“Left! — — Left! — — Left! Right! Left!” The drill instructor inside of me had successfully surfaced and was now exulting in command. We were approaching the corner of the parade field, and I was getting ready for “To the left! ! March!” when it suddenly occurred to me that it might be amusing to preface that with one “To the rear! — — March!” followed almost immediately by another—a sort of platoon pirouette, a bit of Marine Corps skip step, so precisely executed that surprise would be transformed into wonder. It was the perfect opportunity to impress Lieutenant Bingham and the rest of the brass. The question was not would my troops respond—they were Marines!—but would Dennis Riley, in charge of the platoon to my rear, understand and, more importantly, react in time to avoid terminal collision. His pirouette would force the platoon behind him to do the same. The domino principle would apply, and the total effect would be a maneuver that would go down in the history books.

Two columns had already hit the barracks wall, some thirty yards off the edge of the field. “To the rear! — — March!” I shouted, but by then the platoon was sprawled up against the concrete like so many spray-dazed ants. They made no response, seemed oblivious to me, if not to what I had done. I commanded them a second time, with no better luck. All I could do was stand there and try to. think up something to say to Lieutenant Bingham that might make some difference.

So far, my experience with the Marines had not been a happy one. I had succeeded in alienating myself from my fellow officers-in-the-making on the very third night by reading aloud to them, unrequested, from my second story bunk, a passage from the works of Alfred North Whitehead, and I even refused to stop when asked. If my platoon mates had not been prospective college juniors themselves, and so eventually prepared to understand that such behavior was merely a typically sophomoric sign of utter misery, I might have been consigned to purdah for the whole six weeks. As it was, they saw through my pose quickly enough; and, lacking an audience, I retired, in as dignified a manner as possible, to the can—to write self-pitying letters to my girl friend, who was spending her summer not in stifling Quantico, Virginia, but at the Jersey shore, playing in the waves.

The Marine Corps had not exactly lived up to my expectations. I had thought that there might be interesting tactical lectures, group discussions on how best to do so and so, so as to accomplish such and such. I imagined that I would become a sharpshooter extraordinaire, learn how to put a real polish on a pair of cordovans, and grow adept at such skills as map-reading and survival camping. I expected to return to college in the fall lean and tough, full of fond memories of trials shared and obstacles overcome. I had hoped that my sergeant would be a Spencer Tracy sort, that he would enthrall us with thrilling World War II stories and guide us into the ways of wisdom.

I had not counted on the heat. I had not realized how little sleep we would get—and how poorly I would function on it. Even with the fans on, my back would stick to the sheet at night. All day, every day, I was groggy to the point where even the naps I took while waiting in line or listening to the sergeant drone on about such fascinating topics as the assembly and disassembly of the M-1 rifle left me unrefreshed. Very soon, indeed, all I wanted was out.

Then there was the night—three weeks had somehow gone by—when, just before lights out, we were told to prepare for special maneuvers. The whole battalion was involved. We were to march three miles—through the mud, as it turned out, for it was raining—take up defensive positions on Hill X, and prepare to be attacked by 3rd Battalion. Understood? “Forward! — — March!” As battalion messenger, it was my task to notify headquarters as soon as the enemy started to move. I was posted well ahead of our front lines—where I would be in a good position to see and hear—and told to run, not walk, the news back to the high command as soon as I had it. In the rain and the dark I could see and hear nothing. I was alone: the forward observer, unobserved. I spread my poncho out under a tree, folded half of it over me, and went to sleep. The first I knew of the attack was when an enemy boot in the small of my back brought it to my attention. Needless to say, the battle was not a long one; and the messenger, for his part in the defeat, was rewarded with a weekend’s worth of close-order drill.

Lieutenant Bingham was a history professor in civilian life. He wore dark glasses, carried a swagger stick, was a little too portly for his uniform, and so far he had relied almost entirely on Sergeant Buklas, a long-term regular, for virtually everything. When Lieutenant Bingham showed himself to us, which was rarely, it was usually at a distance—at the end of the barracks, near the door, on the lecture platform—riot, like Sergeant Buklas, up very close, his face practically touching yours as he stripped your bunk, or knocked your head-propping elbow off its desk. Had Sergeant Buklas been striding toward me on that parade field, I might simply have collapsed.

Lieutenant Bingham did not so much as glance in my direction. His eyes were fixed on my platoon, still plastered up against the wall. As he approached them, they began to snap to. “Forward!” he commanded them, and they began to snap to. “March!” They turned, taking their place with the others. I was alone. I stood there in the broiling sun waiting for doom to fall, but it never did. Platoon after platoon passed by me, but no one recognized my existence, and no one stopped. It was worse than being screamed at. Lieutenant Bingham had not only taken over my job. He had left me to stand there by myself and watch him do it. There were repercussions, of course, but later he counseled me, quite kindly, about my not having, perhaps, quite the right temperament for a Marine. I had to agree; but I wanted to explain, and never did, that I had marched my platoon into the wall not out of ineptitude, as he had supposed, nor on purpose, as Sergeant Buklas would have it, but—very simply—out of an excessive expansiveness of spirit. Had a specialization been offered called “creative, close order drill,” I wanted to tell him, I might have made quite a good Marine.