Monday, May 22, 2017

Richard Passion, Boatswain's Mate First Class

It has been said that anyone who has served in the military never forgets his first drill instructor. That’s the fellow who runs your company at boot camp, the one who wakes you up in the early morning darkness by banging something against a garbage can cover and then commands and insults you all day long in a booming voice. They are a special breed, and I’m sure that they are all memorable in their way. The giants among them certainly live on in clear memory among the men who received their guidance.

Mine was certainly a memorable character. I wrote a post seven years ago about boot camp in general, and Dick Passion featured prominently. He wasn’t very tall, nor was he particularly muscular, but he did have an athletic build. He was sturdy, at least, and his posture was straight and solid. More than being physically imposing, he just looked dangerous. He had brush-cut blond hair and a gleam in his eye when he snarled, and his face and forearms had been kissed by a lot of weather and been suitably roughed up.

He commanded our physical respect, I’ll say that. When we were starting to learn the “96 Count Physical Exercise Drill” he gave us a demonstration. After a few boys had complained about the difficulty of holding the M1 Garand at arms-length, he grabbed one and held it straight out in one hand. He lectured us for a while about what big babies we were, and finally issued a challenge. “If any of you pussies want to try, stand up right now and hold your rifle out straight with both hands. We’ll see who lowers the rifle first!” No one took him up on it.

That episode illustrates a critical point about boot camp: they never ask you to do things that you cannot do. The repeated doing of things that you would have thought impossible builds confidence.

Towards the end of boot camp the DI’s start to ease up a little. They become proud of their work in molding us into sailors (in my case) or soldiers or Marines. By week number eight we saw him smile occasionally. He remained demanding until the very last day, but we could see that he was pleased with the job that he had done with us.

All I know about Dick Passion is that he had a family. He lived with them off-base. I don’t know any of the details. I think that he had been raised in the South.

That was Company 360 at the United States Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, in northern Illinois, from August 2nd to the middle of October, 1967. That’s fifty years ago any minute now. I remember that entire ten weeks very clearly, although the names of most of the boys now escape me. Regarding our drill instructor, however, I will remember the man, and his name, clearly and fondly until the day that I die. 

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