Ok this is a long one so get a beer
After getting out of Navy
Boot Camp and Basic Electronics
and Electricity School
I was stationed for 16 weeks at Radioman ‘A’ School
, Naval Training Center Bainbridge, MD. They requested anyone interested to join the Drill Team. One incentive was that you would be exempt from ‘field days’ aka cleaning
the barracks. Another incentive was free transportation off the base every weekend during parade season to attend parades and parties. This being the spring of 1969 we had Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day as well as a raft of other local celebrations to look forward to. I volunteered immediately. Checkout my thread in Destinations for some related info you may enjoy reading, especially if you were military in that era.
We used old Springfield rifles and practiced basic routines; rifles at order arms, slap the stock twice, right shoulder arms, slap twice, order arms, slap twice, spin counter clockwise, slap once, spin counter clockwise, slap once, holding muzzle bang but on tarmac twice, order arms...etc. We went to our first parade where there were Drill Teams from everywhere participating. We were humbled by the routines they were performing. We also were snickered at by the other teams because they performed their routines with bare fixed bayonets and we did not use bayonets. We returned from our first outing determined to add bayonets.
When we told the RM Chief in charge of the team of our plans he straightened up, raised one eyebrow, paused a moment and said, ‘Just don’t kill anyone!’ For the type of routines like the one above it was no sweat and we were feeling pretty good. We all knew that something was missing and we all knew what it was and we all were hesitant to be the first to point it out. The most impressive routines were the ones that involved throwing the bayoneted rifles at each other, repeatedly. We only had 16 men
on the team so we were limited to one or two routines.
We decided on the routine where we would march single
file at a slow but deliberate cadence doing pretty much the routine described above but after tapping the rifle buts on the ground we thrust the muzzle forward and the man in front reached back to receive your rifle as the man in front of him did the same and so on to the front of the column. It may be apparent that the man in front had no one to hand his rifle to. The man in front raised his rifle by the barrel swinging the stock in a wide arc
in front of him, over his head
then releasing the rifle and bayonet spinning over the heads of 14 men
behind him. It may also be apparent that simultaneously the 16th man at the rear had no rifle to grab from behind so he was to snatch the spinning weapon hurling at him from the air and continue with the routine. This process would repeat until each man had his own rifle again. Piece of cake!
We were in fact young and foolish but not stupid so we practiced with the bayonets sheathed. Of course we dropped the first few but after a while we got really good and were feeling cocky. So after a few days of practice with no dropped weapons we took the sheaths off. It was an awesome sight, 16 polished steel
bayonets flashing menacingly in the Maryland
spring sunlight. Apparently everyone was impressed and started looking at each other when someone finally said, “Who’s going to catch first?” A few seconds of intense flitting eye contact followed. No one was jumping out there to be the first. As I alluded to in another post I was, at 19 years old, ‘one balls to the wall MF’ so I volunteered to be the first catcher. Hell, of course I could do it, we’d been doing it for a week now.
We started marching and began the routine –slap, slap, tap tap, pass the piece…. As I looked up to see the rifle I was expecting what I saw I was definitely NOT expecting. Removing the hard plastic bayonet sheaths had altered the balance of the rifle. What was hurling at me too high, going too fast and spinning eccentrically was 10 pounds of wood and steel
with a glistening 7 inch sharpened blade slicing its way through the air. I immediately grabbed for the muzzle but missed and the unguided but deadly missile paralleled my outstretched arm and the bayonet point caught the loose material of my long sleeve dungaree shirt at the elbow
, wound itself inside the material and emerged again at the cuff slicing the sleeve open then continued on and buried the bayonet point in the tarmac chipping a large piece out and clattering to the ground.
I didn’t have much time to think about the event because there was a second weapon spinning eccentrically in my direction. As training and practice are supposed to do I reflexively reached for the missile and almost got it right. In stead of catching the rifle at the muzzle just behind the bayonet I caught the blade of the bayonet near the hilt. By this time the man in front of my had turned around wondering why there was no rifle to grab from behind and what was that clattering all about. What he saw was the blade cutting my right hand between thumb and fore finger, not deep enough to cut muscle or connective tissue but enough to turn my hand red with blood.
Feeling the pain I immediately let go, looked at my hand then the man in front of me. At this point I was yelling, ‘SQUAD HALT, SQUAD HALT!’ Everyone stopped and turned in time to see me step quickly to my left holding my bloody hand as the third dagger of death flashed by and clattered to the ground adding to the trail of grounded weapons each with a little divot of tarmac at the end of the bayonet point. After a group expletive event and determining that the team leader would not have to tell the Chief that we had killed someone we all started laughing until we cried. We finally had a discussion as to weather
or not to keep the routine. Keeping it would mean practicing with bare bayonets. I again volunteered to be the catcher and we all agreed that if anyone had any doubts about any movement that they should drop the piece rather than getting cut. So we kept the routine. Other minor close encounters of the bayonet kind occurred, mostly bloodless with only a stitching job to the shirt sleeves being necessary. We never told the chief about any of the close encounters but he looked silently and thoughtfully at the increasing amount of black thread repairs
to our shirts.