It was the moment every officer wants and fears -- the moment of ultimate command. His unit had been taken prisoner and penned in a tiny compound, behind a moat and a 10-foot wall. The sneering captors had boasted that they would shoot two of the POWs in an hour. Then an air raid began -- a chance to escape.
The team had hidden a ladder, a pipe and a length of rope; they looked to their commander for a plan that would free them before it was too late.
Without speaking, he grabbed the ladder and tried to stretch it over the moat. It seemed to touch, then wobbled, shook, and fell in -- lost. Perhaps he could use the pipe -- but it, too, fell in. Only a few minutes of air cover remained; he made a lariat and tried to throw it over the wall, but it fell short. He stood silently before the grim red wall, his face working in grief and despair. He had failed.
AAAAAOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAHHHHHHH! A siren split the air, and one of the captors appeared with a clipboard. "Okay," he said. "As far as formulating a plan was concerned, you was lost in space. You did not solicit questions or suggestions . . ."
The illusion vanished; the compound was a stage set; the "siren" was the southbound Auto-Train, tearing across the scrub pine woods around Quantico, Va.; the captors were Marine sergeants. But for an instant, the peice of theater -- called the "reaction course" -- had jelled into pure panic and terror. Which is just what its designers intended.
The "commander" was a student at U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School; he was being tested on that elusive weapon without which armies cannot fight -- leadership. And if the test scared him, or showed him fears and uncertainties inside himself, so much the better, say the Marines. At OCS, they deal in fear and stress.
This is the story of "Charley Company," the 113th class to pass through Marine OCS. The Marine Corps' answer to West Point is a pridefully decrepit huddle of buildings and Quonset huts on the banks of the Potomac. On Feb. 18 of this year, 226 officer candidates -- 204 men and 22 women -- reported there for a 10-week combination of boot camp and professional football training which pushed them to the ragged edge of their physical and emotional capabilities. On April 25, 117 marched out as "butterbars" -- Second Lieutenants of Marines.
Charley Company's median age was 25. About one-third were enlisted Marines or former members of another service. The rest were college graduates, most of them liberal-arts majors. They had come to Quantico from all over the country for many reasons; the most common was a hope that a tour in the Corps would look good on a resume in a tight civilian job market. About half had the added incentive of "aviation contracts" -- guaranteed slots in Marine flight school.
In theory, every member of Charley Company had gone through rigorous screening by Marine recruiters, passing an aptitude test and a physical fitness inventory for which they had to run three miles in 28 minutes, do 40 sit-ups in two minutes, and chin themselves at least four times (standards for women were slightly different). In theory, each of them had the ability to win the golden prize at the end -- the bars of a second lieutenant and the whopping base pay of $827.40 a month.
For most of Charley Company, Marine OCS was the first hard thing they had ever tried. Those who succeeded will remember it with pride for the rest of their lives; those who did not will bear scars for many years. "I thought he was laughing"
Feb. 18 was a bright cloudless winter day -- as if the Corps had ordered up a good beginning from logistics and supply. The new candidates stepped off buses and were sent into the dingy green squad bay of the barracks that would house them, where Navy medical corpsmen immediately took their blood pressure.
Those who passed the test were turned over to Marine sergeants; by nightfall there was probably not a normal blook pressure in the barracks.
Each candidate was assigned to a platoon. "Charley One" was the women's platoon; the rest were for men. The platoons were commanded by officers; but for the first three weeks of OCS, the officers were distant figures. The main fact of life in the open squad bays was the unceasing wrath of the platoon sergeants and "sergeant instructors."
A typical day at OCS began with a 5 a.m. reveille, continued through a 20-minute breakfast and a physical training (PT) session or "conditioning hike," included a few hours of classroom instruction and a couple of hours of close-order drill, and ended with "lights out" at 9 p.m. For the first three weeks, the sergeants were with their platoons every minute of the day.
Each platoon sergeant was a former boot camp Drill Instructor. In the Marine Corps of 1980, DIs are forbidden to "thump" the candidates, to curse at them, or even to demand 10 push-ups. But in the theater of fear that is military training, no headquarters directive can disarm the DIs most fearsome weapon: his voice.
"As you march, you will keep your fingers at all times in a natural curl," they barked like pugnacious dogs in the haircut line, the chow line, the PX line, the armory line, and on the dreary marches back and forth. "At no time will you look to right or left, candidates. You will swing your hands forward three inches and back six as your march. Did I tell you to move, candidates? tAssume the position of attention! LOCK YOUR BODY, CANDIDATE! Do you call that a natural curl? WHO TOLD YOU TO MOVE, CANDIDATE? Don't call me 'sir,' you slime, I work for a living! Would you dare to be eyeballing me, candidate? GET YOUR EYEBALLS OFF ME NOW, CANDIDATE!"
Coupled with this "controlled stress" was the system of "candidate billets" -- tests reserved in OCS's early days for weak candidates, "non-hackers." A "billet holder" was in charge of a 12-memer squad or a 35-member platoon. The job includes marching them to chow, forming them for "rifle counts," supervising them in class. The sergeants were watching at every minute, and when a candidate made a mistake, he or she was relieved and given an "unsat chit" for the "candidate record book."
Some candidates learned from these mistakes; more often, the chits were used as evidence for dropping them from OCS at the third week "evaluation boards." Some did not even last that long.
On Monday, Feb. 25, Charley Company hiked three miles with full packs and rifles. They set up pup tents and gathered round campfires on what would be the coldest night of the year.
Call him Willie; he was in Charley Five. That night he told his new comrades that he had held three or four jobs in the last few years and felt the Marine Corps was his last chance to make good. Others in the platoon knew he was already in trouble with the Corps. His sergeants had marked him as "belligerent," "unmilitary"; in the squad bay, they screamed his name like a curse word. He had failed in his billets, and other billet holders, imitating the sergeants, began harassing him as well.
They woke in the freezing dawn. One candidate was treated for hypothermia; the rest marched back for a class in Marine history.
"I heard it when it started," recalled a candidate who was sitting in front of Willie. "I thought he was laughing, but he wasn't. He was crying."
Willie left class. The tears continued, along with talk about "plants" and "spies" in the company. A doctor from the base clinic came and took Willie away. By reveille Wednesday, most of Charley Company had heard that he was in the psychiatric ward of Bethesda Naval Hospital. They never saw him again.
Doctors at the hospital won't discuss the case. To the OCS staff, Willie's breakdown was neither unusual nor disturbing.
"If I had a battery of psychiatrists and psychologists that I could use to screen every candidate along the way, or if there were a very clever written test, that would be great," explained Col. Joseph E. Hopkins, battalion commander of OCS. In fact, because of budget cuts, Quantico has no base psychiatrist. "It's my job to ensure that that sort of reaction does not occur under a combat situation, when many lives would depend on him. Personally, I feel bad. But I certainly wouldn't think of modifying the stress systems."
A few weeks later, Charley Five selected a nickname for their platoon flag. Remembering their bunkmate, they called themselves the "Madmen." They leave with a chip on their shoulders"
Wednesday, March 5, was rainy and cold, and the regular OCS physcial training session was held in the Quantico gymnasium, a cavernous former airplane hangar. Warrant Officer Peter Brown, a PT instructor on loan to OCS from Britain's Royal Marines, led the men of Charley Company through his specially devised "commando plus" exercises and then a timed run on the gymnasium floor.
From a balcony, the women of Charley One watched forlornly as their male counterparts worked out. Only when the men were finished was Brown able to turn his attention to them.
"If you are ever attacked in the dark, you will want to know how to defend yourselves," he told them. "Some of you may not wish to defend yourselves, but it's helpful to know how."
Until 1978, women attended a separate OCS, nicknamed the "charm school," at Quantico. Now they were an uneasy afterthought to the male program. They lived in the same barracks, attended the same classes, and ate in the same chow hall.
But unlike the Army, the Marine Corps was determined to keep its women away from anything even remotely combat-related. Though they carried rifles, they were barred from most of the offensive tactical training at OCS, and they did their PT separately.
Charley One did go through a physical regimen as hard, for their capabilities, as the other platoons. When they reported, they had to run 1.5 miles in 15 minutes, hang from a pull-up bar for at least 16 seconds, and do 22 sit-ups in one minute. There were special women's "agility" and "confidence" courses, and rapid hikes, up to six miles, with nearly 70 pounds of equipment.
Charley One suffered the worst attrition of any of the six platoons -- from 22 at start to 7 at graduation. Because the Corps has so few slots for women, "a girl practically has to be able to change in a phone booth" to get into OCS, one recruiter said. Those who made it through had more than that -- a kind of screaming determination.
Jincy Cantebury, a 24-year-old former radio reporter from Hopkinsville, Ky., had to go through three times to get her bars. On her first try, she hurt herself; on a "recycle," she made it to the ninth week and was dropped for a minor infraction of the rules. She tried again in the 113th.
"I have a high spirit, she said later. "I wanted to prove that they couldn't break me." She needed her spirits to face the sniping from the men. In the last class, she remembered, women had done combat exercises and obstacle courses with the men. Now the Corps said it was too dangerous. "It earned us a lot more respect," she said.
Cantebury's platoon commander, 1st Lt. Kathleen G. Kramer, was a graduate of the old "charm school" system. She thought the joint training program was a mistake. Her last tour had been at Parris Island recruit depot, where women "boots" train separately. "I think we're putting out better enlisted women than woman officers now," she said. "They leave here with chips on their shoulders." "The old Lie"
Classroom teaching at OCS was a tough assignment. Not that the material was hard; for, despite its name, OCS was not really a school, but a 10-week screening program by which the Marine Corps decided if a candidate had the intelligence and stamina to pass through the six-month Basic School and serve as a Marine officer. To test their minds, OCS gave Charley Company a smattering of military knowledge -- Marine history, M-16 rifle nomenclature, map and compass reading and basic infantry tactics, taught by rote at the simplest level.
But the classroom teachers had to keep the attention of "students" who might have been roused at 5 a.m., put through a brisk set of calisthenics, led on a five-mile run on a hilly jogging trail, and then fed a meal of chili and lemon pie. So they resorted to desperate tactics -- clips of movies like "Rocky" and "The Sands of Iwo Jima" or staged stunts in which one instructor cut off another's necktie.
As Charley Company neared the midpoint of its training, First Lieutenant Bill Warner used a grim introduction for his class on "Moral Leadership" -- Wilfred Owen's bitter World War I poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est." Taking its name from a Latin tag meaning "it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country," the verse described in hideous detail the death of a mustard-gas victim. If the reader had seen that death, Owen concluded: My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Duce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
Charley Company learned the basics of leading a 13-man Marine rifle squad through simple combat manuevers. After classroom lectures, they were lifted in helicopters to a training site where they reclined on a grassy slope and watched a "squad attack demonstration."
Camouflaged Marines swept out of the treeline and over ran a bunker defended by "the 22nd Agressor Battalion, fresh from Afghanistan." The "enemies," screaming pidgin Russian, "died" with polite haste.
It was all very innocent; nothing simulated the disorientation and terror that veterans report from actual combat. Little in the training reflected America's experience in Vietnam. "What a second lieutenant does hasn't changed that much in 200 years," explained Maj. Tom Martin, the muscular Battalion "S-3" who supervised tactical training. Martin was a veteran of Tet streetfighting in Hue; but none of the officers of Charley Company -- Capt. Bruce Gombar, his executive officer, Capt. Chris Cowdrey, or the six platoon commanders under them -- saw action in Vietnam; only four of the NCOs did. "Is it necessary to motivate men to kill?" a candidate once asked Capt. Bob Gregory, leader of Charley Four. "Never having been in that position," the answer began, "I couldn't really say . . ."
Most of the candidates were about 10 when Marines landed at Danang; most remembered Vietnam as a dim time of demonstrations and body counts.
One who remembered vividly was Kevin Fossett, who was in the third grade when the war began. His father spent three tours in Asia with the Air Force. A cousin did "long range reconnaissance" behind North Vietnamese lines. "I grew up with kids whose fathers went to Vietnam and never came back," he said.
Fossett was a "recycle"; in the 112th, he had broken his leg. The doctors said he would not run for six months -- if then. But through an open office door, Fossett had heard his sergeant-instructor, Mark Price, telling someone he thought Fossett would make a good Marine.
"I decided, if he thinks that much of me, I'm going to make the comeback," Fossett said. He worked out on his own, dragging his leg through workouts while in "casual platoon," the cold storage where OCS puts "sick, lame and lazies" who have been dropped or recycled. By the fourth week of the 113th, Fossett was one of the fastest runners in Charley Company.
The end result of the ordeal would be the chance to do what his family had done: to offer his life in a war that would be chosen, and possibly lost, by others. "You try to put it out of your mind," he said. "But it's an ever-present threat.Basically that's what we're here for. We're training for war." "Do you think I'm slime?"
On Thursday, March 20, Bruce Gombar convened a "fifth week evaulation board" to hear the cases of marginal" or "unsat" candidates. Some who appeared were sent to Col. Hopkins to be dropped; others were put on probation.
An afternoon in the squad bay that served as a boardroom was wrenching experience. Board members read from record books, demanding explanations of each recorded failure and mistake. Candidates whose explanations did not satisfy were cut off abruptly.
Candidates dropped from the program as "unsat" left OCS with no military obligation and an honorable discharge. Charley Company suffered an unusually high attrition rate; though no one in the Corps was eager to talk about it, it was common knowldedge that recruiting officers -- whose careers would suffer if they did not meet their monthly quotas -- were sending candidates to OCS who had no chance of finishing the program. Many of these were dropped at the third -- and fifth-week boards.
But the candidates had also signed a contract if they met OCS standards. Then each was free to "drop on request" (DOR) -- and go back to civilian life.
Candidate Jim Lukes had taught disturbed children for a year at Chicago's Paul Robeson High School; then the city's financial crisis convinced him he had no future there. On an impulse, he joined the Corps.
Lukes was a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy The Hobbit and its hero Bilbo Baggins. "I thought like Bilbo I had a little bit of Tookishness in me," he said. "I would go on an adventure and fly for the Marine Corps."
But Lukes, a charismatic Christian, had mixed feelings about the military. "I don't want to bomb or napalm people," he told an acquaintance before training began.
Jim Lukes could probably have made it through OCS. He was fit and fast, his rifle and uniform were "squared away," he was generally "sat." But one day the bottom dropped out.
Exactly why was a subject of dispute. To the Marines, the cause was clear. Lukes blew a bilet as a "platoon sergeant," and was chewed out and fired in front of his mates for arguing with an order. After that, they said, his "motivation" collapsed.
But to Lukes, it was the training for war that did him in. "Can I put a squad of men up against enemy fire?" he asked. "Can I permit my men to kill other human beings?" No, he said, and Jim Lukes wanted out of OCS right away -- not after seven weeks.
He deliberately failed his tactics test, came before the fifth-week board, and was sent to the colonel as "unsat." The label stung him. "Do you think I'm slime?" he asked a friend after the board. And he wrote Col. Hopkins a five-page statement about Christian pacifism.
Unusual as he was, Lukes was not unique among Charley Company in his reservations about war; several others dropped out of the program after express doubts about the morality of fighting. This attitude stung the Marines, who resent the implication that they are pro-war. "Some of us have made a much deeper study of things than you have," Hopkins retorted politely to Jim Lukes. "We see ourselves as a force for peace."
After Hopkins had dropped him from OCS, Lukes said, "I would be like Jesus Christ and if somebody hit me on one cheek I would turn and let him hit the other -- even though I'm a kung fu instructor and could probably kill half the people at OCS."
How, with his tangle of feelings, did he ever think he could make it in the Corps?" I have made many mistakes in my life, and this was one of them," he said, and smiled a slightly desperate smile. "We push ourselves beyond the limit"
Monday night, April 8, was chilly and threatening. In the squad bay where Charely Four slept, Renzle Crain, a young black man from Kenosha, Wis., had trouble sleeping. Crain had turned down a chance to be an FBI agent to join the Marine Corps; so far, he had done well at OCS. But he had one problem. "Me and a compass don't get along," he said later.
He would need his compass skills the next day, for the "small unit leadership evaluation" or "SULE 2" -- a field test which would account for 10 percent of his leadership grade.
Renzle Crain was right to worry about SULE 2. It was awful.
It began with a surprise wake-up at 12:30 a.m.: "Out of the rack! Now! MOVE, candidates!" It continued through a six-mile hike in the steamy darkness, as Charley Company tried to remember who and where it was, and weakly chanted cadences ("In 1980 we took a little hike/Along with Captain Gombar in the middle of the night"). Then, Renzle Crain and the other 131 male survivors of Charley Company were formed into squads and sent into the woods for the grueling two-day test (the women of Charley One did a separate exercise without the "offensive tactics").
To pass SULE 2, a candidate had to be physically fit; he had to remember his classroom training in map and compass reading and infantry tactics; and he had to command a "rifle squad" of his peers through a simulated attack. The problems were laid out along a three-mile course, interspersed with timed hikes back to the "reaction course." By the end of Wednesday, each candidate would have led one reaction course problem, led one attack, and served as a "rifleman," firing blanks, on about a dozen others. All in all, he would have walked about 20 miles.
After a night in tents, Charley Company on Wednesday morning formed up in the rain for the second day, looking a little like Napoleon's army in retreat. Renzle Crain was bothered by blisters, and he asked the executive officer, Capt. Chris Cowdery, where to find the medical corpsman.
The normally easy-going Cowdrey blistered Crain a little more. "Why didn't you go to sick call last night, candidate?" he demanded. "Was there no time last night that you could have gone to sick call, candidate?" To Cowdrey, it was plain that no one would go to sick call in the morning unless he just wanted out of the ordeal. Turning away, Cowdrey muttered, "Everybody's hurting out here. It's part of the test."
The irony was that Renzle Crain would probably never use infantry tactics "in the fleet." He would fly fighter planes or helicopters. But every Marine officer -- "grunt," aviator or lawyer -- must learn them in the Marine Corps. "The gold bars come before the wings do," Gombar is fond of saying.
Crain failed SULE 2 and lived in terror for a week that he would be dropped. When he found out he had made it, he was more determined to master tactics at Basic School.
"I was tired and achy, but that's what it's all about," he said. "That's what separates the Marine Corps from the others. We push ourselves beyond the limit and often a person pushed beyond his limits will do better than someone who was rested." "I feel I got a very rotten deal"
On Thursday, April 17, another set of boards convened at Charley Company -- and this time they were playing for keeps. Those who passed would get their commissions -- those who did not would be dropped.
Sometimes the decisions were made on the numbers, and the judgements were astonishingly precise. Art Karacsony, a 25-year-old former journalist, had scored a 90 in academics and a 86 in leadership. But his PT score was 79.968 -- one-third of one-tenth of one point short of passing. He was considered weak in "upper-body strength"; Col. Hopkins asked him to make a special run over the "confidence course" as a final test. Karacsony missed two obstacles and lost his bars.
The corps offered him a "recycle"; but Karacsony turned it down. He had been born in Hungary; his parents had fled to the U.S. after the abortive revolution there. He had wanted to repay the nation for the safety it had given him. "I do think I deserved a commission," he said. "I gave it 110 percent, but I didn't live up to what they expected."
At other times, the decisions are achingly subjective. A black candidate we'll call Ed had been dropped from the previous class for smoking an unauthorized cigarette. This time around, his outgoing personality had put him " on the skyline," like a soldier standing up in the face of sniper fire. Some OCS staffers regarded him as a "street dude" who did not belong in the Marine Corps; his bursts of temper had alienated some of his peers.
But his grades, though not overwhelming, were passing. He had pressed on even when his mother died suddenly in the third week of training. Then, in the seventh week, he reported to Gombar smelling faintly of cigarette smoke.
Ed said another candidate had told him the "smoking lamp" was lit; the other youth denied it. "It is my intention that he will not be commissioned," Gombar said. Ed's platoon commander, Capt. Richard Lilly, wavered, changing his mind twice before deciding he did not believe Ed's story. Ed was dropped for "unsatisfactory leadership."
"I had to ask myself, What if he was under my command and I ordered him to set security for the command post?" Lilly said. "Half an hour later he comes back and says the security is set. Could I trust him?"
The Marine Corps had been Ed's ladder up to the American dream.He had admired Marines in his youth -- their precision and decisiveness. "I felt the Marine Corps could really polish me up, really help me get my act together," he said.
But no one had given him credit for the drive that kept him going through his recycle and the loss of his mother, he felt. Now the Corps had rejected him in the harshest terms. "When I talk to them, they almost convince me they're right," he said. "And the thing is, their side of the story is on paper, and mine isn't.
"I feel I got a very rotten deal," he continued. "But even if I got a job working at IBM making $15,000 a year, if they offered me my commission, I would go." "They show you the bad part"
Bill Watlington is the kind of citizen-warrior recruiters dream about at night. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1979. As a history major he had done papers on ancient topics such as the conflict between Byzantium and militant Islam and the Chicago riots of 1968. His favorite writers are Jerry Kosinski and Jack Kerouac, and he had hoped to spend 1980 polishing his jazz piano at the Berklee School of Music. When Berklee turned him down, he looked at his bank balance and joined the Corps.
Watlington's grades were good, and his physical performance little short of phenomenal. When he got tired on the pull-up bar, he would support his 6-foot body with one arm and shake out the other, repeat the process for the other arm and then fall to for another set of pull-ups.
But on Friday, April, 18, Bill Watlington was scared stiff. Charley Company was about to make a timed run on the endurance course -- a staggering ordeal that candidates called the "death run."
It began with a 13-obstacle agility course. Then there was a 1.5 mile run, followed without a pause by a "stamina-couse," which included an uphill crawl and a 30-foot net. Then another 1.5 miles, and a "day movement course," including a hand-over-hand crossing on a rope over a stream and a final zigzag crawl under barbed wire.
Practice runs on the course had taught Watlington something about himself. "When I was training at the YMCA, I used to say, 'There's no way I'll quit -- I'll always gut it out,'" he recalled one day. "But then I got on the endurance run and I was yelling 'goddamn it,' I was walking up hills and saying, 'who cares?' Thaths what they do here -- they show you the bad side of yourself, whatever it is. Then you have to decide what to do about it."
On practice runs, Watlington had finished in 38 minutes; but today his time would count. "What if I go wrong, and our platoon doesn't win the trophy?" he fretted. Charlie Six, he knew, was in a tight race with the "Madmen" for the Royal Marine physical training cup. In nine weeks, Bill Watlington had learned the kind of loyalty the Marine Corps wants. He did not care about his grade; he was worried about Charlie Six.
Watlington blew the run. He dropped his sweatpants; he lost his glasses in the stream; he gashed his forehead open on a tree; he cut his thighs on brambles; he finished in 48 minutes -- three minutes over the passing time. Afterwards, he crouched by the parade deck, chest heaving, bleeding, hacking ropy spittle, close to tears.
Charles Ryan, his platoon sergeant and one of the most feared DIs in Charley Company, did a very surprising thing. He came up to the dejected youth, patted him gently on the shoulder, and said in his parade-deck foghorn voice, "Good effort, there, Watlington. It's okay."
That night, Charley Six won the trophy; and Bill Watlington was named Company Guidon-Bearer, a graduation honor reserved for the 10th best overall average. In one day, he had tasted all the feelings OCS can offer -- from agonizing failute to glorious success. The last parade
Then, like a nightmare at dawn, it was over. The survivors of Charley Company had won their battle. The week ahead was one of picnics and parties, uniform fittings and filling out forms and drilling for the graduation parade.
It was a foreboding day to join the Marine Corps -- Friday, April 25, the morning the nation learned of the bungled raid on the Iranian desert. As Charley Company formed on the parade deck, 117 strong, worried knots of officers clustered at the fringes and tried to piece together news reports. Who had been in command? Why had the mission been scrubbed? What had become of the dead? As the band struck up, the answers were still unknown.
The secretary of the navy, symbol of the civilian power that would rule their lives -- or deaths -- had been scheduled to review the parade; but he had canceled before, for "reasons of health." In a few days, the impact of the news would hit the men and women of Charley Company. But for the past 10 weeks, the world outside had receded to a faint outline while they underwent agony in a few square miles; and for most of them, the morning of national humiliation was a day of personal triumph. They were lieutenants of Marines. h
Lt. Jincy Canterbury was there, and Lt. Renzle Crain; Lt. Kevin Fossett walked on two good legs, and Lt. Bill Watlington, his glasses repaired with Krazy Glue, carried the company flag.
At the edge of the parade deck, among the wives and parents and friends, stood a civilian.He had hiked and camped with Charley Company, had watched it drill and study and train. For 10 weeks, he and the company had shared an odd terrain halfway between military and civilian life; he had rejoiced with the candidates over their successes, had grieved with them when they failed.
Now they were marching away from him into a future as uncertain as the dirty rain-clouds overhead. Those clouds played tricks with the light as the band struck up "The Stars and Stripes Forever." He thought for a moment he could see, passing in ragged cadence, phantom platoons of the 113th -- lost Marines, Willie and Ed and Art Karacsony and Jim Lukes and others who had left or been dropped for good reasons and bad, who had lost a heart's dream by weakness or inattention or plain bad luck. Then the image faded, and he studied the "butterbars" who remained. Their muscles were taut, their faces were set; they were warriors from head to toe. But the light shifted again, and the civilian saw their innocence, their vulnerability and trust, and he saw them as brave or foolish gamblers who had put their heads in history's jaws -- children ardent for some desperate glory. "They're there to buy us time"
One of those lost Marines was Bill Cook, a 27-year-old lawyer from Los Angeles. Cook had come to Quantico four years before and been dropped when he hurt his ankle. As he went through law school and built up his practice, the memory of the Corps haunted him, and finally he decided to try again.
But he hurt his ankle again, and this time he decided not to make another try. Cook had been in Charley Five, the "Madmen." Willie's nervous breakdown troubled him. He remembered that, when the sergeants screamed at Willie, he had laughed in their faces, a nervous laugh. "That was evidence of a psychological problem," Cook said later. "Nobody in his right mind laughs at a DI. It was clear he was doing it because he couldn't help himself."
Cook felt the OCS staff was not trained to catch these signs. "They take a lot of trouble to make sure we don't hurt ourselves," he said. "It doesn't seem to me that they take the time and effort to make sure we don't get hurt mentally."
Now Bill Cook is trying to get into a Navy officer program. But the Corps still haunts him: "I have to face the knowledge that no matter what I accomplish the rest of my life, I never became a Marine Corps officer."
Cook had admired the OCS staff. He remembered finding his platoon sergeant, Osbaldo Garza, asleep at his desk one day, because the 16-hour days had worn him out. Though Garza had harassed Willie, Cook remembered the tiny Chicano as "without doubt the most professional of the people there. I would place my life in his hands without the slightest hesitation."
A passionate believer in American democracy, Cook traveled to the Soviet Union to interview dissidents. He saw uniforms everywhere, and each provincial capital had an elaborate, deep system of subway tunnels suitable for use as bomb shelters.
Cook thinks the United States may be sliding into war with a determined and tough enemy. "The Marine Corps is there to buy the rest of us some time, if it comes to that," he said. "One of the other guys in the platoon put it in perspective for me. We both knew we were leaving, and one day we were walking back toward the barracks and he looked around and said, 'Do you realize that if there's a war, 90 percent of these guys will be killed or wounded?'" CAPTION: Cover Picture, no caption, by Bill Snead; Picture 1, A Marine officer candidate climbs uphill under barbed wire on the last leg of the grueling "individual day movement course" -- designed to teach ways of covering ground in combat. Like football coaches, the instructors look for physical fitness and raw desire. "If that means puking your guts out," says Capt. Bruce Gombar, Charley Company's commander, "so be it."; Picture 2, Charley Company began its training in the snows of February and finished in the April sun. In between, almost all candidates suffered some injury -- many so serious that the candidates had to be dropped. Most common: tendinitis from cheap, ill-fitting combat boots.; Picture 3, "This is where they lose all their individuality," exulted one officer as Alfred Dove, the OCS barber, began his 90-second specials. Male candidates pay $2 every week for the billiard-ball look. Women, however, can wear their hair pinned up -- and can also have it cut at the PX beauty salon.; Pictures 4 through 6, Officer candidates are expected to report in top physical shape, and be able to complete events such as the "confidence course," and the "endurance run." "They need to hit the ground running," says Hopkins. "You simply don't have time to make them fit once they get here." Recruiters are supposed to explain this -- and to give prospects a fitness test. But many dropouts said their recruiters had misled them about the demands of OCS. After being dropped, Martin McCarthy of New York said his recruiter "didn't adequately represent how demanding the physical program would be." Others said recruiters had falsified their fitness test scores.; Pictures 7 and 8, The "Quigly Special" is the most dreaded part of the "individual day movement" course -- a half-swim, half crawl through a muddy ditch while under the eyes of the OCS staff. Between movements on the course, OCS staffers have posted wooden signs listing the qualities expected of a military leader; candidates coming off the bayonet thrust may thus contemplate a sign bearing the word "TACT." After the Quigly, Charley Company stopped by the base fire station for a quick shower under the hoses.; Picture 9, OCS staffers call it the "thousand-yard stare" -- the glassy look of panic that sets in about the second week of the school's "controlled stress" program. Controllers of the stress are the Marine NCOs who shepherd the platoons of candidates through their training days. Prime harassment territory is the long line waiting to gulp a 12-minute lunch in the crowded, noisy chow hall.; Picture 10, Col. Joseph E. Hopkins, commander of OCS, is himself a Quantico graduate. Recently slated for promotion to general, he began his career as an enlisted Marine.The Corps has no elite service academy whose graduates grab the top jobs. Except for a few Annapolis graduates, every Marine officer must graduate from OCS.; Picture 11, Charley Company's last parade took place April 25 -- the day the nation learned of the failed hostage rescue mission. Photographs by Bill Snead