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Reaching back in history

The Spirit of Tehachapi

In my husband's stories involving some tales of the Old Corps, I ran across an article about a simple galvanized steel G.I. bucket that was standard equipment for a Marine Boot. I recalled they were part of our furnishings in the Quonset huts also. How could I have left that out of my story? I never used ours, for when it was filled with water it was too heavy for me to lift. I surfed the internet looking for a good photo, but they all look flimsy and the side not thick enough. Here is my husband's version of:


by CWO-4 Doyle D. Gracey, Jr. USMC Ret. (R.I.P.)

Recruits arriving for boot camp training in 1943, during the early days of World War II, found things happening pretty fast at MCRD San Diego. We received the famous 'haircut,' our uniforms, 782 gear, footwear, housewife (sewing kit), personal gear and everything they deemed we could possibly need, including a two gallon galvanized steel, heavy duty, G.I. bucket. It was as much a part of our gear as was our rifle. We stamped or stenciled our name on everything we owned, including our skivvies, but on our bucket the letters were three inches high. We were sent, twice a week, outside to the wash racks to do our laundry using our bucket as a laundry tub. Usually the water was cold and I remember using a bar of Fels Naptha laundry soap.

When one was transferred, the bucket went, too. In fact, there was a special way to pack the sea bag to include it. One put the heavy overcoat on the very bottom and next, the bucket with the fragile items (alarm clock, steel mirror, shaving things, and personal items) into the bucket packed with towels to guard against breakage. If a bottle of shaving lotion broke your entire sea bag would smell very feminine and you'd get razzed by the boys.

As we moved into new duty stations we became aware of many other uses for the bucket, such as standing fire watch in the barracks with it full of sand or water. We'd do four hour shifts from sundown to sunrise. One clever guy, I recall, would gather about eight of them and play a tune on them. It wasn't too melodic but with a good imagination one could make out the song played.

It wasn't a trash can and it had to be cleaned and shined up for inspection. Get something that won't shine, and make it shine! It served as a bedside table when turned upside down and when a recruit was sick, it was taken from under the bunk to vomit in. Later in time, when overseas, or in some remote area we'd bore holes in the bottom of the G.I. bucket so we could have a shower. Actually, it was a prized item for it never, ever wore out and if you went home on leave with it packed in your sea bag, chances are Mom and Dad talked you out of it for it was a useful item. It cost a dollar to buy a new one.

Sometimes we'd be called out in the early morning hours for 'roll call with buckets.' This meant we'd be doing physical dexterity drills with none other but our old G.I. galvanized vessel. We fell into normal formation with fifteen men in each rank. A circle was formed by each of the three files. The drill consisted of reaching for the bucket being passed from the right as one thrust his own bucket to the left. Another variation of the drill was to face each other and, as in basketball, transfer it from one file to the other. As the pace increased, it was a challenge to keep things moving in an orderly fashion. When we became proficient the D.I.s (drill instructors) added several inches of sand in the bottom just to keep things interesting and to increase our strength. There was a motive in all of this and in a few weeks our shoulders and arms began to look like Popeye's.

I recall we hadn't been in boot camp too long when it was announced that the Commandant of the Corps was going to inspect the troops. His name was Major General Alexander Vandergrift. In fact, the main avenue running through Camp Pendleton is named Vandergrift Boulevard. That morning, we were all tense and uneasy for fear we'd not stack up or be squared away enough to have big brass like him go down our ranks. One boot, in particular, was scared to death for his bucket, with his name emblazoned in three-inch-high letters, was missing and he was going to be inspected with short gear. Sure enough, the general stopped in front of him, not because he noticed anything amiss, it was just fate taking a hand. Standing in front of the private the general inquired, 'What's your name?'

The answer given wasn't exactly what it should have been, I guess, due to the boot's nervousness, for he said, 'I don't know, sir, I've lost my bucket!' I wonder if the boot told his kids about the conversation with the commandant in later years. I also wonder if the commandant regaled his peers with the boot's answer later on that day.

It's been decades since they even included the G.I. bucket in a boot's gear anymore but I'm sure there are strange and wonderful ways to do things the hard way these days as it was back in 1943 when I entered the Corps."