STEVE SZABOLCS-UNITED STATES MARINE
There's a place where Marines are made,
Yelling and running with no shade.
Mean DI's building fighting machines,
Taking young boys and creating men.
Up in the morning drizzle and rain,
Run all day till you feel the pain.
This is the place that God forgot,
Sand fleas, gnats and the sun is hot,
As fierce as your Drill Instructor's face,
Parris Island is the Gung Ho place!
Here we go!
Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina became my duty station in February 1965 after 11 years of faithful service in aviation assignments. To say it was a blow to my morale would be an understatement. Upon reporting in at the Depot, I was assigned the duties of Commanding Officer Company K in the Recruit Training Regiment. Having graduated from Marine boot camp, my memory was still vivid in recollections of the demands and hardships recruits were required to successfully endure before being designated a ďMarine.Ē I soon discovered that supervisory personnel in recruit training were also severely regimented with long hours, tight schedules and strict operating procedures.
K Company consisted of three large barracks that faced the asphalt grinder. Each barracks housed one recruit series consisting of four platoons with eighty-six recruits in each platoon. The total number of recruits in the Company was 1,032. The wiring diagram had a captain CO with three lieutenant Series Commanders, a Chief Drill Instructor, a Company Gunny, three Series Gunnys, twelve Senior Drill Instructors and about 35 Junior Drill Instructors. The platoons were each assigned one of the SDIís and two or three of the JDIís. The Senior DI and his JDIís would pick up a new platoon at Recruit Receiving and stay with that platoon until Graduation and Out-posting.
CDI Master Gunnery Sergeant Nolan G. Henry was a tall, muscular, lantern jawed Texan, and an imposing giant in his Marine uniform and Smoky Bear Drill Instructor hat. As K Company Commander, I was proud to have Top Henry as my assistant company commander. Top Henry had three tours on the drill field of Parris Island and was thoroughly indoctrinated in how to train recruits. He was especially expert in the handling of Drill Instructors. As a senior captain naval aviator, I deeply appreciated the talents of Top Henry. We normally inspected all training together as a team.
Top Henry and I approached the K Company Headquarters building after a morning inspection of the platoons. The Runner whose position when not on a trip was just outside the company headquarters office, jumped to his feet and tried to snap a salute in my direction. I noticed his, "Good morning, Sir!" bellow had a foreign accent. A face with scars from the past peered from under the piss pot helmet. His salute was atrocious! His elbow was bent badly askew with his fingers curled like Opossum feet. Top Henry stopped and attempted to physically position the runnerís arm and hand in a proper salute. The fingers would not straighten or move from their gnarled position. Henry shouted, ďWhatís your name, Prive?Ē.
The runner responded, "Sir! Private Szabolcs, Sir!" I asked him what was wrong with his hand. He told me in broken, accented English that his platoon DI's were mad at him and sent him to the One Day Motivation Platoon. The Motivation Drill Instructors made him dig sand and transport it from one place to another. He was continuously carrying five gallon buckets filled with wet sand. Szabolcs said he was forced to hold the buckets in his outstretched hands while the Drill Instructors shouted and threatened him. He related how his arms became tired and the buckets slid into the crook of his elbow. The private said he carried the buckets that way when he could no longer carry them in his hands. He said that he had carried the buckets in the bent elbow position all day long and his arms, wrists and fingers had become frozen in their gnarled positions. That happened three days earlier and Szabolcs had been on light duty awaiting the Navy surgeonís recommendation for retention.
I took Recruit Szabolcs to the Navy dispensary and told the Doctor to evaluate his condition and give me a current prognosis. The Doctor said it would take at least six weeks of intense therapy to get his hands back to normal use, and there was a 50-50 chance his condition would not improve. I took the recruit back to my office and told him he would have to be assigned to the Medical Platoon until he recovered and that he would be set back to another platoon when his condition healed. He begged me not to send him to the Medical Platoon. I asked him why it was so important to him. Szabolcs said he was afraid that Medical might send him home as incurable. It was during his pleading that Szabolcs explained his background. Private Szabolcs was Hungarian. At the age of fifteen, Szabolcs had been lined up before a wall with his fellow countrymen, members of his family and friends, and machine gunned by the occupying Soviets during the Hungarian move for freedom. Szabolcs was hit by bullets and shrapnel. He collapsed in the pile of bodies though not mortally wounded. The Soviets left him for dead. Szabolcs crawled from the bodies and found aid for his injuries. Steve Szabolcs later escaped to a free Western Europe country, and from there, made his way to the United States. He joined the Marines as soon as possible. He wanted to be in the best fighting branch of our military in hopes of one day defeating the brutal Soviets.
Top Henry and I kept Private Szabolcs in our Company Headquarters. He participated in what training didnít require perfect grip and arm movement. He was my orderly when not in classes with his platoon. I understood how he had become a problem for the DI's. He had been through hell and survived. He was sometimes slow to react to commands because of misunderstanding the language. The DI's could not break his spirit with the bends and thrusts and jumping jacks punishment. He resented the harshness of their treatment when he was trying so hard but Szabolcs desperately wanted to become a Marine. Some of his punishment bordered on maltreatment considering he was doing his best to please the DIís. Once the DI's learned of Szabolcs background their overzealous approach softened. Top Henry and I got rubber balls for Szabolcs to squeeze every waking minute of each day. We used other therapy to get the damaged tendons and muscles working properly again. In three weeks he was nearly fully recovered. By time for the Rifle Range, Szabolcs had rejoined his platoon and was ready for marksmanship qualification. The rest of boot camp was a snap for Szabolcs and as one very happy private he graduated with honors in his platoon and became a United States Marine.
This story does not end there. Three years later I returned from South Vietnam after a thirteen month combat tour away from my family and my Country. My 1968 assignment was in Marine Aircraft Group 33 at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California. One day not long after my arrival, a young Marine lieutenant approached me holding a perfect salute with a 45 degree forearm and rigid, straight fingers. He had a big smile on his face and wore Naval Flight Officer aviation wings over his left chest pocket. He said, "Major Cathcart, I want to thank you for giving me a chance to get through boot camp with my platoon at Parris Island."
I recognized him as Szabolcs. The disabled recruit private had come a long way from K Company Parris Island, SC. There was no forgetting the facial scars which remained from his trip to the wall and a Soviet firing squad. I was happy to return the classy salute. Lt Szabolcs said he had successfully completed the NFO program and was flying in an F-4 Phantom squadron. He was enthusiastic about being a Marine and being a flyer. We visited several times during my time at El Toro. I lost track of Steve Szabolcs when he transferred and when the Corps sent me to helicopters and back to WestPac. I feel sure that Steve Szabolcs was heroic in his service to our Country and that his conduct in and out of combat reflected favorably upon himself, his Hungarian heritage, the Marine Corps and the United States of America.
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