Marksmanship Training-Parris Island


The Battalion Three called at 9:30 AM and told me to give the Marksmanship Introduction to the Series at Elliot's Beach at 10 O'clock that morning since the Training Officer was ill. There was no lesson plan for the lecture but the time was scheduled for thirty minutes.  I hated impromptu speeches on important military subjects.  Fifteen minutes was not enough time to prepare or even organize a talk.  Fortunately, I had been through Marine boot camp and fired for record at a rifle range just like they would be doing during the next two weeks.  I decided to wing the lecture by relating my experiences and marksmanship accomplishments during my first rifle qualification some eleven years before.  

I drove out to Elliot's Beach at 9:45 and found the four sets of bleachers arranged in a standard U for two platoons at twelve O'clock with one platoon at 3 and one at 9 O'clock.  There was no public address system.  I would have to practically shout my words.  The cattle cars began to arrive and the Drill Instructors marched the 346 recruits into the stands in an orderly manner. 

A real trash-moving rain storm had passed over the Island the previous night.  While the privates were being seated I stayed out of sight behind the stands.  I noticed washed out areas where the rushing water had cut 6 to 9 inches into the topsoil and had deposited the silt under the bleachers.  In the bottom of one rut created by the water I noticed several gray stones.  I picked one up and saw it was about a 50 caliber size round ball of lead slightly misshaped by impact.  The gray objects were lead rounds from many decades before.  The rounds were probably from the days of black powder and ball rifles.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, I had the makings of my impromptu lecture.  The dozen old bullets were a perfect inspirational introduction to shooting for these young would be marksmen.  I took the handful of bullets to the podium.

I could tell that the Drill Instructors did not believe the story I was telling the recruits about finding the historic rounds of ball ammunition only five minutes before the lecture.  The eye-rolling and nudging going on was easy to see.  I stressed the importance of marksmanship in the early days of this great Nation with battles with hostile Indians and the many wars before and after the creation of the Marine Corps in 1775.  I filled the remaining time with my own recruit marksmanship experience in boot camp.  I had been the high expert shooter in Platoon 111 on record day at Camp Matthews.  I still had the steam and dry iron that was given to me as my prize.  A steam iron in 1954 was indeed a prized possession for a Marine.

I related to the recruits how my Company Commander had come to my position on the 500 yard line and kneeled down beside me to talk about my shooting.  I had nine straight bulls eyes at that time.  He told me that my prone position was so steady that I had not only hit the spotter five times but had twice hit the wooden peg which held the white spotter in place.  One of the hits had taken the wood peg completely out of the spotter and split it.  I was surprised to learn all this.  He finally shook my hand and stepped behind the firing line.  You can guess what happened.  My concentration was as shot as my target.  I cranked off a round into the four ring on my tenth shot.  Well a 49 from 500 yards isn't bad shooting.  However, shooting a possible at the 500 would have been something to really brag about.


I was transferred from K Company to the Weapons Battalion in early 1966.  As Range Company Commander, I had all the ranges, coaches, staff NCOs and range officers.  The tour was interesting with a thousand stories to be told.  The .45 Caliber Pistol was familiarization fired by every recruit. Range Company also fired re-qualification of all Parris Island Marines as well as all military personnel required to fire from nearby MCAS Beaufort. The .45 Cal. 1911A-1 Pistol had been around over 55 years and was so accurate that it held the range records for highest score at virtually every United States Pistol Range.  Yet, the majority of Staff NCO's distrusted the weapon and had difficulty qualifying each year.  The 45 Caliber pistols we had at Range Company were so old with so many thousands of rounds fired through them that they were loose and rattled like a can of nuts and bolts.  I ran the Pistol re-qualification most of the time.  I was a major by then and many of the officers had trouble scoring with the 45 Pistol.  By being the duty Range Officer, I could prevent some written complaints and grievances generated by non-qualifiers and other disgruntled shooters.

A typical shooter who disliked the 45 would check out the pistol from my Armorer and then bring it to me as too loose and worn to fire.  I would send him back to his target after telling him all our 45s were like his.  Usually the shooter who wanted a different pistol did poorly practicing with his weapon.  I usually tried to convince him of the accuracy of his particular pistol a couple of times before proving my point.  Finally, I would electrically run his target in to his firing position, pull out the large silhouette target and reverse it to just the gray backside of the silhouette.  I would then run it out to the 25 yard line which was 10 yards beyond his target position.  I would then take his 45 Pistol and rapid fire two magazines of five rounds each into the target.  I would run the target back in, pull out the target, reverse it back in the frame and have him count the holes.  There would be ten rounds in the black on the silhouette target.  I then counseled him on how to aim and fire the 45.  Many shooters were helped but some left the range unqualified.

Weapons Battalion provided me with a golf cart to drive around the ranges and conduct operations.  The on/off switch was bad and no one could fix it.  The cart had two positions for motion.  When the toggle switch was on, the cart would go full bore which was about 15 miles per hour.  When the switch was off the cart would coast and stop. I was aware of the problem and used the toggle on/off as my speed governor.  One day a hundred or so coaches were outside the Range Company office waiting for a marksmanship briefing.  Two of the coaches climbed onto my green golf cart parked facing the huge garage doors in front of the building.  They were laid back in the seats about half awake.  As idle hands are prone to do, one of the Marines flipped the toggle switch to on.  The cart went from zero to 15 mph, crashed through the garage doors and then slammed into the brick rear wall.  Top ran down the ladder a step ahead of me to see where the grenade detonated in our building.  We had to get the meat wagon to take the rudely shocked coaches to the Naval Hospital for treatment of injuries.  That accident got my golf cart ALL the required repairs.

One day shortly after assuming command of the ranges, I was driving my golf cart past the recruit 45 pistol snap-in ranges.  I saw a PMI [primary marksmanship instructor] kick a recruit soundly in the buttocks.  I stopped at the platoon and picked up the PMI.  I asked him why he kicked the private.  The PMI replied, "To save him from shooting himself in the hand during live fire."  He said the recruit had gotten his left hand and fingers ahead of the muzzle while handling the weapon. Such maltreatment was well known among the PMI's.  It was difficult to stop because of the mutual support among the PMI's and coaches.  The coaches would stop serious coaching and the PMI's would cease training.  Many of the Drill Instructors sympathized with the PMI's and coaches.  One day at the recruit 45 familiarization firing range when the range officer was looking away, a coach kicked a recruit who had his fingers ahead of the muzzle of his 45.  The shock of the kick caused the recruit to jerk the trigger.  The joint of his left index finger was blown away.  Kicking did not work.

The 45 was dangerous to handle.  No matter how you lectured, snapped in, or dry fired the recruits with the 45, some would still try to kill themselves or others.  The recoil was so harsh with the heavy 45 that some of the recruits would find the pistol behind their ear after firing a shot.  They would sometimes inadvertently jerk off another round.  One recruit fired a round and during the recoil cranked off another round which blew off a sizable chunk of his ear.  Shooters blew off fingers by somehow getting the left hand over the muzzle while seating the pistol and accidentally cranking off a round.  Fortunately, there were few accidental deaths with the 45.

Another day as I inspected the small caliber range where the recruits fired the 22 caliber rifles for familiarization, I noticed a prone recruit with bloodied fingers on his right hand.  He was firing slow fire with the one-on-one coach sitting beside the concrete shooting position marker.  I noticed blood on the white marker.  I questioned the recruit and his coach and found that the coach was trying to stop the recruit from jerking the trigger.  He was taking the shooter's right index finger and placing it on the concrete marker and then pounding the fingertip with a magazine.  The recruit's finger was in bad shape which accounted for him continuing to flinch and jerk the trigger.  The coach lost his job on the spot.  Thank goodness very few coaches maltreated the recruits. 

My Parris Island tour was cut short by orders to Vietnam.  The southeast Asia build up included more tactical fighter squadrons.  Pilots were in great demand and my being at Parris Island was considered a waste of a valuable resource.  

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