Even though the “vertical butt stroke” may sound like a groping technique or even a primer on personal hygiene, it is neither. It is one of a series of whacks, slashes and thrusts, collectively known as the “vertical butt stroke series.” Such was bayonet training in 1968 – 1969 in Army basic training at Fort Dix.
At this point in our training, we had spent a good deal of time on the rifle range learning how to shoot bad guys at long range. Now it was time to learn how to kill bad guys up close and personal. We were marched out to the bayonet training course, where the training was to be conducted by Sergeant Manzero (not his real name), who was the drill sergeant for one of the other platoons in the company. He was about 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a wiry, athletic build, and obligatory crew cut. He had recently completed his tour in Vietnam, and he was not to be trifled with.
I knew we were in for an interesting day when Sgt. Manzero began the training by announcing, “I am the best gott-damned bayonet fighter in the entire Unites States Army.” I cannot imagine that he thought that anyone would take issue with what I viewed as his dubious claim to fame; I certainly did not.
We learned the mandatory response to the question, which would be asked (yelled) by Sgt. Manzero on that day and by other sergeants thereafter. The question was, “What is the spirit of the bayonet?” The proper response was for everyone to shout in unison, “TO KILL, TO KILL WITHOUT MERCY, KILL, KILL KILL.!!!” The idea here, of course, was to whip one into an angry frenzy, because if it ever became necessary to actually engage in a bayonet fight, there was no substitute for killing the other guy. Sgt. Manzero also made it clear that there were two types of bayonet fighters — “the quick and the dead.” I don’t know how the other guys felt about all this, but it sure scared hell out of me.
So, we learned to “fix bayonets,” to “parry” and “thrust.” We then learned the horizontal and vertical butt stroke series. By way of example, here is how the vertical butt stroke series works – by the numbers:
1. You run up to the bad guy while screaming your ass off (presumably so the bad guy will think you are nuts) and carrying your rifle with, “fixed bayonet,” in front of you at a forty-five degree angle (the “on guard” position).
2. When you reach the bad guy, you swing your right foot towards him while simultaneously thrusting the butt of the rifle upward into the bottom of his chin (the goal being to knock his head off).
3. With the rifle now shoulder high (and if the bad guy is still standing), you cross your left leg in front of your right leg while thrusting the butt of the rifle horizontally and forward aiming at the bad guy’s face (this should definitely knock the bad guy down).
4. You now bring your right forward while slashing the bad guy with the bayonet aiming to cut a line from the right side of his throat to his left groin (by now, the bad guy had better be on his back).
5. You now bring your left leg forward while simultaneously thrusting the bayonet into the bad guy’s chest.
The above was repeated and repeated and repeated on dummies until we could do it in one seamless motion. Between repetitions, we would answer the “Spirit of the Bayonet” question. To me, the thought of finding myself in a situation of actually having to use the vertical butt stroke series on a bad guy, who also had a bayonet on his rifle was enough to loosen my bowels.
Even Sgt. Manzero conceded that bayonet fighting was a measure of last resort because it meant that you were out of ammunition and in “deep shit.” He reminded us of another harsh reality (as if I needed yet another one). “If the other guy has a bullet in the chamber of his rifle, you will probably lose the bayonet fight.”
The idea of shooting at bad guys at some distance (and having them shoot back) was terrifying enough, thank you. But the thought of a bayonet fight to the death kept me awake that night, despite the customary basic training exhaustion. Even knowing that I had been trained by the best gott-damned bayonet fighter in United States Army didn’t help much.