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Basic Training (Boot Camp) During WWII

Discussion in 'WWII' started by green papaya, May 3, 2007.

  1. How tough is basic training these days?

    what was basic training boot camp like during WWII? was it much different than modern day basic training?

    did they shave a soldier's head during basic training back in those days? I have seen old films and they dont appear to have shaved heads
  2. If you mean in the US military, then I don't really know and would be interested in learning about it as well. I only know about German and Russian training of the period.
  3. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    They were still shaving guys' heads in the mid-80s when I was in. Women could have longer hair but it had to be above the collar and out of the eyes and not need any fiddling with during the day.

    There was a photo at the Denver MEPS of a Native American with very long hair getting his head shaved for the Marines.
  4. When did things change from the "awright you guys" Sgt. Snorkel method of basic to the calculated messing with your head of later years? And why?

    I've heard stories from the WW2 era that would probably leave some latter day veterans laughing their **** off at how the recruits were granted some degree of human dignity, no matter what they went thru. The cold war era psychological breakdown techniques weren't quite the thing yet, and I think that makes a lot of difference.

    Basic is, in some ways, the single-most holy rite of American maleness. Even in our volunteer-military society, if you're a man, you come to terms with it or you feel diminished for not doing so. Just MHO...
  5. I think one thing which hasn't changed is the experience recruits have before going to basic training. One issue during WWII was that Americans being inducted en-masse had virtually no prior military experience or training. You had to teach them how to function in a disciplined environment, how to wear and care for a uniform, how to follow orders and military custom. Thus the US system was geared primarily towards training civilians to act and think like soldiers.

    In contrast, the German system drew upon a population with experience not only in the Hitlerjugend, but also people who had served their term in the RAD, or sometimes even the SA or SS. Thus the Germans got "raw" recruits who already knew how to function in a military environment, knew basic drill, how to wear the uniform, etc. They had a lot more time during training to instruct the recruits in more specialized skills, have leadership training and focus on squad comradeship.
  6. Flitcraft

    Flitcraft One Too Many

    I have a college friend whose father was a Depression Era farmboy on a hardscrabble little place. When WWII broke out, he lied about his age and volunteered for the Marine Corps. His impression was that the work was easier and the food was much better. He also said it was the first time in years that he was guaranteed 3 square meals a day. He said he actually grew a little taller and filled out some just from eating a much healthier diet.
    From his description, there was much more of a feeling of cameraderie, more of a "we're all in this together" sort of feeling, which may just be a function of a time in America when the common culture was stronger and there was sense of fighting a common enemy.

    Later, when I went through OCS (early 1980's), I couldn't believe the amount of useless BS we went through. I'm not talking about physical rigors, I'm talking about things like packing one truck to the brim with officer candidates, while another had one candidate whom the instructors were ostracizing, on it. Singling people out and making them guzzle multiple canteens of water until they vomited and urinated on themselves. When the instructor found out that one guy in my fire team was majoring in cartography, they made sure to fail all of us on every map course. Just stupid stuff like that.

    My grandfather was a DI in the post WWII era (he was a Pacific Theatre veteran) and I always remember him being much more paternalistic. But of course, he'd already proven himself in combat. I guess he took more of a mentor/student attitiude towards the kids in his unit.
  7. Paisley

    Paisley I'll Lock Up

    Our TI, who was about 5'-0" and 105 lbs., told us she was thrown down the stairs during basic training. I've heard far worse horror stories as well. I guess I'm not sure what you're supposed to learn from being kicked around.
  8. When my father went through Marine Corps boot camp in 1944, he was hit on the head with a billy club by his drill instructor, and knocked out. In those days they had drill instructors who spent their entire careers training recruits, and they became pretty hardened. Since the infamous drowning incident (several recruits drowned crossing a stream) in 1956 there have been much more professional standards applied to recruit training. DI's only spend a normal tour of duty (2 or 3 years?) at Parris Island or San Diego, and then go back into their various MOS's in the Corps.
    As I said, I think the big change came in the 50's. Before that it was much more "Old Corps". Not that bad things can't happen today, but all in all it's much more professional.
  9. Was there really that much institutionalized abuse during WW2 in the larger services, like the Army? Was there the time for it, and was the psychological angle of training that well understood?

    I wonder as well whether certain men who were found physically or mentally unfit for basic combat training were sent to desk jobs and such after inprocessing, or whether in some cases they were simply ridden until they broke, just to set an example. Had I been around and of age in the 1940s, I can see easily how I might have been singled out. When people give me crap, I give it back. Then again, we used to break people who wouldn't bend. They weren't rare or valuable or precious or admired for their sense of self. They were just useless and Godless and wrong. Unless they were smart and got some lucky breaks, they were basically garbage.

    Back to the Marines. I understand that for decades the Marines never interfered with a DI. Unless his platoons weren't performing well, his authority was sacred. So there was a lot of freedom in the job. Some WW2 era recollections I've read or heard reflect Flitcraft's buddy's experience - "we're all in this together" - while some others talk about it being full-bore dehumanizing brutality.

    Lou Diamond, one of those lifer DIs, was legendary for handing out physical and mental cruelty in the name of discipline. One recruit had Lou drive a nail through his hand for resting it on a wall while peeing. A couple more had a tentmate blow his own head off and Lou was on them in seconds - about cleaning up that tent. Not word one about the late private - he was garbage. He had never made it to Marine; he had never been a human being at all.

    The Atlantic this month has a long feature on Army training today, from the perspective of the trainers but written by a former infantryman. There's a lot in there to ponder about what (at least in today's wars) the military mindset really means. One thing you notice is that ideas like "weakness" and "softness" stop being value judgments and epithets, and become real, tangible character failings, things they can point to in civilian culture. Individualism also comes in for a rap or two, altho how much of it is principled social non-conformity and how much just consumerist blah-blah doesn't trouble the author.

    If you're going to fight a war you don't understand for people you'll never see, you need an enemy. Part of the trainer's job is to BE that enemy - to keep you too scared, stressed and hurting to think straight. The other part is to make sure you act correctly without needing to think.

    It's a complicated balance and a contradictory role - probably best performed after careful training and education but then carried thru without question or examination. We shouldn't be too surprised if the people doing it screw up, leave scars, etc., now and then, or indeed are considered exemplary for doing so.

    Because war is hell, war justifies anything and everything. It's a contradiction it looks like we're going to have to live with, as a country that's based on freedom kept thru power.
  10. Flitcraft

    Flitcraft One Too Many

    Yeah, there was definitely a lot of variation in how the different companies were run. We had an "apprentice" DI whose MOS was Electrician, so he was young and dumb. He was always trying to goad somebody into punching him, but it got to the point where it was just plain silly.

    I kept wishing we'd spend more time on small unit tactics, instead of useless pseudo-psychological conditioning.
  11. Army and Marine Basic back then wasnt as spit and polish as it is now. Basically you have to look at it like this, it was a period in time when our nation was in a crisis and they needed men in uniform, any men, and they needed them fast. As my grandfather (USMC 1945-53) said upon seeing "Full Metal Jacket", we didn't have that micky mouse boy scout stuff when i went through Paris Island and graduated in Aug of 45. It was an indoctrination into the marines and some of the methods were strange, the DI's were strict and swore and called you "stupid" and other colorful things, but it wasn't something where if you said something incorrect the DI made you do pushups and scream all in your face. They didnt have the time for that. It was a crash course for the ultimate invasion of Japan and they needed marines fast. It was tough, believe me, but it was the best accomplishment of my life.
  12. MagistrateChris

    MagistrateChris One of the Regulars

    In talking with s few old timers during my West Point/Army days, The biggest differences were motivation of the recruits and the training methods of the instructors. Speed was much more important then, as we were at war. Also, in the Army, you were dealing with draftees as often as volunteers. Instructors were often harsh with recruits, physically so on occassion, because they were training troops for combat. Lessons had to be learned quickly, forcefully if necessary, due to the demands on the troops in battle. Keep in mind West Point was turning out two classes of butter bars a year to meet the needs of the Army.

    Today is much more spit and polish, as there is the "leisure" of time. Although we are at war now, the threat is not the same to our homeland. The demand for troops (though great) is not on the same level as a two front world war.
  13. Were they harsher with draftees?
    When are trainers not harsh with recruits? Ideally all are trained for combat, even in peacetime.
  14. Yeah, i went through a peacetime boot camp and it sucked. Wayyy to much time spent on telling and teaching us how to be garrison soldiers. Now adays, its the same as it was for WW2, scraping the bottom of the barrel for every volunteer they can get. No, it didnt matter back in WW2 whether u were volunteer or draft, they were doing the same thing, scraping the bottom of the barrel. Physical training was called "calestenics" and that was usually in the morning when the recruits woke up before chow, same as it is today. PT and then chow so that they dont vomit up their costly army chow. DI's (as the marine corps and navy call them) Drill Sgt's as the Army calls them, are harsh on their troops initally in the first weeks of Basic as it is meant to break the recruits, then as time wears on, the DS starts to become more of a father figure to them and tho he maintains his distance and harshness, they become somewhat of a family and the recruit thus learns the discipline without fully undermining the role of the DS and thus, disrespecting the DS thinking he is his friend just because he is being somewhat easy on the recruit. In WW2, it was less physically strict. Recruits werent expected to drop and give the drill sergeat 50 if he answered a wrong answer. The physical standards of the 40s were less than they were today. Also, recruits could smoke back then where they arent allowed any nicotine at all today. Its safe to say that because recruits in WW2 were on a "Crash-course" that standards were somewhat relaxed, yet it was difficult for many because the army had to make soldiers of them in a short period of time and therefore had to cram a hell of a lot of knowledge into them in 14 weeks (basic infantry school i.e. basic)
  15. Story

    Story I'll Lock Up

    I think alot depends on A) branch and B) the personality of your Drills (particularly the senior Drill).
    My Cold War era basic armor crewman training was laid-back (the company was blessed with a minimum of 8-up types), but always with the undertone of "if you're too slow, you are going to die gruesomely". In retrospect, I attribute this to the most of the E7s having recently returned from the German (or Korean) border.

    D.S. Edwards favorite non-standard Jody:
    This ain't no party,
    this ain't no disco,
    this ain't no foolin' around
  16. Story

    Story I'll Lock Up

    I've wondered how accurate BILOXI BLUES was, as well.
  17. Naphtali

    Naphtali Practically Family

    A correlative question comes to mind: Was intensity of training different among camps in World War II?

    When I was in the army 1969-72, Basic Training at, for example, Fort Dix was a joke, and with apparent reason. Those who were to be sent to Vietnam had very intense, disagreeable training, Basic and A.I.T., at places like Fort Polk, Fort Jackson, Fort Leonard Wood aka Fort Lost-in-the-Woods aka Little Korea, and Fort Lewis.

    The OCS's were in a different category. Benning School for Boys was physical hell for eight weeks. After the pikers were weeded out, TAC officers became less bizarre (and less funny -- this means you lieutenants Perry and Wynn).
  18. Barry

    Barry Practically Family

    Some of these threads bring back neat memories for me.

    Years later...my father was at Fort Ord in the mid-fifties. I think he was in the Transportation Corps. I don't remember too many stories. He did tell me about "WPLJ" (white port / lemon juice :confused: ) though. It was a drink so popular that some of the guys on base (The Four Deuces) wrote a song about it. Frank Zappa covered it later on.
  19. I suspect that basic training during WWII was with a get-as-many-men-as-possible attitude. They were probably tough but I don't think there were very many men that did not make it into the service because of anything short of huge physical problems. They needed all the guys they could come up with. The worse basic is the basic training you get when there is no combat happening. It's full of shoe shinning and perfect haircuts.
    When I went into the Army in 1975, they were being real nice to you and giving us bonuses for going into combat arms. The drill sgts. were burnt out from Nam and were still slapping us around and treating us in a way that today would get them thrown out of the service. We did not have women to talk to, smoked and drank as much as possible and morale was exceptionaly low with the taste of Viet Nam still on everyones spirit. I remember a few years later finding out that both men and women were doing basic together and in some cases the billets housed men on one floor and women on another and I thought "well, that is the end of any serious military force for the U.S." Later the D.Sgts. had to "respect" the recruits and could not hit or smack them anymore. Then the "no smoking" deal came on and that was a sure sign of no more real men in the military. I think I was wrong :eek: . They never let us shave out heads. The military haircut was real close but when I shaved my head, like with a razor, I was severely reprimanded because I was now able to get a sunburn on my head. Which could mean time off.:)

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