In recruit training, each platoon had two volunteer lay religious leaders among its recruits - one Catholic and one Protestant. Before hitting the rack (going to bed} each night, they would be called upon to say a prayer. Twenty six years have past, and though I was Catholic then, I cannot remember the name, the face, or the prayer of the Catholic lay leader. Kozart was a Baptist from the deep South, and he led the Protestent prayer. He was a small, quiet young man with a shy and innocent smile and his prayers to his God were humble and heartfelt and he said them in a way that made me know he talked to God all the time. Kozart had a mumble and a heavy accent and the only words I ever understood plainly were Help Us, Lord; Forgive Us, Lord; Please Don't Forget Us, Lord; and Thank You, Lord.
On Sunday morning, we had the opportunity to attend religious services, and since this was the only drill instructor-free-zone on the island - we went. Sometimes I was given the responsibility of marching the dozen or so Catholics from 1st Battalion across the parade deck. If you ever feel the need to know what "spirit" feels like, I suggest you pay a visit to a Parris Island religious service. We sang to the heavens, we wept, fell to our knees and prayed for our sanity, the faithfulness of our girlfriends, and our very lives - it was like no other Catholic Mass I've ever seen. God was in the house, or something just as powerful. Then we pulled it together, put the steel back in our eyes and the iron in our spines, and marched back across The Grinder.
I believe the Marine Corps. is a polytheistic organization. In boot camp, we cried out to the god of mercy and made sacrifices to the god of war almost in the same breath. Each night, after the lay leaders said their piece, we screamed the following chant just before hitting the rack:
Devil Dogs, Shock Troops, Blood-Sucking War Machines
Ready to Fight, Ready to Kill, Read to Die but Never Will
Ready To Fight, Ready To Kill, Ready To Die But Never Will
READY TO FIGHT,READY TO KILL,READY TO DIE BUT NEVER WILL
Bends and Thrusts will Make Us Mean
Loyalty and Discipline Make Marines.
Then we sang the Marine's Hymn and dropped to sleep immediately to dream of teenage queens and M-16s. Twenty Six years have gone since then and the words to those prayers have never faded.
There is a common misperception that boot camp makes boys into robots. I screamed my throat raw with the chants and came to believe I could eat fire and walk through walls, but I think most of us found secret ways to preserve something of ourselves. For many it was letters from their best girl, but it was dangerous going all in on a teenage girl - and many, if not most, paid dearly for that bet. For me, it was Natasha Kinski (a 2-inch square photo of her face torn off the top right hand corner of a USA Today spotted in the trash) hidden away in a secret location. My relationship with her was passionately chaste - not, of course, by choice. The instruments of my personal paganism were Ms. Kinski, a night-time view of the water spanned by a barely lit bridge going somewhere else, and this song that played nightly in my head. And because I made these prayers, I came out the other side.