Has Boot Camp Changed Since 1957’s “The D.I.”?
by John Francis

The D.I.-1957“The D.I.” is a 1957 film that stars, and was produced and directed by the ramrod straight, by-the-book Jack Webb, about a ramrod straight, by-the-book Marine Corps drill instructor (D.I.), Sgt. Jim Moore, whose patience is tested by a stubborn and coddled recruit played by Don Dubbins.

Webb, of course, gained fame in the early 1950s with his radio show-turned-TV show, “Dragnet,” where he played ramrod straight, by-the-book Los Angeles Police Department sergeant Joe Friday. Webb was also involved in TV shows such as “Adam 12,” “The D.A.,” “O’Hara, United States Treasury,” and “Emergency!” about first responders. You might be sensing pattern here.

Webb was a big advocate and supporter of the military and law enforcement, and his production company Mark VII Limited, was responsible for many of his TV shows and movies.

In fact, “The D.I.” was loosely based on a real-life incident, called the Ribbon Creek incident, in 1956 in which six Marine recruits died during boot camp because of negligence on the part of their D.I.

The Marine Corps was deluged with requests from Hollywood producers who wanted make films about the incident, but in a way that would exploit the Marine Corps’ perceived brutality and negligence.

Webb, on the other hand, wanted to honor the Corps in his version, which didn’t even mention the Ribbon Creek incident and made Sgt. Moore out to be a tough, but fair leader. The Marine Corps loved it, gave Webb their complete cooperation, allowed him to film at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, allowed actual Marines to be extras, actors and technical advisers, and even used the film during the training of Marine Corps Drill Instructors.

Jack Webb as Sgt Moore in The DIIn the “D.I.,” Sgt. Moore has a thorn in his side in the person of Pvt. Owens (Don Dubbins), who seemingly has what it takes to be a Marine, but inexplicably caves in when the pressure is on. Convinced he can make Owens into a Marine, Moore pushes Owens harder, but Owens continues to falter and very nearly deserts. After Owens’ mother intervenes with the commanding officer to give her son another chance, Moore is given three days to whip the recruit into shape.

The boot camp, or as it’s officially called, United States Marine Corps Recruit Training, depicted in the film is probably as close to actual boot camp back in the 1950s, but in a sanitized Hollywood way. Webb’s Drill Instructor neither used profanity or physically struck his recruits. And the physical rigors and psychological and emotional warfare the instructors engaged in is also a watered-down version of the real training.

Today’s Marine Corps boot camp is a “kinder and gentler” version of those in the 1950s and ‘60s, mainly because of a greater sensitivity to recruits’ physical, psychological and emotional well-being, especially after a series of well-publicized incidents of deaths in boot camps over the years.

Of course, every generation of warriors claim their boot camp was the toughest, but it’s probably true that boot camps have gotten “easier” over the years. Just look at the comments on websites such as Leatherneck.com, some of which claim the boot camps today are easier “than high school football practice,” are “a cake walk,” and one “my sister could have aced.”

A bit of hyperbole there, of course, but by most accounts, boot camp is still tough and rigorous, but not as brutal and demeaning. Drill instructors are still tough, too, but more cognizant of the effects of their actions on raw recruits, some of them fragile and out of shape. Lawsuits and forced changes in regulations will do that to a person.

As Sgt. Moore says in the “D.I.,” “there’s a man underneath that baby powder,” there’s just different methods to reveal that man (or woman, as is the case today).

Watch The D.I. on MovieZoot.com here!