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Vignette of USMC life in 1970

July 6, 2021
This was 1971. I was still a private in the USMC. The puppy is Ning, a wonderful one.

July 6, 2021

Swept the garage, vacuumed the basement, rearranged my grandson’s video game apparatus so I might walk through the big room.  Oh yes.  Gunther’s sleeping on the couch.  Can’t tell if he’s bored or tired.  Or both.  It’s over 90 degrees today, again.  Good idea to hunker down and wait for cooler air to slide down from the Beartooth Mountains.

There’s that word “vacuum.”  I know of only two double u words:  equus and vacuum.  Must be more than that.  How does one pronounce vacuum?  vac- you’- um?  Or as my mother used to say, vac’-yoom.  

Never mind.  Working on banjo playing.  I can play “Worried Man Blues,” after a fashion, but “Cripple Creek” is coming painfully slowly.  I’m sure it sounds that way, too.  I practice most days, but for short periods.  Once or twice a day.  Nothing is really pushing me, but I want to learn to play with the three finger style.  I’ve tried claw hammer, but can’t get any traction.

When I sat down to write I think I had an idea, but I’ve forgotten.  I think it had to do with my Marine Corps experience in mid-1970.

I joined November 23, 1969.  That was Penny’s birthday, a sad occasion, because I said “goodbye forever.”  I was off to Vietnam, of course.  Everyone knew that’s what happened if you joined the Marines in those days.  Didn’t they?  I had my faith.  I had been reading a bunch of Eastern religion stuff:  Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism.  All of them extolled mortifying the flesh and entering reality.  The Vietnam war was my reality, naive as I was about the particulars.  I knew I was a hippie, but I also knew I couldn’t stick my head in the sand or be a coward.  Real hippies were brave and true.  Or so I thought.  I was also under the influence.  Of Don Quixote.

I’m re-reading Don Quixote as I write.  In 1969 I read the Putnam translation, but now I’m reading the Ormsby translation.  Mr. Ormsby used Putnam in his scholarly re-writing in English.  Nonetheless, it was written by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra.

Under the influence of Sr. Cervantes Saavedra, even joining the Marine Corps during Vietnam makes perfect sense.

I had friends shout at me!  

Whereas people on the street had enjoined me to “get a haircut!” My hip friends urged me to become a “happy hippie.”  Life has its serious aspects.  I knew I had to face front.  I had to face the reality that seemed most real to me.

One monday morning I strode into the Marine Corps recruiter’s office on West Broadway in Missoula.  “I want to join the Marines,” I mumbled.

A gunnery sergeant looked up from his desk with mild interest.  “What are you running from?”

“Nothing.”

“Ever been arrested?”

“Drunk and disorderly,” I replied (omitting the part about indecent exposure). (I pissed on the window of Skeet’s Cafe after a racist cook threw me out because I threw a rag at him.)

“Come back tomorrow,” said the sergeant.

The gunny was smiles and welcomed me when I returned.  He had me take a test and answer a bunch of questions.  What I remember about the test:

  • I had to identify parts of a car motor, including ignition coil.  Since I didn’t know the parts of a motor then, I don’t know if I got that one right.
  • there were lots of other questions.  I’m pretty good at taking tests, so I believe I answered most of them correctly.
  • I had to answer if I’d been a member of a list of organizations, none of which I’d ever heard of before.  I think the gist was “young communist league,” and “communist party of America.”  I’m making these up, but that’s the impression I got.  I wasn’t able to say I was a member of any of them.
  • I had to list all of my addresses.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the basis of my gaining a Secret security clearance through some outfit called ENT NAC.  I listed all my addresses.  I was too naive to know if any of them were incriminating.  Anyway, my address tended to change every week in those days.  Depended upon the whim and generosity of friends like Bill Reynolds and Peter Koch and my brother Tom.

My Marine Corps experience was particularly foul.  I disliked the drill instructor because he was a sadistic pig.  I did enjoy the company of the other recruits, however, at least most of them.

Later, I was bullied by a little shit when we got to infantry training.  Turns out ignoring him didn’t work.  I learned to confront bullies until I was bullied by my commanding officer in training group at Millington Tennessee.

I punched out the commanding officer, went to jail for five months, and was subsequently forgiven by the upper echelons of the Navy Board of Military Appeals.

The cosmos, the stars were beginning to line up again after I was transferred to a helicopter squadron on a small base near Los Angeles. This was MCAS(H) Santa Ana, CA 92709.

At last.

Here’s my story:  I was starting my second year as a private E-1, having never gotten promoted because of my altercation with the Marine major.  Just because you get forgiven for punching one of them doesn’t mean you’ll get a promotion any time soon.

In Southern California, I lived in a big concrete barracks with the rest of squadron HMM 161.  Many of the members of my squadron had recently returned from Vietnam, from Bien Hua.  One of these saw a fellow named Sergeant Sergeant.

The guy with this unfortunate name was officious, punctual, neat, and personable.  

Nobody could stand him.

“He’s a real dipshit,” explained my friend, Sergeant Bobby Haines.

He was on duty at the barracks the day one of my fellow squadron members, a kind of sleazy guy named Jerry, offered me some marijuana. 

I eagerly accepted his offer.  Because I was paying a forfeiture of pay for my previous crimes I couldn’t afford the $0.25/pack of store bought smokes, so I rolled my own with Prince Albert and Top papers.  I mixed some pot in with the tobacco for a mellow smoke and a welcome high.

After I lit up and took a couple of hits off my cigarette, into my cubicle marched Sergeant Sergeant!

“Private STRUCKMAN!” he yelled.  “Report to the quarter deck!”  His desk was at one end of the squad bay and was technically known as the “quarter deck.”

I figured I’d be busted and kicked out of the Marines. This would have been a disaster because I was negotiating with Penny to get married the following year.

Nothing to lose, I hollered at him, “Sergeant Asshole!  You are one dumb motherfucker!!  I’m smoking a tobacco cigarette, SEE STUPID?  (I held up the can of Prince Albert.)  It’s nothing but PA!  IN A CAN, STUPID!

Poor Sergeant Sergeant got apologetic, mumbled something, and slouched away.

In retrospect, I think he was glad not to bust me, a guy who’d been busted already for punching a major. Whatever the reason, I was glad to escape prosecution!

I, of course, took the evidence to the toilet and flushed it!   

Moral of the story:  tobacco will not mask the smell of weed.

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