I was there from March 14th, 1984, until I graduated from Marine Corps Basic Training (Boot Camp) on June 12, 1984. That was, without a doubt, the hardest 3 months of my life. Looking back it was also the most important event in my life, and has come to shape me at least as significantly as any other event I can think of. I apply things I learned there every single day of my life, and I still learn things because I was there, that I otherwise wouldn't be prepared to learn.
On the day before graduation, my family and then girlfriend/now wife came to visit. As we marched out in formation and stopped right in front of the families, I remember hearing them trying to figure out which one I was. I had changed that much, and we all had the same clothes and haircuts. I've never been more proud of myself, or felt stronger than that day. I can't begin to tell you everything that happened to me there, or didn't happen, or what they did or didn't "do" to me.
But I will say that it was a stong enough experience that twenty years later, tonight, I still remember the bus ride, and the faces, the disorientation, the yellow footprints and the yelling! Jeez, the yelling. I remember the combination to the two locks I was issued, one for my rifle, and one for my footlocker; I still have them and use them (the locks, that is). I remember the faces of my Drill Instructers, their names and their voices; how their covers (hats, to you civilians) felt rapping me on the forehead. The fear, loathing, pain, fatigue, heartache. These are some of my clearest memories.
I will sleep much better tonight than I did back then. Especially that first night, when we were kept up all night to further disorient us. We couldn't have slept anyway, we were too jazzed. See, that's the main reason I will sleep better tonight. Because I know there are still decent young men out there who are willing to accept that challenge. I know that, despite what MTV and A&E would have me believe, there are moral men with integrity, strength, and enough love for their country that they would be willing to die for it, should they be asked. As long as I know this, I can still tell myself there is hope for us here in America, and I can sleep.