintain it, which was the important thing.
To fire the M-1 rifle for qualification there were four mandatory positions: standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone. Prone was the steadiest, standing the shakiest, and sitting the hardest to get into. To assume it, you turned yourself perpendicular to the target, sat down on the ground, spread your upraised knees, and leaned forward between them, resting your elbows on the little crevices of your inner kneecaps. It was a fine steady position for anyone who could maintain it, second only to prone, but it was uncomfortable for everyone and a real challenge to all but the leanest, most limber of body types.
“You can do it, Tinsley,” Kniess said (he who was so tall and so trim). “All you gotta do is put forth a little effort. Of course it might help if you weren’t so fucking fat.”
This is what everybody said, including me. “You’re too fat, Tinsley. You need to lose some weight.”
To which Tinsley would reply that he wasn’t fat, he was simply “short-waisted.” “All my family is,” he said. “We get it from our mother.”
He was from Middletown, Ohio, and he hoped to go into law enforcement when he got out. In fact, as he’d told me and anyone else who’d listen, it was his reason for joining the marines in the first place. The training and that usmc credential on his résumé [End Page 623] were to be his tickets to a well-paying job with the Ohio Highway Patrol.
But first he had to master the sitting position.
“What are we gonna do about Tinsley?” all the other recruits, myself included, were beginning to say in our pyramid tents each evening as the day for qualifying approached. “He’s gonna bring down the whole platoon.”
“He’s gonna ruin it for everybody.”
“He’s gonna keep us from making Honor Platoon.”
Because that was the thing: you competed at the rifle range, as you did everywhere else in boot camp, against the other platoons in your training cycle. And because every marine is “first and foremost a rifleman,” marksmanship scores counted heavily in the final summing up. The minimum qualifying score was 190 out of 250, with failure to qualify an absolute disgrace—and sitting was a mandatory position, worth a total of 50 points.
“Bend, Tinsley!” Corporal Richards shouted. “Spread those knees and bend! Goddammit, boy, you’re not even trying!”
Richards had been a rifle instructor before he went off to di school, and, though only our junior di, he was in charge of us on the firing line and responsible for our performance there. I admired Corporal Richards. He was from Tyler, Texas, not far from my hometown, and had been a fire-team leader in Korea at the Chosin Reservoir, before his position was overrun by “about a million fucking Chinese.” His descriptions during those first weeks of boot camp of the retreat from the “Frozen Chosin”—in which the surrounded marines had brought out all of their equipment, and all of their wounded, and all of their dead—had brought tears to my eighteen-year-old eyes. I was an impressionable teenager, and the story set an example of courage and camaraderie under fire I had hoped to have a chance to emulate some day.
“Tinsley! What are you doing down there, Tinsley? You look like a monkey fucking a football! Spread those knees apart, Tinsley! Lock those elbows! Bend! Bend! Bend!”
It was the last day of practice...