Navy ROTC Precision Drill Team practicing at the University of Notre Dame, November, 1960. I am some where in that circle of cadets. I just do not know where.
Home with my Aunt Frances and Uncle Joe visiting during semester break, 1960.
My introduction to the United States Marine Corps began when I signed up for the NROTC (Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps) program at the University of Notre Dame. I had chosen architecture as my major and was about to embark on a five- year, double-degree intellectual adventure. I thought having a little military experience would give me the physical and mental self-discipline I was woefully lacking at the time. What I did not notice was that Marine instructors were teaching most of the NROTC courses. This little detail saved my life and career. I was the first in my family to attend college. My parents had scrimped and saved for 20 years to get the money I needed for tuition; as well as room and board. When Notre Dame accepted my application, my whole family was ecstatic. One uncle was already dreaming about season tickets to Notre Dame football games. The only problem with this ideal scenario was me. I had no one around to give me advice on class scheduling, dormitory life, or just campus living in general. Nor did I seek or receive any counseling at Notre Dame. I did have an upperclassman assigned to me as a big brother, but only saw him twice in the year I was there. As a result, I signed up for 44 credit hours in my first year; 23 in the first semester, and 21 in the second. The schedule was grueling. I was attending classes five full days a week and half days on Saturdays. Architect majors had class assignments that typically involved hours of time for each assignment on the drafting table or at the drawing board. Architects were the only engineering majors allowed all-night lights on campus. I was never able to develop an effective study plan, and I began to slip quickly in my assignments, as well as in attendance. I did not have the self-discipline to pull it together, so I adopted the A-F ploy. I put all of my energy and time into the classes I enjoyed, mostly art and design, and ignored the rest. By the middle of my second semester, I was on academic and disciplinary probations. I was embarrassed. My parents and relatives were devastated. I had failed in my first real-life task, and there was no way to recoup the loss. There was only one glimmer of hope -- the United States Marine Corps. While at Notre Dame, I did remarkably well in the NROTC program. I enjoyed the subject matter, and began to assimilate the pride and self- discipline I desperately needed. I also did well learning close-order drill and tried out for the Precision Drill Team. The team consisted of 16 cadets, and I was the only freshman accepted into the group. My pride soured. We drilled using Springfield 03 rifles, fitted with chromed bayonets. Scabbards where removed from the bayonets during performances. Our five-minute, quick-step routine used silent cadence. This meant the team leader called only two commands -- “Drill team MARCH!” at the beginning of the routine and, “Drill team HALT!” at the end. At a drill competition in Chicago, I was accidentally stabbed in the forearm performing the “weave”. The weave is a maneuver where one-half of the team, with rifles at the waist and bayonets pointing forward, march at a 90 degree angle to the second half of the team, also marching with lowered rifles pointed forward. Each cadet in one group, passes either in front of or behind each cadet in the second group. Obviously, I was a millisecond off in my timing when I felt a nudge to my right forearm. No one on the team was aware of anything wrong as we continued the routine. However, as we performed, murmurs from the audience grew louder. When we finally halted, naval and marine officers came rushing out of the bleachers towards us. I looked down and the side of my right trouser leg, once white, was crimson with blood. The wound was a small, deep puncture. Gravity and swinging my arm during the performance helped increase the bleeding. A Navy captain ordered me to be seen by his personal physician. We immediately returned to the locker rooms where the doctor and a corpsman cleaned and dressed my wound. Stitches were minimal. We did not win the drill competition that day, but I did manage to get 15 minutes of fame in a very, unique way. In the summer of that same year, I visited a Marine recruiter in my hometown of Niagara Falls, New York. I signed up for a four-year enlistment. Home was becoming unbearable; especially with my father. I had no wish to return to Notre Dame, and I refused to carry a black lunch pail and work in a factory. I had a September appointment with a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina. It was 1961. Vietnam was beginning to make small headlines in our newspapers.
United States Marine Corps
USMC NROTC Program Saved My Life
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