Marine Corps boot camp has a tough reputation. Physically demanding and emotionally crushing. Being weak is not an option. There were times when all of us were frightened and ready to jump ship. Several recruits were ejected in the first week of training. It was scary stuff.
“Knuckles Down” meant doing push-ups on your fists. Everyone had bruised and bloody knuckles. I had learned in high school cross country to divert pain by distraction . . . thinking of something more pleasant. When I heard “Knuckles Down,” I thought of playing marbles. I loved playing marbles as a kid, and we played knuckle down and “for keeps.” Playing “for fair” meant all the marbles would be returned to the original owner. This was not a game though.
Playing marbles in boot camp was for keeps. We all arrived with a bag of marbles. Each marble represented a character trait. The good marbles like Aggies, Bumblebees, and Jumbos, stood for good character traits (integrity, humility, compassion). The lesser marbles represented poor character traits (dishonesty, laziness, perversion).
Over time our good marbles were taken away and we were left with a bag of poor quality chipped or flawed marbles. Eventually we started to believe we were all of these bad things. Sometimes (twice in our platoon of 75) recruits lost their marbles and attempted suicide. One was sent back to us, only to try again.
In the end each of us received a “Steelie” representing the Corps. It was the best marble in our bag and could not be taken away. The Steelie represented honor, sacrifice and bravery. We believed it.
Warning: If you play marbles with a Marine, don’t try to take away the Steelie . . . He/She will die for it.