"It's the same stuff you see in the Hollywood movie 'Saving Private Ryan,'" one says.
Inside the armored vehicles, schoolchildren huddle in oversized helmets and camouflage fatigues, their terrified bodies trembling like Jell-O. Oblivious to the ear-numbing noise from the revving engine, one girl snaps open a hand-held mirror to check her face before the landing. A 14-year-old boy dozes all the way to the beach.
"Some of these kids are hard cases to crack," says Sergeant 1st Class Shim Sang Kyu, a crew-cut marine, barking above the noise. "Our task is to reconstruct them into a better specimen of human being. We train them in the Marine spirit."
Each year, during summer and winter vacations, thousands of schoolchildren pass through this seashore boot camp of South Korea's 1st Marine Corps Division in Pohang, an industrial town on the southeast coast. The program is designed to instill in teenagers perseverance, confidence and teamwork — values cherished by South Korean parents who grew up through the deprivation of the postwar years.