Everyone had been through Infantry Training Regiment (ITR) after boot camp, and this was just an accelerated refresher course. With our training underway we were on the move before sunrise and would finish after dark. Lately there was a hard frost in the mornings with frozen puddles on the cement surrounding the mess hall. We usually had a hot breakfast, but lunch in the field was C-rations.
I thought it was interesting that the C-rations hadn’t changed since I went through ITR in 1964. The dreaded ration box labeled Ham and Lima Beans was originally referred to as “ham and mother fuckers.” It had evolved to “mutha fuckers.” The consistency was the issue; the contents were like glue and would stick to the roof of your mouth. There was always whining and laughing over who was issued what meal, and it was part of the bonding experience between Marine brothers.
There was a large thermal container of coffee available, and everyone was filling their canteen cups. I took my half-eaten can of Ham and Limas to the coffee thermos and stirred hot coffee into the beans. It was magic; the Limas plumped up, and the meal became a dark rich hot bean soup.
Gaskins always had a writing tablet in his pocket, and he was scribbling on it. I said, “Hey Gaskins, are you taking notes?”
He answered, “Yeah, I’m putting things down to write to my sister.”
All of a sudden everyone was interested in Gaskins’ sister. How old is she? Do you think she would write to me? What does she do? Does she go to church? Do you have a photo?
The photo came out of Gaskins’ wallet and was passed around . . . a nice farm girl feeding her chickens. The fresh eggs were sold at a local Farmer’s Market. “Lily” was 17 and sang in the church choir. She did have pen pals, and Gaskins thought she might be interested in writing letters. It was an amazing moment, and I realized how innocent and lonely these kids were. Later that night Gaskins gave a slip of paper with his sister’s address to a couple of Marines.
It was announced that we would get 24 hours liberty on Christmas day but would have to pass “Map Reading” on Christmas Eve first.