History and the people who make it: Scott Camil (Part 1)

Scott Camil is a Gainesville activist, veteran, honored hero, and friend of SPOHP. He is also a member of the Gainesville Eight: the group of seven Vietnam War veterans and one civilian who were caught in a conspiracy by the FBI, which attempted to frame them for terroristic threats. (See last month’s Iguana for more on the Gainesville 8) 

In this 2005 interview with John Aversono (A), Mr. Camil (C) describes his upbringing, and his Marine Corps training, and touches on how he became an antiwar activist. Be advised that there is profanity. Transcript edited by Donovan Carter.

A: I want to start with some background information. Where were you born?

C: Brooklyn, New York.

A: What year?

C: 1946. When I was about four years old my parents moved from New York to Hialeah [Florida]. I grew up in Hialeah. I went into the Marine Corps afterhigh school and then went to Dade Community College. I graduated there and transferred up to Gainesville in 1970.

A: How was growing up in Hialeah?

C: Hialeah was the poorest section of Dade County. We were on food stamps and things were hard growing up during that time. If you went to school with holes in your clothes people beat you up and made fun of you. I would come home crying and then my father would kick my ass. He told me to be a man so I just had to fight back. By the time I was in junior high school I became one of the guys, so to speak, so things were a little bit easier.

We had a choice of taking academic or vocational courses and I took vocational courses because I wanted to do something fun. I had wood-shop, metal-shop, machine-shop, graphics [and] drafting. I learned a lot of neat things. In general, I did not like high school because it was very authoritarian.

A: When you joined the army, you enlisted on your own, correct?

C: I joined the Marine Corps, which is a very important distinction to make. I joined the delayed enlistment program. That program is responsible for eighty percent of the enlisted people in today’s military. It is finding the kids in high school and they get to finish high school. Once you find out, the time in high school counts toward being in the service.

You start off as a private, but when you go to boot camp you are a higher rank than the other privates. The recruiters make you believe that there were a lot of benefits. I signed up in high school and about three days after graduation I was getting off a bus in front of Parris Island. 

I picked the Marine Corps because the Marine Corps motto was the Marine Corps builds men. Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s I would say the most important thing for a young male was macho, to be tough, to be a man. I wanted to be a man and I wanted to be a Marine.

A: What would you say was the main reason for joining the Marine Corps?

C: I would not say there was a main reason. Number one, I was taught by my parents that I lived in the best country in the world and that in this country we had freedoms. It was the duty of all males once they graduated high school to serve their country. As a parent, I geared my kids up for college, my parents geared me up for the military. I just thought that was my job, just like high school was my job. I never thought there would be anything else. 

Plus there were the recruiters and the girls liked them walking around in their medals and shit. Impressing girls was really important to a high school boy. Then [there was] the fact that there was a draft and I was going to go anyways, so I could get extra benefits [for joining]. It was all those things together.

A: How would you describe your basic training experiences in the Marine Corps?

C: The first thing I would say is fear. The first day when I woke up I thought I was having a bad dream. The job of the Marine Corps boot camp is to totally erase the civilian, and on a blank chart start over and build a Marine. The things that go on there you never experienced before. You come in at night and you get off the bus in the middle of the night and you cross this line and then these people start yelling at you.

They stick you on a bus and the guy driving slams on the fucking brakes and gets up and says “I hear somebody talking, you think this is funny, you know what, I am going to kick your fucking ass, somebody wants to fight here?” [We were like] whoa, what’s going on man? 

He gets back and drives. Then you get off and get into this room and they make you empty everything out and they take everything away from you. All of a sudden, the lights go on and a big steel trash can starts bouncing on the floor. 

These guys are running up and down the barrack pushing over beds yelling and screaming at people to get their attention. They are grabbing people and throwing them against the wall. We are trying to wake up and it was really scary trying to think. We outnumbered them, there were about eighty of us and three of them, but they were in total control.

The rules were very strict. You could not speak without permission. If I needed to go to the bathroom, I had to learn a new vocabulary. So I say, “Sir, Private Camil requests permission to speak, sir.” He says “What do you want scumbag?” or, “What do you want maggot?” You know you are not used to being talked to like that. 

“Sir, Private Camil requests permission to make a head call.” On one occasion the drill instructor said to me, “Is it an emergency?” I said, “Yes sir.” The drill instructor said show me. I had to run around the barracks three times going [making siren noises] because it was an emergency. I came back to my position to stand at attention and request permission to speak again to go to the bathroom. 

The drill instructor on occasion would say “No. We are going to wait a half-an-hour and if you don’t pee or shit on yourself I am going to kick your ass because you lied. You said it was an emergency.” Then I had to decide, am I going to shit on myself or am I going to get my ass kicked. So you were starting to get choices and options, of which none were good.

So, it’s the kind of treatment you’re not used to. Basically, there is a limit that you can put on yourself, how much I can lift, how far I can run, what I can do and you find out that you can go way past that limit if somebody kicks your ass and makes you do it. 

Once you are able to get past that limit it builds a lot of confidence.[You learn] karate, judo, boxing, [and] tons of stuff. You intimately learn the forty-five caliber pistol [and] the M-14 rifle. You learn your general orders, you learn the rifle creed, which you have to memorize, which basically says, “this is my rifle and without me it is useless and without it I am useless.”

In the Marine Corps I would say there are three golden rules:

Number one is, a Marine can never disobey an order. Number two, a Marine can never leave his post or sleep on guard duty. 

Number three, a Marine can never have a dirty weapon. 

I would call that training brain-washing and conditioning, but I would say that it made a man out of me and I would say that I never would have been able to survive Vietnam without that training. Even though that training was hard, I was the kind of person who needed to get my ass kicked to get with the program.

I graduated boot camp in September of 1965. Then I went to ITR, for October of 1965 and November of 1965, that’s infantry training. It is like boot camp but not as strict except now you are learning tactics, mountain climbing and that kind of conditioning. I arrived in Vietnam on something like March 20, 1966.

To be continued in the Nov-Dec 2023 Iguana. For the full interview, see tinyurl.com/Iguana1716 

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program believes that listening carefully to first-person narratives can change the way we understand history, from scholarly questions to public policy.

SPOHP needs the public’s help to sustain and build upon its research, teaching and service missions: even small donations can make a big difference in SPOHP’s ability to gather, preserve, and promote history for future generations.

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