by David Erickson
We shipped out shortly after graduation. Boot camp was in San Diego at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot. Upon arrival we were issued green military fatigues; black leather combat boots, and a metal pail filled with personal hygiene items such as a toothbrush, soap, comb, shaving gear and towels. Then, the newly formed platoon was marched to its new home—a steel Quonset hut among a row of identical huts adjoining a gigantic asphalt parade field to the east called The Grinder. To the west was an obstacle course with a series of daunting pits and walls.
Directly across from our barracks was a smaller Quonset hut—the duty hut of the drill instructors. About 15 feet in front of the duty hut was a 4-by-4 wooden post, about four feet high, with a flat board nailed to the top. On top of the board was a small wooden block that was to be used to pound the board.
The instructions were to pound the block on the post three times, announcing your arrival at the duty hut. A request then must be made to enter the duty hut: "Sir, Private Erickson, requests permission to enter the duty hut, Sir." If granted, you entered, took three steps forward, made an abrupt left face and stood at attention before the single desk—whether anyone was behind it or not. You then requested: "Sir, Private Erickson requests permission to speak, Sir." If the permission to speak was granted, then the communication could begin while still standing at attention. Every phrase spoken by the recruit during this procedure had to begin and end with the "Sir."
Nearly 20 years passed since that experience, and I am now living and working in downtown Denver.
On a recent warm day, I left the office at noon to walk to lunch with two co-workers. We headed a block or so south, then turned west at Sixteenth.
On that corner was a street preacher holding a well-worn bible above his head. "Jesus Saves!" he shouted. "Come to the Lord. I used to live away from the Lord but then came home. I saw the light. Praise be the Lord." He was wearing green military fatigues. As we passed by, I noticed that he was about my age, had clear blue eyes and the name "HANSEN" sewn above the upper left pocket of his jacket.
Although the conversation at the restaurant was pleasant, I soon began to drift away from it. There was something about the street preacher that bothered me. His face was distinctive—and familiar.
He was short, perhaps 5´5? and slender. His bow-legs were accentuated by the camouflage fatigues tucked into his spit-shined combat boots. This unexpected sighting spurred my memory. One of the recruits in our platoon at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot was named Hansen, Private Hansen. He also was short, slightly built and distinctively bow-legged with clear blue eyes. Due to his small size, he struggled with the obstacle course and our long runs on The Grinder, carrying guns under the blistering hot sun. Thus, he received harsher attention from the drill instructors.
He once got mixed up on the correct procedure for entering the duty hut and the drill instructors refused him permission to enter until he got it right. After he was inside, he got mixed up again and the drill instructors took him by the seat of the pants and the collar of his shirt and threw him out the front door onto the sidewalk. Could this be our Private Hansen from San Diego, now in Denver? I needed to find out.
I told my friends at lunch that I had to check on something and I’d be right back. I went outside and headed down to the corner where Hansen had been preaching. He was gone. I looked up and down the adjoining streets but there was no sign of him. I never saw him again. D
David L. Erickson was honorably discharged from the Marines due to an injury. He spent the next few years doing odd jobs—like working at a car wash—before enrolling in college. He received a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College and a J.D. degree in Law from the University of Denver. He is currently an attorney in Denver, as well as the CBA Historian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.