There wasn't any penalty for quitting. Most of us had been promoted from Private E-1 or E-2 to Sergeant E-5 just for being accepted to OCS. We were allowed to keep that rank if we quit.
It's hard to know how anyone will react under combat. I had seen a few men break at the reception center at Fort Jackson when we were only asked to tolerate long lines and tedious forms. I had seen a few more break under the rigors of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Infantry Training. Better that they collapse there than on the battlefield when their comrades were depending on them. How much worse if a leader broke during combat? How much worse if the stress caused him to make even a simple mistake that would cost men's lives?
So, there I stood in a sawdust pit, my feet spread shoulder-width apart and my hands at my side. Another candidate stood opposite to me holding his M-14 pointed directly at my neck, the tip of his bare bayonet just four inches from my windpipe. The sergeant's disembodied voice reached me through a fog. I had eyes only for the eyes of my opponent. He was sweating. He was just as afraid as I.
“Thrust whenever you're ready!” the sergeant commanded.
My opponent whispered, “Are you ready?”
I hesitated. “Yes, but go slow,” I said.
“I'll go real slow,” he replied. “On three.”
“When you say three?”
“I'll say three... and then go.”
“Okay. One. Two. Three.”
I stepped back just as we had been instructed. I brought up my hand, the one nearest to my opponent, and guided his bayonet past my throat. I grabbed his rifle barrel behind the bayonet mount with the other hand and pulled, dragging him into the elbow that I aimed at his nose bridge. It struck.
“Damn!” he shouted, dropping his rifle and grabbing his nose. Blood flooded freely. “You weren't supposed to hit me,” he complained.
“Well, you weren't supposed to thrust that fast,” I defended myself.
“That wasn't fast.”
“I barely moved.”
“No, I'll show you how fast it was,” I retorted. It was now my turn to thrust the bayonet at his throat and I may have thrust it a little faster than he had thrust it at me.
Before we were done, someone might have suspected that we were attempting to kill each other, but couldn't. Damn, we were good.
We trained equally hard in hand-to-hand combat. We trained until it became reflexive. There were no real defensive moves. Just offensive, killing moves. There is no time to waste with parrying on the battlefield.
Although our skills increased, we still respected our teachers. I remember clearly one day, an officer candidate was invited to help one of the training sergeant's with a demonstration. He was handed an M-14 with a bare bayonet attached. He asked what the sergeant wanted him to do. The sergeant replied, “Do whatever you want.”
The candidate threw the weapon out of the sawdust pit.
“Why'd you do that?” the instructor asked him.
The candidate replied honestly. “I'm getting rid of that thing before you take it away and kill me with it.”
Again, I thought back to those lessons as I wrote about Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba. His men didn't have military-style weapons until they began stealing them from Cuban army outposts that they overran. The weapons that they brought with them were mostly sporting rifles and didn't have bayonet mounts. I'm sure some brought the knives they used to harvest sugarcane – heavy bladed machete-like knives with hooked ends. During the Cuban Revolution of the late 19th Century, Spanish soldiers feared the masses of peasants who survived their volleys and rushed to kill them with their cane knives.