My 10 month movie journey begins.
We landed in Cairns and were driven to our resort in Port Douglas. We then had a few minutes to drop our bags in our rooms before heading off to get our costumes fitted and given our armory cards. This is where a lot of us had a reality shock. We arrived at a location with a huge tent and 4 guys dressed in Marine uniforms standing there waiting for us. As soon as the first guy stepped off the bus the Marines started shouting, “get off the bus get off the bus, and get in line”. A lot of the guys thought they were joking around but some were freaking out. I myself didn’t know what to think at first but as soon as they said “don’t eye ball me turd,” I knew they weren’t kidding. We found out later on that 3 of the Marines had just came back from Iraq and were still in that mind set so there wasn’t going to be any laughing or smiling for the next 10 days.
We got our 1942 Marine uniforms and headed back to the resort with no talking and a few of the guys already given nicknames, “short round, mouth, queenly”. We were told boot camp was in the morning at 0630 which meant we really had to be out the front of the resort at 0600.
That morning everyone was out the front except for one guy who did a runner. In our Marine uniforms with a bag full of stuff we didn’t know how to use, we were ready to do a 10 day boot camp. Again we were yelled at and pushed onto buses with no talking, which is weird when your sitting next to someone that your going to work with for 10 months and your not allowed to get to know them.
Our boot camp location was an hour out of Port Douglas on a guy’s farm with everything we need to train as a Marine - a river, jungle, ticks, leeches, hills and mad Marines ready to rip into us. We carried our bags over a river and up a hill to where we were going to live for the next 10 days. We dropped our bags and were screamed at to get into formation around a flag pole where they raised the American flag. We were then greeted by Tom Hanks who cut the tension by letting us relax while he talked for 30mins about why we were there, his boot camp experiences with Captain Dye, how important our part in this movie is and the truth about the story we were going to be telling. He put meaning in why we needed to tell this story and why boot camp was so important.
We then were put in our platoons, given a tent buddy and shown quickly how to put up our very very small 2 man tents (hooch’s). While setting them up we had to make sure each hooch pole and peg were in line with every other hooch (still with no talking). Three platoons were assigned for us - Assault platoon, Mortar platoon and Machine Gun platoon, which I was in. Each platoon had about 20 guys and a staff sergeant and corporal. Captain Dye then showed us how to cook our rash-n packs (MRE’s) which left a lot of the guys shocked with what we were given for food. The first day of boot camp was coming to a close with a basic run down on the ranking system and how to answer to someone with a rank. A few guys in my platoon did push ups cause they said ‘Sir’ instead of ‘Staff Sergeant’ or ‘Corporal.’ End of day 1.
Day 2 started at 0530 with Captain Dye taking the whole company for stretches, push ups, sit ups and a 2-3km run while singing cadences. This happened every morning at boot camp and by the end of it a lot of the guys in my platoon started saying it was the best part of their day. We had about 10 to 15 minutes to go to the toilet, shower in a box (baby wipes) and shave.
Our first few days involved each platoon getting to know what their task was when going into situations in the field. We also had to know how to use the rifles they used back in WW2. The guys learnt quickly not to call the ‘Springfield’ and the ‘M1 rifle’ a gun because if they did they were doing push ups again. On top of that, the Assault platoon had to know how to use and break down their different weapons; Mortar platoon had to learn in depth how to fire Mortars; and my platoon had to learn when, where and which machine guns were used. The two different types we used were the ‘30 cal machine gun’, ‘water cool’ and ‘air cool’. We then learnt every little bit of information possible about the machine guns. Ie- how to break down the gun, how to carry it on patrol, how to sit it up in the jungle, loading, unloading, and firing the gun… which is AWESOME by the way!
Everyday was hot (around 30 degrees) and our uniform consisted of big boots, long pants a long shirt with our packs and rifles on us every minute of the day. If we were an arms length away from our rifles we would be screamed at and made to do push ups. We had to go everywhere with our rifles and even had to have them while we were sleeping. In the end it was drilled into us that ‘if you have no rifle how are you meant to defend yourself? Your rifle is your life saver.’
After we knew what our jobs were (when it came to what each platoon contributes when in combat), we had our first patrol and contact with Japanese in the jungle. We patrolled through the jungle carrying all our gear, our machine guns, mortars, anti-tank gear while going up and down hills, through rivers and getting hit by stinging plants. I was sweating like crazy, and after about 45mins into the patrol we had contact. When you’re in a patrol looking through the jungle for Japanese or for something moving in the distance, can be a pretty heart thumping feeling. Especially when you hear gun fire up the front of the patrol with people screaming “contact front, get machine guns up here,” and then see people diving to the ground. Running towards the front of the patrol with fire coming from the Japanese and your support fire, is a crazy feeling. Your heart is going 100 miles an hour, your sweating like crazy, and you literally feel like you’re at war. One wrong move and your dead so that’s why I think they were so hard on us when it came to knowing every small detail. We came out of the jungle with cuts, stinging plants all over us, ticks, leeches (I got two leeches on me) and dirt everywhere. Coming out of the jungle with Captain Dye telling us we won after only 3 or 4 days training was a great feeling.
Every night from day one we had to defend our camp so we had machine gun pits, mortar pits and fox holes for rifle men all over our camp. This was all ready just in case the Japanese tried to invade us at night. At 2100 we had campfire with Captain Dye while he gave us a detailed image of WW2 and told us some of his own war stories. This gave us respect to the Marine Core and made us realise that we were getting it easy on boot camp compared to what the real Marines went through. After an hour with the Captain we had to gear up and jump in our fox holes, having two men per hole with one man watching grade and the other man sleeping. This was rotated every hour. The first few nights we did this for 3 - 4 hours, and on the 4th night we had Japanese fire on us. Every man that was sleeping was now wide awake firing at the Japanese. The sky was alight with machine gun and rifle flashes.
The last 2 days of boot camp we were taught how to exit a boat on the beach, coming down a cargo net, perfecting our patrols and hand to hand combat. Hollywood then came to boot camp with a few camera crews taking shots of ‘behind the scenes’ stuff.
On our last night at boot camp we finally got to know each other a little better and talk about the movie (which we weren’t allowed to do the previous days). Captain Dye brought up some beer which opened up a lot of people and gave us all a chance to chat. We found out who was playing who and what the movie is going to cover. A lot of the actors are in my platoon but a lot of the American actors aren’t that well known in Australia. I was side by side with Gary Sweet in our beach landing and many of the combat patrols.
Our last day consisted of closing down camp and preparing for our very first beach landing in front of the crew. Everyone was pumped to show the producers what Captain Dye had taught us and also to see females, shops and normal stuff we hadn’t seen for ages. The beach landing was awesome, and looked just like the part from ‘Saving Private Ryan’ with us jumping out of the boats while getting fired on, diving on to the sand, setting up machine guns, and crawling up the beach while firing at the Japanese. All this made boot camp worth it. I seriously don’t think we could tell the truth of what happened without doing boot camp.