Ten-hut! Hair shorn, run ragged, and treated with no respect, ordinary Joes became war-winning GI Joes at boot camp.
IT STARTED WITH A TRAIN OR BUS RIDE. Then you stepped into a different world. "Check in, stand in line for everything. Get uniforms, see the doctor, get a haircut, and report to my assigned barracks" was how WWII navy veteran R. Fischer of the USS Chenango (CVE-28) described it. From that point, things got a lot harder and moved a lot faster. But just weeks later, you had survived basic training--better known as boot camp--and were a genuine member of America's armed forces in World War II.
The United States put some 16 million men in uniform during the war. Considering that US military personnel numbered just 356,000 in 1939, this was sudden, exponential growth. Uncle Sam had to put a lot of boys through boot camp all at once.
To accomplish this daunting task, training camps opened across the continent. The marines hardened their men at San Diego and at Parris Island, South Carolina. Coast guard recruits trained on Government Island at Alameda, California, at Curtis Bay, Maryland, and in St. Augustine, Florida. The navy sent its boys to San Diego or to Bainbridge, Maryland; Newport, Rhode Island; Great Lakes, Illinois; Norfolk, Virginia; Sampson, New York; or Farragut, Idaho. And the army, the largest service branch of all, operated 118 training camps across the nation.
War's onset instilled panic over the country's undersize fighting force, and at first some military branches shrank boot camp to just a few weeks. That soon changed. Experience showed that short training meant trouble accomplishing war goals. So, marine training grew from five to eight weeks during the war. The navy set aside six weeks, and the coast guard eight. Late in the war, when the army stopped creating new units and was training only replacements to fill in for casualties and for men whose enlistments had expired, army boot camp expanded to a whopping 15 weeks. The goal was to make sure replacements could fit into battle-hardened units at the front.
No matter where it was or how long it took, WWII basic training followed the same pattern. After arriving at camp, the newbies got shots, haircuts, clothes (uniforms, socks, and underwear), gear, and manuals containing information on military courtesy and rules. Assigned to barracks, the shavetails discovered that American manhood was quite an assortment. At the mess hall, they learned camp food wasn't bad.
Then appeared a man sent to break other men and rebuild them as soldiers, marines, or fighting seamen. He was the drill instructor, a non-commissioned officer who oversaw the recruits' formation in military discipline, their physical conditioning, their combat training, and their emotional breakdown and breakthrough. To some men, the drill instructor was the devil. For most, he was a helpful teacher or at worst a necessary evil.
The photos that follow--taken in WWII training camps of every branch, across the country--show how America turned civilian boys into stalwart men capable of saving the free world.
It was a rude awakening. Few men arrived at boot camp looking like this US Army Air Forces cadet who had already completed part of his training at a camp for pilot candidates in 1943. But they would end up that way, after some major lifestyle changes. Their transformation began immediately after arriving at a training camp like the army's Camp Wheeler in Georgia. First came a change of clothes, shedding civilian duds and receiving uniforms, as these flight cadets are doing at Alabama's Maxwell Field early in 1942. Just before or after their wardrobe change, recruits met the man who would change their lives: their drill instructor. These marine recruits at Parris Island, South Carolina, are meeting theirs--a pith-helmeted corporal who will see them through to becoming real marines who follow orders without a fuss. At Randolph Army Air Field, Texas, in 1942, even the barber echoed that hard lesson.
Bodies got stronger fast. But at first they felt exhausted and sore. Strenuous exercise--like the "rhythmic dances" these 1942 pilot candidates are doing (opposite)--filled part of every day. For guys who were already in shape, boot camp was a time to shine. One such trainee was All-American football player Frankie Sinkwich (photo 1, laying out his marine clothing), who was at Parris Island in the summer of '43. Athlete or not, however, each trainee was in for a workout. It started with early reveille followed by about 20 minutes to get ready (photo 2), as Ralph Kipp (shaving) and Dupree Weeton (brushing his teeth) are doing at California's Fort Ord in April 1942. The rest of the day was packed with activities such as running obstacle courses (photo 3, at Florida's Boca Raton Field in August 1943), learning how to fight (photo 4, at Parris Island in June 1943), doing calisthenics (photo 5, officer candidates at Miami Beach in 1943), learning to use firearms, and combat techniques such as crawling to avoid bullets (photo 6, at Fort Ord). Few men ran an obstacle course as well as Willard Christopher, an All-American track and field man from Rice Institute, who held the broad jump record of 25 feet.
Finally, it was over. Skills such as marksmanship and weapons-handling, drill, marching, and more had been mastered (photo 1, graduating recruits at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1942, and photo 2, at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, in July 1940). Graduation meant assignment to a unit. But first it meant leave! Here (photo 3), the sea bags of outbound new marines await truck transportation at Parris Island in April 1943. Graduates headed home to family and friends as members of the US armed forces. They had crisp uniforms to show off, and confidence born of achievement. Everything they had learned and practiced would be put to the ultimate test when they came back from leave and went to war.
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|Title Annotation:||PHOTO ESSAY|
|Publication:||America in WWII|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2011|
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