I served with the Marine Corps from 1966 to 1999. I spent 4 years on active duty including 18 months in Vietnam and 28 more years in the Marine Reserves, and am now in the Retired Reserve. I graduated from Morgan Park High School in the south side of Chicago in January 1966. I concentrated on basketball and baseball and in general having a fine time, avoiding study wherever possible. In the summers I worked on my uncle’s ranch in western South Dakota. I bought a wrecked Model A Roadster with a convertible top and a rumble seat and drove it back to Chicago for my last year. modelahullinger.blogspot.com
I was tired of school and wanted to have adventure and to serve mankind. This was just a few years after President Kennedy told us to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Those were powerful words then and they still resonate today. I was an Eagle Scout and the dictums to "do a good turn daily" and "help other people at all times" were burned into my brain. They were good principles to live by then and now.
I am a little schizophrenic. Before I enlisted I served one year in 1966-67 as a volunteer in the Prince of Peace Corps, a Lutheran Church social work program similar to the Peace Corps or Vista. I worked in the inner city of Norfolk, Virginia helping the community in a variety of ways. I worked with street gangs, started a Scout Troop, and ran a teen center.
I saw more combat in the ghetto there than I did in Vietnam. Our teen center periodically attracted guys with guns, golf clubs, ice picks, brass knuckles, razors, and knives, and who threatened us and sometimes used those weapons. Most of the time we talked them out of violence. We did some good and I was proud of my service, but was glad to move on to the US Military where the guys on my side also had guns.
More scoop on my Prince of Peace Corps service at:
The antiwar movement was in its infancy. The shrill anti war protests made after 1968 were quieter in 1966. As the casualty rates mounted and the threat of the draft and death increased the opposition to the war increased.
I was 18 when I enlisted on November 6, 1966. I could not buy a car, or a drink, or sign a contract other than sign up for the military. I certainly thought communism was a terrible system, that it needed to be opposed by the world democracies, and that the military kept us from being taking over by the Japanese, Nazis, and/or Communists.
I had my doubts about Vietnam, however. It was a little known country that was far from the US and close to Communist China. The war was already unpopular. The anti war movement felt that we were intervening in a place we did not belong. I was pretty sure the benefit we would receive from keeping southeast Asia outside of communist control would not be worth the sacrifice.
But I also felt that the US Government leadership knew a lot more than I did about when and where to oppose communist expansion. I also felt that every kid cannot be making independent decisions about what war is just, which war is not, and in which one they will serve. A country requires its teenagers and young men to protect it. This has always been so, from the time we were primitive and tribal, and it remains so today. Widespread refusal by our young people to serve will eventually mean our domination by other countries.
I also thought the domino theory made sense. Russia had gone communist in 1917 and the eastern European countries after WWII. Red China became communist, followed by North Vietnam and North Korea. Indonesia, Cuba, and numerous other countries were or threatened to go communist.
I was not virulently anti communist, but their rhetoric was certainly frightening. Khrushchev vowed to bury us. We had grown up with bomb air raid drills where we would move into the hall ways, bend over, put our heads between our legs, and wait for the bombs or the all clear signal. The Cuba Missile crisis almost became World War III. When President Kennedy died I was 16 I remember walking home from High School that evening, wondering if the bombers and missiles would hit us that night.
I also wanted a challenge. A teenager should be trying to prove himself in the world, and a war is a fine vehicle for that. I wanted travel and adventure.
My father served in the Army National Guard in WWII in Africa and Italy, and both Grandfathers served in the Army in WWI. My Uncle had served in the Navy and a Great Uncle had died in the Pacific. The Navy was attractive for the travel, but with the shooting war heating up in Vietnam it seemed a little chicken to serve on a safe big ship. I talked my father into writing up his World War II history, which is much more dramatic then mine. Check it out at:
The Marine Corps offered the perfect compromise between the Navy and Army. I would be a seagoing soldier. I walked into the recruiter’s office in Norfolk and asked him that if I joined would I get to:
1. Fight in Vietnam?
2. Sail on a Ship?
3. Get to become an Officer?
The tall Marine in his dress blues quickly and easily said yes to all three questions. Our dialog and my written test took a few minutes and I signed up to be a Marine.
I volunteered for four years of active duty without any guarantees or even discussion of options. I did not even consider or ask about 6 month, two year, or three year programs. I signed up as what we later called "a four year fish" which describes someone foolish enough to "bight" on the recruiters hook, and sign up for four years of servitude. I knew one six month Marine Reservist who was my size and could pick me up and press me over his head. If the Marines could do that for him in six months, think what they could do for me in four years? I am still waiting to get that strong.
On the way out of the recruiter’s office I noticed a brochure discussing guaranteed aviation. I asked the recruiter if I could participate in this program. He said yes, but then asked me in a quiet discouraging manner if I was color blind? I said “yes, a little”. “Well”, he said in a quiet discouraging manner, "you would probably just fold parachutes". "The heck with that", I said, "make me a grunt."
I set up my enlistment on a 120 day delay plan so I could finish my one year service with the Prince of Peace Corps. I saw my father the following week in North Carolina, and told him what I had done. "Oh No", he cried. "How long?" "Four years", I said. "Oh no", he said. Then he said, "well, it will probably be all right."
Both of my parents had very much wanted me to go to college. My mother had actually offered to pay for the University of Hawaii. But the government paid you to go to Vietnam. And my parents had raised me on stories of the depression and how they worked their way through college. The military offered me a way to pay my way through college without tasking my parents, who had three younger children to raise.
I received my draft notice one month after I enlisted. I was not sure what to do. The Marine Recruiter Sergeant told me to ignore the Army. Marines have telling me to ignore the Army ever since.
All my life I have told people that I beat the draft by joining the Marines for four years. A fair number don't get the joke and look at me as if I am a lunatic, which is actually a fair approximation.
All the things promised to me by my recruiter came true. I went to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. I served in the FMF (Fleet Marine Corps), then went to Officers Candidate School when I was old enough. I spent only three days at sea on a Navy troop ship near Chesapeake Bay, which was a disappointment. I served two tours in the Republic of Vietnam as a Lieutenant. After 4.4 years of active service, I was discharged. I spent another 28 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, finally retiring as a Colonel. And I was thankful and frankly always a little surprised at every promotion after Lance Corporal.
I assumed when I enlisted that all Marines are combat infantrymen. All Marines are riflemen, but the Marine Corps is a modern military force. It has all kinds of specializations. By joining for four years I probably increased my chances of specialized training.
Most people have heard about Marine Corps boot camp which is no picnic. You arrive at Parris Island at night. A mean drill instructor comes on the bus, screaming at you to run out on to the yellow foot prints in front of the bus. The drill instructors set out to terrorize you and for the most part succeed. They are screaming and yelling at you, keeping you awake through the first night. They shave your head and take all your possessions. I was a tough guy from dasoutsideaChicaga, but the DI's succeeded in frightening me.
The photo is me in Boot Camp in March 1967. The glasses were fake without lenses - would not want your civilian glasses to be used for your photo. Note the fear and fatigue in my eyes. The gadget under the photo is to set the service number - mine was 2351715.
The physical training was very tough, but I was in excellent condition and did not have much trouble with the long formation runs or PT. Hand to hand combat was ok. The academics were pretty easy - mostly memorization and since you had absolutely nothing else to do studying was easy. We were not allowed any free time and not allowed to talk to anyone. If a DI saw you looking around, you were in deep kimchee.
One time I was marching and my cover (hat) started to blow off. I quickly yanked it back on, but Sgt Bess saw the motion and called me to the front. They usually just hit you in the solar plexus or popped you in the throat, which was no big deal. But Sgt Bess assigned me "food for thought". This meant you stood on your bald head on the concrete deck until you could no longer stay up. Good old Bess then had two other boots hold my legs up so I could get some more time upside down. When I finally finished I had a 3 inch deep bruise on the top of my bald head. I vowed to attack Bess if he assigned me more food for thought, but he did not.
I was an excellent boy scout but I was a marginal young Marine. Every Marine is a rifleman and the Corps is justly proud of its record of training expert marksman. The only trouble for me is that I was a lousy shooter.
We spent two weeks on the rifle range at Parris Island. The first week is spent in snapping in (practicing shooting your rifle, laying in position for hours). The second week involves actual shooting. Every day I failed to pre qualify with the requisite score of 190. Every day our drill instructors would knock around all of us failures. We would line up and report to the drill instructors who would punch us in the solar plexus. They would then fill the showers with bleach and ammonia. They had us exercise in the ammonia, rolling around and vowing to shoot better the next day.
I presume the intent of the drill instructors was to motivate us to try harder. This worked for our platoon for strength events where we were the top platoon. For skill events such as shooting, however, the extra pressure was counterproductive. Our platoon shot much worse than our two sister platoons where the drill instructors did not exert so much pressure.
On qualification day I was doing my best and I knew I would be close to qualification. I was terrible shooting standing up and kneeling but better sitting down and in the prone position. I did not keep track of my score - the drill instructor advised that keeping score would just make us more nervous.
We shot from the 200, 300, and 500 yard line. I was doing very well at the final round at the 500 yard line shooting bull’s eye after bull’s eye. I knew I had a chance to qualify.
Then the shooter next to me told the drill instructor that his target had gone down without his firing. I HAD SHOT A BULL'S-EYE ON THE WRONG TARGET. My panic increased.
The drill instructor resolved the problem by having the other rifleman shoot on my target. The other shooter was an expert marksman, but he shot a 4 on my target in exchange for the bull’s-eye 5 that I had shot on his target.
My final score was 189, one point short of qualification. If I had shot my own bull's-eye I would have qualified. This meant no shooting badge. It meant that I had to crawl back three miles from the rifle range to the barracks with "UNQ" (Unqualified) written in chalk on my back. My drill instructors knocked me around once again, telling me that I did not even care. We UNQs had to walk guard every night for the rest of boot camp and on forced marches we had to run around the entire column shouting "I am an UNQ". We were also considered pariahs. As the Drill Instructor stated, "who would want to be in a foxhole with an UNQ?" Becoming an UNQ also killed any chance of me getting promoted to PFC out of boot camp.
I did manage to complete boot camp in 8 weeks and was very glad to leave the island. I have never returned.
Each year we again fired on the riflerange. The next time I shot after boot camp without a drill instructor screaming in my ear I qualified. And each year I got a little better and finally qualified as an expert.
After Boot Camp we went on to ITR (Infantry Training Regiment at New River, North Carolina. I served two weeks on Mess Duty, and then two weeks in Infantry training. The Marines who were going to the Infantry went to a four week school. After ITR I flew home, and then on to my Military Occupational School (MOS).