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Sometimes you don’t know how lucky you are. . .

June 14, 2020
We had a bulldog puppy named “Ning.” This photo was taken before our second child was born in 1972, when I had been assigned to supply in HMM 265 (later HMM 161), a helicopter squadron at Santa Ana, California. I am wearing the only civilian clothes I owned.

June 13, 2020

I’m reading one of my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, a Scot.  He wrote The Talented Mr. Varg.  My ultra-cool cousin Blaine mailed me his copy.

Mr. Smith reminded me of my own lackluster seven years when I was in the US Marine Corps in the early 1970s.  

I keep saying I left the Marine Corps in better shape than I found it because I, early on, engaged with an officer who was a bully to me when I was a still a private.  I was a private for nearly two years, I think.  The pay was lousy.  I don’t know what became of the officer.  I assume he did well.  Such is life.

But long story short, the officer, Major Waddell, the CO of a training squadron,  asked me how I would improve the Marine Corps.  I think he was being condescending.  I was in earnest, though.  I had formed my opinion during the previous four months when I was in basic training.

No expert in military science, I told him what I had in mind.  (At court martial, he lied under oath, said I used the word “fucking.”)  Anyway, he didn’t like my answer.  He thrust out his jaw and put his face close to mine.  “Maybe you’d like to put me on my back!” he challenged.  Try to imagine that, please.  I thought about it, for what seemed an eternity, before I hit him on his jaw with my fist.  I’m certain most people would have done the same. Well! You have to!

I kept hoping the major’s peers would have seen the folly in challenging a recruit to a fistfight.  Certainly, nobody challenged me to another after that.  Am I good at fistfights?  No.  Never have been.  I should confine myself to nose tweaking.  I am kind of a sissy.  The major had done me a favor.

I ultimately was forgiven for lashing out at the chubby major, by the US Court of Military Appeals.  The judges said they’d have done the same thing.

If the Marine Corps is a better organization these days, I want to take some of the credit.  You are welcome!  I know a few Marines.  We are friends.  Semper Fi!  

I was either a hero or I should have been shot for insubordination.  I’ve heard arguments from veterans both ways.  I respect both points of view.  In many ways the military remains a mystery for me.  I should say it is a mixture of terror and sadness, and it will remain so.  I have friends.  

Does one learn in his or her heart the meaning of fear?  Does one push ahead through life despite danger?  The idea that someone is trying to kill you is central to being in the armed forces during wartime.  It is depressing.

But I got ahead of myself.  I did not go to Vietnam, I did not go anywhere but Japan and Southern California.  And Millington, Tennessee.

After my experience with the Marine Corps major in Tennessee, things got better for me.  More relaxed.  A certain amount of craziness was expected.

Oh, I got in trouble in 1970 for reporting to duty at El Toro Marine Air Station wearing an incomplete uniform.  I wasn’t wearing a tie.  Why?  I can’t remember.  I also can’t remember what the penalty was.  I do remember having gotten a ride to the base with one of my brother Tom’s friends, Bob McConnell.  Bob lived in Los Angeles, 60 miles north.  Bob liked to ride motorcycles.  He said he met Evel Knevel once, in a hospital in Missoula.  They were both stove in from motorcycle wrecks.  Like that.

At El Toro Air Station, I learned that I would be assigned to supply.  The next five years of my enlistment would be in supplying the Marines with everything from fighter jet tail hooks to tires to field jackets and bayonets.  Supply folks had their own way of talking.  Soon I spoke supply language.  I got shipped to Japan, then back to the states.  I got to choose my stateside station if I re-enlisted.  I picked El Toro.  My family (wife, two boys, two dogs) lived close by in Tustin, in 1973.  In 1974 our daughter Clara was born.  Nixon quit the presidency.

Because of a happy accident involving a misplaced hat, I was assigned to Third Marine Aircraft Wing Supply.  Three years later, I got a package through official channels:  A six-inch-thick stack of microfiche.  

It had every commercial part number crossed to a national stock number and name.  What a goldmine! The initial part number was AAAAA. The last was ZZYZZYZZXY.

Did you pick up on that?  I looked up the part number “s h i t.”  Sure enough, there was an NSN and part name.  A friend of mine, PFC Bailey, wanted to look up “BR-549.”  Certainly.  There it was.  A spray paint, brown.  We looked up the part number t u r d.  It was there!

Best damn thing I ever saw.  Reminded me of the school dictionaries we used to get in grade school, when we’d look up all the bad words we could think of:  “shit,” “fuck,” “cunt.”  Of course, none of those words were in the dictionary.  So we’d dial it back a bit, and look up: “fart,” “ass,” and “gutter.”  Ass and gutter would be in the book.

Being assigned to supply in the Marine Corps was a good thing for me.  I spent a few years at the helicopter station at Santa Ana, learning the ins and outs from one of the best supply officers in the business, Warrant Officer John Robertson.  People were kind to me.  My peers said they thought I’d been through enough trouble in Tennessee, so they sheltered me from stuff like guard duty.  These peers, by the way, had endured hostile fire at Phu Bai in Vietnam.  I’m thinking of Sergeant William Rotert.  He got out of the Marines and enlisted in the Air Force.  Good people.  He was from Indiana, married with a small son.  I did feel like I had a family in the Marines.  

I keep wanting to tell more of my Marine Corps experience. I think I want to hear the experiences of others who found themselves in such a weird environment.

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One Comment
  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    This is quite the tale. I would love to palaver with you more about these observations. In any case, you came out alive, living a good life, with a great wife, and family.

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