The Proud Bastards : One Marine's Journey from Parris Island through the Hell of Vietnam
In 1967, a young E. Michael Helms boarded a bus to the legendary grounds of Parris Island, where mere boys were forged into hardened Marines -- and sent to the jungles of Vietnam. It was the first stop on a journey that would forever change him -- and by its end, he would be awarded the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.
From the brutality and endurance-straining ordeals of boot camp to the endless horror of combat, Helms paints a vivid, unflinchingly realistic depiction of the lives of Marines in training and under fire. As powerful and compelling a battlefield memoir as any ever written, Helms's "grunt's-eye" view of the Vietnam War, the men who fought it, and the mindless chaos that surrounded it, is truly a modern military classic.
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December 31, 1989
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Excerpt from The Proud Bastards by E. Michael Helms
Boot Camp. Parris Island. God, how I had dreamed about that place! Everything I had read and heard about was true. But my romanticized visions of being molded into a United States Marine at the legendary Recruit Training Depot were about to be quickly and rudely transformed into something more closely akin to a nightmare....
Yes, Mikey, there really is a Drill Instructor who jumps aboard the bus to welcome your arrival. Only, his maniacal ranting and raving and the most god-awful foul-mouthed ear-bending cursing you never wanted to hear serve to quickly dispel my notion that this is going to even remotely resemble the adventure that I had envisioned. I think I really screwed up this time!
Hey, there really are yellow footprints on the pavement for us to line up on as we frantically scramble off the bus at the DI's orders. After being unceremoniously shown how to attain something faintly resembling the military posture of attention, and several of the "herd" being reminded somewhat unkindly that the other foot is the left one, we are "marched" to a wooden building and issued field jackets because it is January and it is late at night or early morning and it is very cold. We don the field jackets over our civilian clothing and they become our security blankets, guarding us from the cold outside and somewhat less from the fear-induced lonely chill inside.
We are "herded" (the DI has given up trying to teach such hopeless worthless pieces of shit how to march this night) to another wooden building, a "holding pen" of sorts. It is crammed with metal-framed bunk beds, thin bare mattresses and pillows with neatly folded green woolen blankets at the foot of each. We are ordered to sleep. We try. We fail. We talk very little, but we think very much -- confused, disoriented, regretful, self-pitying thoughts: What have I done What have I gotten myself into Oh shit! is repeated a thousand times in a thousand ways. No one escapes.
Daylight threatens and we are aroused in a surprisingly nonviolent manner by another DI who is not really a DI but at this point we think everyone is a DI. We trudge in mock unison to the shearing room where butchers posing as barbers cause the crowning vestige of our civilian identities to fall in pitiful heaps upon the floor. Blond, black, brunette, red, short, long, curly, straight -- nothing matters. We are now all the same.
Another building and we are stripped of our civilian clothes, shoes, belts and all personal effects. We have nothing. We are nothing. We are issued olive-drab utility shirts and trousers, web belts and brass buckles, soft covers, black boots, socks and skivvies. We put them on. Now we are something: United States Marine Corps recruits -- "boots." We are reminded that we are still worthless pieces of shit who will probably never become real Marines, but even that is better than being nothing or being a civilian. We have been promoted.