The Pink Marine UNLOADED
A collection of letters I sent to my family from Marine Corps boot camp. I was 18.
Greg Cope White
Copyright © 2016 by Greg Cope White.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
The Pink Marine is a work of nonfiction. The names of people in it have been changed in the interest of the privacy of individuals.
Printed in the United States of America.
First Edition: June 2016
To my mother, Anne Barclay, for saving these letters. And saving me.
It’s funny and I crack up sometimes that I am in the military – I always thought I wouldn’t go to war. They teach you everything to do with war. Even eating, sleeping and walking we do as if we were at war. By eating, I mean I think the enemy is cooking for us.
Have you ever been in the wrong place at the right time?
All I heard was “summer” and “camp” when Dale told me he was headed off to Parris Island to spend the summer in USMC boot camp. So I enlisted in the Marine Corps without understanding what I was doing, except joining my best friend, Dale, on an adventure.
I’m gay so it was illegal for me to enlist. I fooled them by denying that, but failed the physical exam for being the proverbial 98-pound weakling. So I had to lie and cheat to join the Marines – and gain weight.
I was on my first military mission. And they hadn’t yet shaved my head. Have you intentionally tried to gain fourteen pounds in eight days?
I stuffed this Charles Chips can (and my face) with food in order to pack on weight and accomplish that task.
I’d never done anything like that at the time. I’d never really done anything. I had no self-confidence. My family moved so many times that I went to thirteen schools in eleven years. The only class superlative vote I might have won was “Most likely to be the new kid.”
We weren’t in the military or on the run from the law. Let’s leave it at the fact that I wasn’t raised by helicopter parents. In fact, no one was really flying the plane.
That being said, this collection of letters was saved by my mother.
I asked my family to write me often. I understood that letters from home were important. I was going to be away for thirteen weeks (if I survived).
If you were to glimpse into the life I was leaving, you’d see no camouflage, no M-16s. I was your typical closeted teenager who decided, on a whim, to join a club that didn’t want me and had I known what I was in for wouldn’t have wanted to be a part of.
I delivered my goodbyes as casually as if I were leaving for regular summer camp. I didn’t do any reading or research on the Marine Corps, even though I normally vetted the clubs I joined to determine whether they were a good fit. I’d not watched a John Wayne movie or played Army. Although I had a G.I. Joe action figure, I spent all my time with him violating his trust with illegal fantasies about the man they modeled him after.
Had I known the changes I’d go through, the experiences I was about to have, I would have dropped my suitcases, run to my room, and locked the door. I’d have stuffed my face in my pillow and cried, refusing to bid farewell to everything about my life that looked familiar.
Parris Island sounds like Paris. But vive le difference. Eiffel Towel there, guard tower here….
I went to sleep-away camp as a kid. I canoed, crafted a hand-laced wallet and put on skits. What was new at Camp Parris Island was that I’d not showered with seventy other guys nor been issued a rifle.
This is my rifle, this is my gun; one is for fighting, one is for fun
It’s important that I tell my boot camp stories with humor. It took a while for me to find the funny about that time in my life – military service is serious. Charlie Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!”
Discovering these letters, twenty-five years after writing them, helps me see the hilarity of that summer in boot camp.
In the letters, I wanted my family to envision the summer I was experiencing, yet had little time and few words to paint my picture. I mixed in colors from my new environment with those perhaps familiar to these beautiful, clueless-about-military, people.
(From Left: My brother Timothy, me, my mother, my brothers Bradley and Clay.)
Today I piece memories together from photographs and mentions in the letters. For instance, my brother Timothy was struggling. There was an unsuccessful plan to send him to Israel to work on a kibbutz. He didn’t make it to Israel nor survive life’s hardships. His story isn’t mine to tell; however his memory is mine to cherish. My brother Bradley was away at college, so these letters address the audience still living under my mother’s roof.
Dear Mother, Clay, & Tim if you’re not in Israel,
I’m writing this while in Church with invisible ink. Not really, my pen ran out and I borrowed one from Dale.
The weather down here is beautiful but it’s hot and everyone gets eaten alive by mosquitos and we are not allowed to scratch or we have to do strenuous exercises. I haven’t had to do them yet though.
We have had no time to go to the bathroom satisfactorily so we have to wake up at night.
I wasn’t exaggerating. Just like I chronicle in the book, I use relatable subjects like weather, bug bites, and the boot camp toilets to explain this weird world. Drill Instructors told us when to sit, when to stand, when to pee.
I did need to pee…
I entered the room and froze. An eight-foot-long cement trough blocked my path—and ability to pee. There were already at least nine guys jammed around it, freely pulling out their penises like hoses and confidently releasing their stream of piss before they’d even bellied all the way up to the edge. The tile walls knocked every sound around, turning lively chatter into taunts and the hiss of streaming piss into jeers.
There was no way I was going to wedge myself into that pack. I’ve always been suspicious of men able to walk up to a communal urinal and pull out their dick. They brashly brandish their penis about and demand that it pee on command. And it always does. I want to be that type of man, but as soon as I hear a brave river of urine pouring out of what sounds like a very wide opening from a surely bigger cock, my own member pulls back. Some mean little insecure elf that lives in my brain turns the faucet off, and I’m unable to pee.
Then I have to flee the scene. I act like I’ve just finished peeing. I make a big move like I have to fold my humungous penis in half in order to coax it with a shove back into my pants, and I swagger away like a cowboy fresh off a horse. Moments later, I’m back in the lobby of wherever I am, hating myself, jiggling my leg and still needing to pee.
I will leave the details of the horrors of trying to defecate in public – in the book. On or about Page 55.
I know now that no one enters the military with many common experiences. I knew then that I didn’t yet look like a typical Marine recruit. And although I’d been to school in New Orleans with all races, I’d not shared a home with an ethnicity other than mine.
I needed to blend in. I wanted to be accepted – yet I was encountering people, places and things I’d never dreamed about. They stripped us of our civilian identities and threw us together. In order to find success, I had to act as if this were normal. You can judge a book by its cover.
Soon we looked similar and stayed together 24/7. Did I mention we showered together? I mention it in the book… In detail.
“Keep moving, privates. Wash your nasty bodies and don’t forget your assholes, you fucking morons.”
Despite my discomfort at being naked in front of so many men, other thoughts started to occupy my mind. The penises. Seeing a lot of penises is probably on every gay man’s bucket list, and even heterosexual men like to check out the competition. I’m sure that a group shower is the birthplace of both athlete’s foot and penis envy.”
I adjusted to my new life quickly. Because I had to. Challenges were tossed at us every moment, like grenades. I wrote home with shrapnel bits of info. I have no idea if they were able to glue them together and comprehend the gravity of the situation.
Our family life back home had zero similarities to my new one. I imagine my mother and brothers scratching their heads over my chicken scratched mentions of guard duty and rifles. For them, a “mess hall” was a badly decorated foyer.
Time is going by very quickly because we go one day at a time. We wake at 5:00 and eat at 5:30, 11:30, and 4:30. Then we sleep at 9:00. Every other night we have to walk guard duty in the barracks for 1-hour shifts.
We get our rifles Monday – M16A1 Rifles. Then Tuesday we run 1 mile and do pull-ups and sit-ups for a test. The physical part is going to be rough but the mental testing on knowledge we are taught in classes is going to be very hard also.
I’d never fired a rifle, never run a mile. The only energy I expended was avoiding gym class. I came in the service full of Faulkner. Note that in the next snippet from a missive home, I sound like a teenager, possibly a girl, living on a Louisiana plantation.
I’m really going to miss all the summertime activities you all will be enjoying. I’m outside a lot though.
I was in boot camp trying to hide the secret that I was gay – had my fellow recruits seen this one letter, the resulting beating would have been deserved. Faulkner could hit me too; I mean the sentence isn’t even well written.
And I was outside a lot. Once, they even let us outside after putting us in a tiny metal hut, or as it’s also known, A GAS CHAMBER.
Yes, in order to truly know what poison gas feels like, my own government locked us in a hut and passed gas.
Our indoor living space was as primitive as the outdoors. Our “enjoyment” was limited since the hot summer made us vulnerable to heat stroke or heat exhaustion. After hours of classroom instruction on the differences between the two, I still have no idea which is which.
It’s not like I planned on chancing either malady while running away from my home-away-from-home. I had no idea where Parris Island was. I’d signed a contract and vowed to stay. Plus how would I leave? Uber wasn’t yet invented.
I looked toward the edge of the base. Parris Island was surrounded by a high chain-link fence, and past that fence lay swamps. Supposedly. We were told that any attempt to escape would be a rush to our demise. McKinnon’s eyes narrowed down to a sliver as he spoke in a hushed tone.
‘Feel free to make a break for it, recruits. Outside my base—nothing but swamps with alligators and snakes. The nearest town is too far away to reach before a gator eats you. ’Course, they only eat live prey, and the sun’ll bake your gourds and kill you. Plenty of rats and buzzards to pick your bones clean.’
I had no point of reference as to exactly where we were. We all believed his warning. That’s what they needed us to do—not just because we were a herd and the DI was In. No. Mood. to discuss—but also in the event that our true purpose was activated. If and when we were commanded into battle, we had to do our job. No matter how horrific, grotesque, and life-threatening the situation. These stark reminders of what I’d agreed to do made me feel anxious and trapped, yet determined to carry this mission through. I felt resolve replace fear.
One of Drill Instructor Santoro’s favorite marching cadences included the line ‘This is what you asked for.’
And it was. If any of us thought we were dressed up in really authentic costumes playing army or that with Vietnam so recent that another war couldn’t really happen, our DIs refreshed the concept behind our training in our minds. Leading in the military is tough—you’re asking people who might hate you to lay down their lives, and they might not even believe in the mission.”
I find clues between the lines of these letters as to where I was emotionally at that time. Image was key. Here in this hyper-macho setting, I wanted to excel. I saw no fit for myself in the masculine world before boot camp. Society told me that my basic human nature was wrong; therefore, I secretly thought that if I succeeded in becoming a Marine I’d be more of man. I didn’t expect hair to bust out on my chest, but I knew that confidence was necessary.
I’ve been talking to some 3rd Phase Privates (I’m first phase) and they say that the Drill Instructors get a little looser as time goes on. They don’t yell at you to get up – you get to watch commercial TV and call home if you do something outstanding. They are never pleased though.
Time is going fast and I have learned more in these 2 weeks than I’ve ever learned in my life.
Call it a side effect of my impulse purchase of enlistment, but I immediately wanted to be one of the few, the proud, the Marines. Even though I shouldn’t have been in the Marine Corps and could get kicked out at any second – I wanted to feel accomplishment and acceptance. I had to focus.
When it came to physical challenges I worried about how I was perceived based on my past, non-sporty life:
As a kid I was flexible and energetic, so I’d pursued gymnastics, the best match for those attributes. I didn’t continue very far with the sport, but I can still do a cartwheel—though I wisely resisted that urge in boot camp. A video of me cartwheeling down a battlefield toward the enemy would be all the ammunition the military would need to kick me out.
The weather in South Carolina is really nice. It gets hot but the things we do outside (that would pose a problem) we do in the morning. It rains a lot. Right now the highs are in the 80s. I bet ya’ll are melting.
Has any excitement happened there yet? I could use some exciting news.
Everything is so boring and so unfair and disciplined. I think the only reason I can stand it is I’m in shock. I don’t even argue with myself about getting up at 4:30 or having guard duty in the middle of the night.
I am trying to emphasize the early hour and guard duty by throwing them off the scent with “boring” and “unfair”. In reality, it was neither; however, I quickly adjusted to the new crazy.
My family had no idea what I was going through, couldn’t even imagine the setting. The link to home that mail provided was very important to us all. My bunkie, Pritchett, was one of the few married men in our platoon. He really missed his wife.
When I got a letter, it felt like I’d won something. I promised my family that if they wrote me, I would never forget it, and I never have. After a particularly grueling day, I opened a letter from my brother Clay.
How’s the training? Are there any cute places to have lunch?
If he envisioned Parris Island as full of boutiques and tree-lined boulevards, with me in a snappy uniform, wrestling with the decision of which café to try, I didn’t have time to clarify. I showed the letter to Dale; we both knew that no one in my family could understand what any of this was like. I wanted them to know, but it couldn’t be explained. My Marine family was filling any void. I didn’t feel homesick. Even when I hated Parris Island or my platoon, I didn’t wish I were home. Other than my childhood home Belle Place, I’d never had a place I longed for.
Letters were our only lifelines to the outside world…
Santoro winced as he ran an envelope under his nose.
“Somebody got a letter from Suzy Rottencrotch!”
Pritchett was normally skittish, but at mail call he went into panic mode. Whenever a name was called, his head emerged up out of the crowd like a gopher’s; his eyes darted from the DI’s mouth to the ever-decreasing stack of letters.
Pritchett was married. And recently. Being separated from his wife was hard on him; I could only hope that, in his case, opposites attracted, and she had a calming effect on him when they were together. He really, really missed her. He would jump up before his name was finished, “Pritch—” and stand at attention, desperately needing that letter. The DIs picked up on his desperation quickly and would hold his letters until the end to draw out his agony. Santoro once handed out all of the mail without calling Pritchett’s name, then walked back to his office. Pritchett was looking around the room for something to hang himself with when Santoro whipped a letter out of his pocket and flung it at the dejected husband.
“Jesus Christ, you’re fucking whipped, Pritchett!” Santoro told him. “You’re gonna have a heart attack on me, boy, and that would be a shame—who’d sniff all your wife’s pretty little panties if you were gone?”
Pritchett went to the end of the squad bay and sat down to read. He’d close his eyes and sniff the envelope. When he couldn’t take it any longer, he’d carefully open the flap. He’d remove the letter from the envelope as if it were breakable and just hold it in both hands. Then he’d bend his head down and devour the words. His lips would move as he read, slightly, so I wasn’t sure if he was so overwhelmed that they were shaking or if he was reading to himself. I could smell the perfume scenting the paper, since I was his bunkie. Pritchett’s shaking hands wafted it in my direction. He read his letters over and over. “I want to go AWOL,” Pritchett told me more than once. He’d enlisted in order to get the Veterans benefits but he couldn’t predict how much he’d miss his wife. I guessed his jumpiness got him hitched, but he’d nicked out a spot in the wall of normal accomplishments way earlier than most. I was happy when a friend got married, and sad. It reminded me of something else I probably would never have.
Pritchett paced until it was time to hit the rack, cleaning his rifle as he walked.
“I don’t know what I was thinking when I signed up.”
“Why did you?”
“I couldn’t find a job. I got a wife…”
“It’ll be over before you know it,” I said.
He wasn’t listening to me. “I’m going to jump the fence. Fuck the alligators—I’ll make it. I gotta see my wife,” he said.
He turned out to be the best shot in our platoon. I guess he channeled his homesickness into focus – literally – and hit the target with his M-16 like Cupid firing off an arrow.
The chow hall food missed the target each day. The Marine Corps put the mess in mess hall. Yet those sloppish meals were all we had – there was no 7-Eleven to raid.
I soon realized that each time we stopped for a meal, we got a break from the heinous training task of the moment. Hard as the food was to swallow, I relished the respite.
Don’t send anything to eat (like candy) because a guy got some yesterday and he was forced to eat 2 pounds of candy. He’s in sickbay right now sitting next to me moaning.
Sickbay was a tiny room staffed by a Navy corpsman who, no matter what your ailment, checked your temperature, gave you two Tylenol and sent you back to your platoon. There was no time to rest or heal – what if we were in battle? Time waits for no man, and no man less than an enemy.
We ran in boots, so my legs and feet were easily hurt. But the one injury I could prevent was receiving food in the mail.
But there were no cookies in boot camp, and having food mailed in a care package from home was a very bad idea. The DIs were brutal. Private Jackson got cookies every few days, and the same routine played out each time. McKinnon would hold the package over his head. The box looked like a deranged child had wrapped it in an old brown paper grocery bag, jumped up and down on it, then shoved it through the mail slot.
After about the fourth box arrived, McKinnon forced Jackson to open it, taunting him. “Does Private Jackson’s mommy make the best cookies in the whole wide world?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Jackson boasted, excited about the cookies.
McKinnon’s gentle tone whipped into anger.
“Eat every fucking cookie, recruit. Chew on the motherfucking box and swallow the goddamn stamps!”
McKinnon ordered Jackson to stand over the trashcan and eat the cookies.
“Shove those motherfucking cookies in your piehole, Private. Two at a time! Two at a time! Faster, faster!”
Jackson pushed two cookies into his mouth, gagged once, gagged again. . . . His swallowing reversed course. Soon he spewed out not just the cookies he’d eaten, but also ones he’d only thought about. Thankfully there was a trashcan nearby. This was not the DIs’ first mail call.
I kept thinking that Jackson would write home and beg his family to stop sending the cookies. But they were as dependable as the mailman.
Thankfully my birthday came and went unnoticed that summer, especially without any mailed cake.
Mail is a game of tennis – you have to lob a ball into the other court to start a back-and-forth volley. I wrote as often as I could. I usually carried a pencil and paper in my pocket, making notes or doodling. In the next letter, it seems I’m hitting the tennis ball against a well, playing alone. I’m cheering myself on, marking my own accomplishments rather than attempting to impress the reader.
Dear Mom & Clay & Tim,
I wish I had time to write each of you separately. But we have to keep running all the time. We ran 1 mile yesterday, 1.5 today and 2 tomorrow.
[_ The testing is going to be soon on mental evaluation on what we have learned. Dale is fine. We both scored in the upper 90% of our platoon (74 guys) on our achievement tests. I hope I make this. I know I will though. _]
Clay, my clothes are at Dale’s house and I have no way of getting them. Go to a store there and take pictures there. The stores love it.
My brother Clay was asking where an article of my clothing is that he’d like to borrow. This just shows you that my family had no clear idea of my situation. I couldn’t fix his wardrobe malfunction; however, I was learning that I must try. I had no idea if a store liked your taking photos of their stock, but thanks to the Marines, I knew to pitch ideas with confidence.
I always took pride in looking my best. I’m sure that only went well in my mind. By the time I’d finished packing to leave home for the thirteen weeks of boot camp – where the issue you all the clothing you need – I ended up packing five suitcases. I explain my strategy in the book:
I packed my bags with skill and organization, adding enough clothes so that I could carefully rotate outfits for the entire session. Thirteen weeks is a long time. What if I saw the same people over and over? Plus they might have formal nights.
Five matching suitcases. How was I going to survive boot camp without getting beaten up? My only hope was that we were equally dressed. All in camouflage. Perhaps no one could see my glaring sparkle underneath my new wardrobe and haircut.
Hey Freaky Deaky,
This is what we wear and look like. No I’m not fat. We also wear army boots and camouflaged trousers.
Just a quick note as I have 4 minutes of free time before lunch and then first phase 1testing. Five-mile hike then study for 6 hours. I’ve really been studying. I’m fine but I miss hearing from you all, I’ll write more often. Love, Gregory
Don’t we all address our family as freaky deaky? I felt tough and rugged – yet when I see the photos, I was still a goofy geek. But, and the “but” is huge -- I now only knew forward march.” I was told to lean back and strut.
Well, it’s Thursday and I am in the waiting room of the sick bay. I’ve pulled a muscle in my right groin or something, but I can barely move. I had to run 2 miles in the most pain I have ever experienced in my life.
We began drilling with our rifles and it’s real neat.
Meanwhile what were you civilians doing back home while I suffered under the guise of training? Disco. The disco craze was in full boogie.
I was in the doctor’s office and I heard 2 disco songs in a row (Ring My Bell and Freak Out) and it blew my mind. A smile spread across my face over hearing a couple of songs. I will definitely appreciate things more when I get out.
I hope I didn’t break out into the Hustle. Partly because I have no rhythm; mostly because the Marines in charge would not like it. At all. Me dancing around to the band, Chic? In this world, the only “chic” they wanted to hear about had an added “k” at the end.
Dear Mom, Clay and Timothy,
The leaders are all very close-minded individuals. We get in trouble for not being “motivated” or enthusiastic. But we’ll get there.
We were losing guys. My biggest fear was getting dropped and booted out. When we lost a guy because he couldn’t keep up physically or mentally, I didn’t feel like I’d dodged a bullet. It only heightened my resolve to train harder and fight to stay.
As a kid, I never finished anything, and as bizarre as the process was, I wanted the honor of graduating.
Our platoon lost 4 guys to the fat farm and 1 to medical discharge.
I have to write Nanny a letter, I was so surprised to see one from her. She sounds sharp and good. Clara is fine.
Sidebar. Nanny was my grandmother. She had an alluring beauty further fascinated with a sharp sense of humor. Her brother was enigmatic. He was a Texas Ranger and could shuffle a deck of cards with one hand. His wife, Clara, stared out the kitchen window and described the people living in the giant Oak tree. Back then it was funny, now we understand this behavior as Alzheimer’s.
At Parris Island, I learned that there were people in trees – armed snipers and that I was the one that no one back home would recognize.
I am very disciplined now. I can stand at attention for virtually hours, obey orders with barely a second thought and lock my body, head and eyes and not even scratch when a mosquito is biting me or a sand flea.
I recall one extra-excruciating moment in the book:
But I could only think of that fucking flea in my ear. Its buzzing sound moved in and out and got loud, then soft, then loud. I knew this was the Chinese-water-torture kind of treatment that drives military prisoners insane.
I could have reached up and swatted it away—I’m one of the free Americans I was defending. Maybe Santoro wouldn’t see it; maybe he would. If he didn’t, I’d be so relieved. If he did, I’d drop and do twenty or forty, or maybe the whole platoon would get punished and they’d hate me. And they would all get bullets after lunch.
I stood there, unable to even scrunch my eyes closed. They had to stay open and not give me away.
Santoro raced up to me. He put his face close to my ear and spoke softly. “You have a sand flea in your ear, Private.” I wondered how he knew. He seemed to know everything,
“Sir, yes, sir,” I responded in my normal speaking voice, since he hadn’t yelled.
“You want to reach up and scare it away, don’t you?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Not one recruit nearby doubted me or wanted to be in my boots.
“Go ahead—it just takes a second.”
I didn’t move, but the sand flea was still there and was now a knife stabbing my ear, and I could feel the situation’s pressure in my chest.
He stayed there, leaning in closer. His breath was on my cheek. “I can see him. So tiny, but I bet that’s fucking irritating to have that sand flea right in your ear. What’s keeping you from reaching up? Just do it; one quick swat and it’ll be gone.”
He was right.
“Nothing’s stopping you.”
I hated Santoro once again. He had me right where he wanted me and figured this was his chance to test me. He was hoping I’d do it.
“Sir, Private’s at the position of attention, sir. Nothing moves, no matter what, sir.”
“A fucking sand flea, Private? You’re gonna let a tiny goddamned sand flea take control of your body?”
“Sir, no, sir. Following orders, sir. Private’s Drill Instructor Sergeant Santoro commanded this Private to the position of attention, and he obeys commands, sir.” Speaking in third person was hard, and to get it right I had to do pronoun conjugational math in my head before I spoke. Before the Private spoke.”
The staff had a mission larger than training me to withstand tiny pests. They had thirteen weeks to bend my mind, body and spirit to commit the most heinous act of mankind –murder. Encounter an enemy, shoot to kill, no questions asked, without hesitation.
You might not have a military background, but people are our common denominator. I was surrounded with interesting individuals.
Well, nothing is very funny around here except the other guys in the platoon.
And they were hysterical. Who needs television when there’s a live-in cast of characters? The boys-to-men with whom I served were weird, funny, diverse – just like me. Lumped together in close quarters is a recipe for hilarity. In this crazy boiling pot, through these men, I learned that if I wanted acceptance, I had to accept.
In life, everyone is a judge and the judged.
And remember when I told you the food was bad? It apparently caused one of my fellow Marines severe digestive problems.
We have Chimp, a guy that walks and talks like a monkey. His voice is real high and yesterday he asked me (while we were in an important serious class) if I had hemorrhoids and lifted his butt off the ground and winced with his monkey face. He is so funny.
Then we have the Dick because he resembles a 6-foot penis.
[_ Crow is a black guy that looks like -- _]
My best friend and I were so close that we finished each other’s sentences – even written. In this letter, Dale’s handwriting replaces mine. He continues:
…a cro-magnon man. Pizza face is a tall lanky with a corroded face. Then, there’s Trench face. He’s the most disgusting person in the world. A fat slob with pinhead sized blackheads all over his face. Doesn’t that make your mouth water?
I resume writing…
As you can see, we have an assortment of people here, from weird, to ugly, to normal (Dale-I).
Then Dale grabbed control again…
Oh yes, Trench face’s teeth have decayed into fragmented crusts of long ago teeth, black and scraggly. Yum, yum.
Back to me…
Dale wrote the part in pencil. I gotta go cause I only bought 1 piece of paper.
P.S. What is this Israel stuff with Timothy? Is he really going?
And Dale get’s in the last word:
P.S.S. I’ll talk about the beatings later. It’s horrible. Greg, well, he won’t tell you ‘cause he’s afraid you’ll get upset. But it’s true. (seriously)
Believe me, as in any new work, school or social situation, it took a while to find a level of comfort. In a few weeks, I sounded more confident and objective enough to notice progress.
I have to rush this letter and have 10 minutes to write.
It’s Sunday and we are living at the rifle range. The food and barracks are much nicer.
I was fired as squad leader but hired as scribe, which is the Drill Instructor’s note keeper. Dale is squad leader. There are four but Dale is mine.
He says hello and what are ya’ll doing for the summer. Sorry your Lubbock visit was so short. What else are plans for the summer?
Write about your new job – I don’t understand it, Mom.
After 1 week practice
posing shooting stances with our rifles we have 1 week of rifle qualification then 1 week of mess and maintenance (a real bitch) then 2 weeks of a rushed 3rd phase then Aug 16 graduation.
I’m fine and feel these letters are rushed and boring. I did real good (highest you could) at the swimming qualification.
Boring? My letters surely were read with fascination. I even crafted a sub-textual joke by crossing through “posing”. My teenage brain attempted self-deprecation to bait my family into responding
Sidebar. I lasted about three days as squad leader. I was happy because the last thing I wanted was the staff to know my name. Once they knew you, they more likely you were to get fired. The Scribe job was exciting and my first paid writing gig.
My family was busy with their own lives. My mother was navigating the rough waters of working as a single parent. Back when she graduated high school, more women got married than went to college. As the tide of women’s Liberation rose, she earned a Bachelors, Masters and PhD degree. With her education, my mother was a mermaid that learned to out swim sharks.
She had to make that weird wardrobe change from 1960s housewife to 1970s working woman. Bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan. And not get fat from the bacon so she could get a man.
I was learning, too. I’d only fired a gun one time. I mean rifle. I didn’t play war as a kid; I never wanted to kill. No matter how I felt; however, I had a job to do and that included gaining proficiency in firing a semi-automatic weapon. Shoot to kill.
It’s Sunday once again and practice firing (no real bullets yet) is over. For the next week we fire live rounds and qualifying on Friday. Last Fri we fired some practice shots and I was pretty lousy. But I’ll improve.
No real news as usual.
We have 65 guys in our platoon now, we’ve dropped 9.
Dale and I are platoon artists and we made a flag (drawn on a pillowcase) and we paint it today. It looks real good and the DIs like it.
When Dale and I drew that flag we risked exposing our sensitive, artistic side. Once it was admired and carried proudly, we knew that this effort was exactly what it took to be successful Marines. First to Fight is a USMC motto.
Regarding the “dropped” guys – it was sad. We were close, both to each other and to graduating. When we lost a platoon member, it left a hole. But like in war, we reflected, learned and then moved on.
Just a quick note while I am relaxing at the rifle range. We have been snapping in for 3 days. That’s where you practice the different positions. Putting the gun in our shoulders and aiming at the targets 200 yards, 300 yards, 500 yards away.
We don’t shoot any bullets until Friday. Then we shoot Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs (except on one of those we don’t shoot because it’s fourth of July) and we qualify on Friday.
Relax? Not exactly. But in most of life’s new situations, I find we eventually settle into a routine and that helps us shift from awkward to comfortable. You relax, your boss relaxes – the pressure eases. Keep performing well or you’re back in the hot seat.
We got to go to the movies 2 Saturday nights in a row. We saw “Scalpel” and “Rosemary’s Baby” (G-version).
I ran three miles yesterday and repulled my damn groin muscle. It really makes me mad and I’m tired of dealing with it. All they do is give me Tylenol and tell me not to run for 2 days and stretch. But then the next time I run it pulls again. My knees are fine.
Well I better go, enough relaxing. I have to practice so I can fire expert. Write soon and I love long letters. I miss you all.
So they played two horror movies. Perhaps it was part of their plan to intimidate us, or to show us the blood we might see in war. During Rosemary’s Baby, I made note that like me, Mia Farrow shaved her head for a job.
Sometimes time was short. I didn’t include a salutation in my letters. Maybe I felt brevity increased the impact for the reader. Since I’d never run ten feet in my life, the injuries were constant. The time allowed for recuperating? Nonexistent.
My tall, thin body was built to run, but it would take time to condition my legs. It was after boot camp when I scored my fastest speed. We ran in cheap boots; often leg and foot trauma led to drama.
I have to wear ace bandages on my knees cause we have to keep our legs crossed and after 30 seconds they are numb and if I try to straighten them out someone has to help me. Crazy!
The physical element wasn’t my only new exposure. I’d never lived with another family. Suddenly I shared a small space with every race. I knew what I knew, and don’t apologize for that; however, I am shocked by how naïve I sound in this letter:
A friend here, Quenton Berry, a crazy intelligent young black boy, wrote a letter to Brad (just to be funny) telling him that I was hurt and in bed and couldn’t write. Wonder what Brad thought.
I was from the South and went to a segregated school. My Drill Instructor gave a speech on day one about race relations.
“We are a family now, recruits. Move your fucking gourds side to side and look at each other. I don’t want any fucking discord in here. There’s no more black or white—you’re all green. Light green, dark green, and in-the-fuck-between green. Got it?”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
We had bigger battles to fight. Like actual battles. Who am I to judge? I was asking everyone to ignore my sexuality. I’m grateful for the equalization provided me by the military.
My letters home weren’t politicized. I wasn’t yet politicized. I was more concerned about what they were up to for the summer.
Clay, when does your school year end? Mom, I’m still puzzled about your job. Tim – you’re the only one I haven’t gotten a letter from.
Write and tell me any new thing ya’ll have gotten.
How’s gas? And I don’t mean you ate beans today.
I miss ya’ll.
My family loved shopping but hated waiting in lines. The price of gas shot up that summer of 1979 due to the decreased oil output in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. The price of crude oil more than doubled to $40 per barrel and long lines appeared.
To bring it home, I got my first war scare the next year. Fifty-two Americans were kidnapped in Iran in late 1979. Marines are the first sent to fight, remember? My interests in politics increased.
Mail call was more than a chance to receive a morsel from outside. It was a popularity contest. If I didn’t receive a letter, I wasn’t concerned that my family might have dropped off of the planet. I was concerned I’d be that guy that didn’t get mail. I campaigned.
I’m getting concerned about ya’ll out there. Is something important going on in the world? I feel like I’m missing a big summer. I read a paper today but there was no real news. Did John Wayne die? Did you get the box with the jewelry and shoes? You can return the jewelry if you want but keep the shoes.
Is anybody working there? Is the topless a disco? I would like that. After I learn my radio-communications at CA then I’ll be D.J.
Let me put the puzzle pieces together. My parents divorced when I was four.
I had a stepfather for a few years, but no strong male role model; but I was open to the concept of gaining one. Just before I enlisted, my mother was dating an Israeli businessman. One of his ventures was a topless bar in Dallas. For about the time it took me to write the above-referenced letter, I figured that I might get a job at his nudie bar after my military training. Perhaps I’d make a great DJ; at least the naked girls wouldn’t distract me.
Did you get the box with the jewelry and the clothes? is the title of my next book. It’s a mystery. Main character is a fool that returns gold and keeps a pair of Keds.
John Wayne did die that summer. He was the unofficial mascot/hero of the Marine Corps, so our staff freaked out. But they also messed with our heads, so none of us trusted that their news was more than a dramatic ploy.
No, I’m not in a Mexican POW camp I’m still in the American one. I am now in 3rd phase and only have 4 ½ weeks to go.
The platoon is on Mess Duty all week (8 days). This is the hardest phase, but I’ve made it through all else so I can do this.
It’s funny when we march around because we’ve been here about the longest so we get to boss others around. I qualified as a marksman on the rifle range. That’s not the highest but it’ll do. I fired higher but not on qualification day, then I messed up.
I can’t wait to get out of here. I have my birthday Thursday but I won’t be celebrating. Please don’t send a cake.
My knees have not gotten better but I keep ace bandages on them so they don’t bother me that much. My groin is the same.
Well I have to run and I want to mail this.
I was serious about the cake. I worried that my family would misinterpret my plea as a strong desire for cake and make a huge effort to get an elaborate, frosted masterpiece to me. Thankfully, they didn’t. My concern was baseless.
When I was a kid, my mom would drop me off at a movie theater. When the movie was over, I used the little change I had to call her from a payphone to let her know I was ready for her to come pick me up. “I’ll be right there,” she said.
After thirty minutes, I peered down the street, looking for her car. Where was she? Surely she ran out of the house the second I called. Did she have car trouble? Gas lines didn’t yet exist.
I only had enough money for a couple of phone calls. After thirty or a thousand frantic minutes, I called our house again. She answered the phone. She hadn’t left?! I was gobsmacked. Was she ever coming?
I survived. And I was surviving in the military. My letters got longer as my stint got shorter.
I have a few so I’ll drop a line. I’ve been in a really good mood today. I hope it lasts all through the rest of boot camp!
I’m watching Happy Days – we 4 in the squad bay (2 light dutys and 2 scribes (me and another) and we can watch public TV. It’s hard getting something on the TV though that isn’t military. I did see Andy Griffith and Gunsmoke. I’ve watched the news and I hope you all don’t get hit by Skylab.
We’re safe here because we’re government, haha.
Next week we start ICT – Individual Combat Training where we live in the wilderness for 4 days and eat out of cans and playing war games all night.
We are marched for about 10 miles (in formation) to a place called Elliot’s Beach and we will be individually tested on Rules, Regulations, Military Law, and First Aid. If we fail inspection we are put back to the beginning and have to start over.
I’m so happy I have don’t have long left.
Well I better run – I love you,
The sky was falling –as in the space station Skylab was falling back to earth. Skylab crashed midway through 1979, the same time my fellow American’s confidence in our government declined. Our economy was a joke. People were planning “Skylab parties” and here I was in a new job where my primary objective was to defend my country, both literally and idealistically.
I am so anxious to get out. They say we graduate August 16 but they say our training is only 9 weeks, that’s like 10 more days and 9 weeks so we should get out earlier.
My letters are so drab and I know that they probably hold nothing of interest for ya’ll but since this is all I do and I know naught else, alas!
Have you gotten any money from Jim Cope? Have I had any phone calls? Clay, please look up Jas. Grand Pre’s address. I haven’t heard from her or Joe.
I’ll probably not get to call ya’ll until the weekend before graduation when we have base liberty. I’m gonna sleep, eat candy and pop and walk out of step. If there’s a few extra hundred laying around then you can fly down here and I can see you for an hour on Sunday.
Sorry about my clothes, Clay. I’ll try to stop in New Orleans on my way home so I can pick them up. We get $500 on graduation but you have to buy your ticket home (they pay to your next duty station and Dallas is on the way). Then we get $500 more on our arrival at next duty station (Camp Pendleton, CA), yea.
I’ve got to run, I miss you all and love you,
P.S. Somebody write me the Hollywood gossip – I know nothing of the fast-lane life now.
Here’s some gossip: Money was tight, and partly because the man my mother married, Jim Cope, had robbed her. I didn’t want her to use whatever money she had to come watch me graduate.
My family knew I was a fish out of water in the military world. They’d hear my stories later. At first, I flopped around, panicking --yet in the chaos of that new environment I knew I would, eventually, write a book about my experiences.
One night, my head freshly shaved, I marched on guard duty holding my M-16 rifle. Light from a post streamed in the squad bay, illuminating the cement floor, shining through the bars on our metal bunks, revealing my fellow privates as they slept. I couldn’t shape that image into words at the time but eventually did in my memoir, The Pink Marine.
I learned to breathe on Parris Island. The military was the last place I thought I’d end up; however, the first place I discovered that I belonged in this world. Until then, I’d floundered.
I learned things to apply and use every day in life. Until I could write that book, I wrote these letters home.
This book is possible because of the men with whom I served during boot camp. Not a moment goes by that I am not grateful for their service.
Platoon 2032 helped make me a better man. You had me at Oorah.
The Pink Marine
Praise for The Pink Marine
“While I served in the military, the Air Force was a social club compared to the Marines. I’ve known Greg Cope White for some thirty years, and have admired him every minute throughout. That he could write as intriguing and honest a book as The Pink Marine is no surprise.” Norman Lear, TV Legend
“A great story beautifully told—surprising, funny, courageous and inspiring.”—David Hyde Pierce
“This is the story of how, through pure gumption, a most unlikely Marine candidate rises to the occasion to show his (rainbow flag of) true colors! This guy has lived a life! Greg’s hilarious and amazingly insightful re-telling is so much fun to read.”—Jane Lynch
“If you’re searching for the next great memoir, it’s arrived. Greg Cope White’s The Pink Marine is both funny and relentlessly honest. If we have any reason to celebrate the imposed silence of President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, The Pink Marine is it. If Greg had talked back then, we wouldn’t have this book now. The Marines got a great soldier out of it. And we civilians got a great author—Peter MacNichol, actor (Numb3rs, Ally McBeal)
“For five years, on a television show called Covert Affairs, I had the privilege of pretending to be a member of the U.S. military. For six years, in the United States Marines, my friend Greg pretended to be straight. He wins. The Pink Marine will inspire you, make you laugh, and remind you of what’s important in this life.”—Christopher Gorham, actor (Popular, Ugly Betty)
“If I were stuck on a deserted island, like in Blue Lagoon, the one book I’d take is The Pink Marine.”—Christopher Atkins, actor (The Blue Lagoon)
“Marine Corps boot camp was the toughest thing I ever did. I had to cope with being skinny, weak, and timid in a place that demanded strength, confidence, and fearlessness. But I didn’t have to cope with being gay or having to hide who I actually was. I don’t know that I could have survived the ordeal if I’d had to carry that secret along with my pack and rifle. Greg Cope White is well named, for he managed to endure more than most Marines, and he came out of it with a rich, enlightening, and affecting tale of endurance. The Pink Marine is a wonderful book and I’m proud to be Greg White’s fellow jarhead.”—Jim Beaver, actor (Justified, Deadwood)/U.S. Marine
“Greg Cope White takes on the universal tragedy of human isolation and the fear of exposure with such humor and grace that it becomes a triumphant comedy.”—Dylan Brody, writer/comedian
“Author Greg Cope White nails it with this interesting and important memoir. Hysterical, witty yet serious, Greg, shares a very personal look into the life of military service where you once were shunned for being gay. He comes through with this honest and funny book, one that all should read!”—Randy Gardner, five-time U.S. figure skating champion
“Authentic, inspiring and lots of giggle moments! The Pink Marine is a page turner and should absolutely be made into a feature film, it’s that good!”—Tai Babilonia, five-time U.S. figure skating champion
“Private Benjamin meets Full Metal Jacket. As fascinating as that description sounds, The Pink Marine goes way beyond that. A beautiful, frank, gripping, and funny memoir, Greg Cope White punches you in the gut one moment and makes you bust a gut in the next. Truly one of the most honest and harrowing depictions of boot camp I’ve ever read or seen in film. And the fact that White can make you laugh at it all makes this book a true original. Wow.”—Sean Dwyer, writer/film producer
About The Author
Author, blogger, and television writer Greg Cope White is a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He has a long history in film and television production. His writing credits include HBO’s Dream On, Norman Lear’s The Powers That Be and 704 Hauser, Fox’s Life with Louie, Sony’s animated series Jumanji, and Disney’s Social Studies. He appears on Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets. He’s a sixth generation Texan now living in Los Angeles.
This a collection of letters and pictures from my time in Marine Corps Boot Camp and is an ancillary piece to the best-selling memoir, The Pink Marine -- which is a true story about Marine Corps Boot Camp. The Pink Marine is the story—full of hilarity and heartbreak—of how a teenage boy who struggles with self-acceptance and doesn’t fit the traditional definition of manliness finds acceptance and self-worth in Marine Corps boot camp. "When Greg Cope White’s best friend tells him he is spending his summer in Marine Corps boot camp, all Greg hears is “summer” and “camp.” Despite dire warnings from his friend, Greg vows to join him in recruit training. He is eighteen, underweight, he’s never run a mile—and he is gay. It’s before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, and with no LGBT rights in place in most states, and the Marines having a very definite expulsion policy in place for gay people when it comes to military personnel, will Greg even survive?" "A heartening coming-of-age story." - Kirkus Reviews "Hilarious & insightful" - Jane Lynch "A great story, beautifully told." - Davide Hyde-Pierce "Intriguing & honest." - Norman Lear One of the rare books to put gay military service in a positive light, I believe we need to tell boot camp stories as part of our mach to LGBT equality. I do so in great detail and with humor. The Pink Marine is being developed into a TV show as well. I don't get to play myself at 18. The producers told me there's not enough special effects for that.