Marine Reserve

I joined the Reserves after active duty serving a total of 32 years in the Marine Corps, regular and reserve. I had some great adventures in the Reserves, including two trips to Electronic Warfare Schools in Germany. I commanded a Marine Squadron, and was promoted all the way to Colonel. One half of my Squadron was mobilized for Desert Storm in Iraq, but most of us did not serve in country.  We were on tap if the war went badly, but of course it went very quickly. I volunteered for active duty for Desert Storm and Iraq, although was not selected. I retired from active Reserve Duty in 1999, but of course part of the deal is that Retired Marines can be recalled, and I am of course ready to serve if needed. Of course if they call someone as old as me back, we are really in trouble.

I joined Marine Wing Communications Squadron 48 in 1972. The unit was located in an old tank factory just south of the Chicago White Sox Park. The Squadron was very large and composed almost entirely of guys who joined to avoid the draft. These guys were my age, but had college degrees and good jobs. Mayor Richard M. Daley was a member of the unit.

They did a good job, but were pretty cocky. You had to lead them much differently then active duty Marines.  Very few Vietnam Vets joined in the early 70's - most people were burned out and tired of the entire thing. 

The threat of the draft kept most people performing. One time we were all standing locked up in formation and the FBI brought a Squadron member across the front of our formation in handcuffs.  He was sent on active duty and the word was that he was killed a months after he got to Vietnam. I Don't know if that was true but it did motivate the troops to show up for drill.

As a member of the Ready Reserve you serve a minimum of 12 weekends a year plus 2 weeks of active duty.  We would usually go to a Marine base on the east or west coast for our two weeks.  

Gradually the draft motivated guys got out of the Reserves, to be replaced by less well educated guys. We had a lot of trouble with drugs and motivation in the 1970's.

We went to a number of active duty periods in 29 Palms, California, in the Mohave Desert, usually in August.  An infantry Battalion would fight from one end of the valley to another, shooting live ammunition and bombs. Our unit provided air support and command and control.

On one notable exercise we set up in 29 Palms, with radio relay stations on Black Mountain behind Palm Springs, relaying information to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and Camp Pendleton. It was very hot in 29 Stumps and Marines loved to go to Black Mountain where it was cool and in the Pine Forests at a high elevation.  Every time we sent someone up their vehicles would break and they could not get back. I would have to send a Sergeant to drag our troops back to our 120 degree Stumps.

There was a YWCA camp near our location on Black Mountain and our young Marines happily developed relationships with the young female counselors. The counselors let our guys shower there. No problem there - everyone was happy. Another reason our guys did not want to come back down the mountain.

I received a radio call from our Marines saying there was "a forest fire about a mile below their location, but they did not think it would get any closer". I told them to "evacuate now." They asked me, "what about the YWCA Camp?"

"What about the Camp", I said. "I'm sure they have plans on how to evacuate." "No sir", my Marines replied. "They expect us to get them out."

Wonderful. We didn't know how dangerous the situation was and had no idea how to evacuate them. We could not get enough vehicles up there in time, so we sent up two of our CH-46

Helicopters  to investigate.  Before the choppers got there my guys called me and said "the fire is now 1/2 mile away but we don't think it is getting any closer." One mile to 1/2 mile in a very short time made me nervous.

It was now getting dark and we were choking from the smoke from the fire in the Stumps 80 miles away from the fire. "I told them to get their radio jeeps down to the YWCA parking lot and mark the Landing Zone with the lights from their jeeps in case we had to evacuate with the helicopters. 

Then my guys called again and said "the fire is now 1/4 of a mile away but we don't think it will get any closer." Wonderful. But they had set up the LZ on the YWCA Camp parking lot, with their headlights of the radio jeeps providing visibility.

Not a good deal. Bringing the CH-46's into a tight LZ surrounded by trees on the side of a mountain and in the smoke, fire and strong wind up currents is a formula for disaster. If we tried to evacuate the kids and crashed and killed many people we were terrible - and if we did not try and they burned to death that would be terrible.

Our CH-46's orbited the location for some time. Fortunately the fire did burn out and we dodged that bullet.

One time in a 29 Palms live fire exercise we screwed up and put the napalm BEHIND the VIP reviewing area. Our PR guy tried to palm it off as normal, but several reporters knew how stupid it was.

It was easy to get confused out in the desert about exact location. I took two young Marines in a radio jeep to set them up a re transmission point just behind the infantry assault. We got to the hill and set up the equipment. Then we saw that about ten 250 lb  bombs were stuck into the hill. I got the guys sheltered behind the hill and called range control to ask about the chances that the bombs would go off. "If they have not gone off yet, they probably won't" said the Range guy.  They did not go off. 

I took the same two Marines up a mountain in a CH-46 helicopter to set up another retransmit site. Way up high and very hot. We set up a little shelter for them. Nasty hot place with a great view.

"Whoom" went a very large round right over our heads.  Very close. They were not supposed to be shooting our way. Never did know what the shell was but I am sure it was big.  I had hopes that those two young guys would stay in, but after they got home and told their stories to their wives their families strongly encouraged them to leave the service.

I saw one A-6 Jet Aircraft simulating straffing over the troops. He was flying very low and made me pretty nervous. "Pull Up!" I said tro myself. Then he crashed.

I called the medevac in with an old tired PRC-41 UHF radio that I powered with slash wire off the jeep. I kept washing it trying to cool it down, hoping it would last till the medevac was done. It did last.  Both Majors flying the plane died and they badly burned two other Marines on the ground.  The troops said the Pilots realized they were going to crash and were able to pull the plane away from most of the troops, or a lot of them would have died.

We rode lots of helicopters and airplanes, which was always fun.  One time we left 29 Palms on the last CH-53 Helo out - with major dust and wind storms. We had a radio jeep on the chopper and a water buffalo hanging below, and about a dozen troops in the Helo.  The winds were so strong that the hello tried to keep down in the valleys.  It was so rough that a number of guys got sick. Then I noticed that in their rush they had only tied the jeep down in one direction - if the helo had put his nose up the jeep would have ran off the chopper, and probably caused us to crash.

I worked with two good young Marines, Webster and Knox.  Knox began to miss drills. I tried to get him to reform, but he started a business making men's suits, and he was given an undesirable discharge. We had to kick lots of people out of the service.

Webster was murdered in Cabrini Green. Someone shot him for his white rabbit skin coat. Our Sergeant Major was a Chicago Homicide Detective and he worked very hard to catch they guy. They found the killer with the murder weapon, wearing the coat with the bullet hole and Webster's blood on the coat.

Webster's platoon helped with the wake and the funeral. Webster was laid out in his Marine Green uniform. 

At the funeral his platoon and I and the CO were in uniform. Cpl Pittman played taps. It was very poignant. The troops folded the flag, and gave it to our CO to give to the family.The wife or mother normally takes the flag.  Webster was not married but had a number of children. The CO did not know who should get the flag. Finally one of the women took the flag. 

Another one of our young Marines was a security guard who was killed. The story was that he and another security guard had been playing quick draw.  The other security guards .45 went off.

I fell into a great deal in 1979. The Marine Corps Reserves sent me to Oberamergau, Germany to study Electronic Warfare.  I traveled with my Commanding Officer.  We were the only Reserves - everyone else was full time military from a variety of NATO countries - Germany, England, Holland, Belgium, Italy, etc. 

The class was great - learned a lot about Electronic Warfare, NATO, and our allies.

All the other officers treated the two weeks as a normal duty - they stayed around the base.  My boss and I rented a car, and drove around like crazy.  We decided to sneak behind the iron curtain.  We hid everything that showed that we were military, attending a Secret EW Course. We tried first to get into Czechoslavakia - a grim entry, with a telephone pole serving as their border gate - swinging into their country - designed to keep their people in, not us out. Grim place - would not let us in.

Next we tried Hungary. They made us cool our jets for 3 hours - took our car for 2 hours, then let us in. We wondered if they bugged the car.

We drove around Hungary - another grim poor place. There were Russian and Hungarian troops - they did not like each other. We went to a grim hotel with a little old lady safeguarding each floor.  The bar was filled with angry soldiers looking for a fight. The place was a true Police state, with soldiers everywhere.

We took a photo of an old steam engine. An armed soldier yelled at us to get out.

We left Hungary to go into Yugoslavia - the border between Communist Hungary and Communist Yugoslavia was heavily guarded - felt like a free place relative to Hungary. I did kind of dumb prank there - in an area filled with Communist troops - went into the washroom and put a Marine Corps Decal on the mirror to let them know we had been there.

Incidentally, the border between Yugoslavia and the west was not guarded well - the Communists knew they had nothing to fear from the west. They had great security between the Communist "allies" borders.

When we got back to the base we really wanted to tell our fellow officers where we had been - but did not dare. We asked them if any of them had ever been behind the Iron Curtain - no they said, would not dare, out would come the rubber hoses and torture.

My CO was a seasoned traveler and set up our tickets so we got to visit Madrid, Paris, and London on the trip.  My CO and I did not talk about this for a number of years, but I presume I am beyond the reach of the long arm of the US government - I hope. Don't tell anyone.

I went to another electronic warfare school in Germany and this time my wife went along. We drove around four or five countries and had a great time.

There was another Marine in the Class, an active duty Weapons Officer who flew the A-6. Nice guy but quiet. I ran into him a few years later in another school. A few years later Master Sergeant Clayborne told me that the Officer was a prisoner in Levenworth. The story went that he was jealous about his wife. He killed two men with a knife, and the one killed was not the right guy but his brother.

Master Gunnery Sergeant Claiborne was a great guy - a massive guy. He was a former drill instructor. His son was a strapping young kid. Some years later the son was a star linebacker for the Detroit Lions and MGSgt Claiborne was living with him in Detroit. He was murdered there.

I became the Commanding Officer of MWCS-48 from 1989 to 1991.  One half of the Squadron was mobilized for Desert Storm. The rest of us were going as backfill if the casualty rate was high.  Fortunately it was not.

I personally wanted to go. It is a little like being a Fireman, training for years, and then missing the fire. I informally asked my Squadron members how many hoped they would be mobilized? About 1/2 wanted to be mobilized. Then I asked if we were mobilized, how many wanted to go to Iraq.  It was about 1/2 again, but different people. Some Marines wanted to go to Iraq, while some did not want to get mobilized but if they did get mobilized they wanted to go to the war.

I did not push hard to get our Squadron into the war. If the war ended up going badly I did not want my actions to cause casualties for my guys. Of course what I wanted did not count for much in any event.

Captain John Joyce and I did call Headquarters Marine Corps and volunteered for Iraq. I knew that it was unlikely that they would take me as I had recently been promoted to Colonel. So I volunteered to go back in any rank and any MOS. They did not take me up on that offer. I was concerned that they might take me back as a Private and put me on mess duty again. My wife was a bit unhappy about this.

In addition to spending 13 years in MWCS-48, I also served in the Headquarters Detachment 4 of 4th Marine Division in Chicago, at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, DC, at Fleet Marine Force Atlantic at Camp Lejeune, NC and Norfolk, VA, and finally at the Amphibious Warfare Technology Directorate in Quantico, VA.  In my last four years at Quantico I worked on high tech weapons development.  I retired in 1999 - Colonels are permitted a maximum of 30 years of Commissioned service.

My buds from MWCS-48 at a recent reunion

Sgt Armstrong Semper Fi

MASS-3 Danang, Vietnam

Hill 327 Vietnam

Marine Air Support Squadron 3 Vietnam

Water Buffalo & motorbike on the Road

Terrible thing happenend to my hootch

A Bridge to Skinny

Traffic Jam

Rice Patties were very serene

China Beach near Danang

Boats and Harbors were lovely

Terrible thing happenend to my hootch

Boats and Harbors were lovely

Down to my last 50000 Dong Note - Currency of South Vietnam - Not worth a plug nickle