Skip to content

Remembering the Marine Corps

January 4, 2022
Going to the base chapel and running were two low-cost entertainment options.

A couple more days of lockdown until we can emerge from our quarantine from COVID.  Last Tuesday I had a test that came up positive.  I was sicker then heck for a while.

Five days seems to be the official period of sequestration.  

I’m not sure I’ll be quite feeling up to it, but the two women in our house, who seemed to get milder cases than I, are eager to get out and into the world.  P., especially, has been sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, dusting, bustling about.  I’ve been mostly supine in our room, thinking.  Wishing for the end of my illness.

I remember years ago my one-year tour in Japan in the Marines, back in Fall of ’72— Fall of ’73.  Most of my fellow Marines became drunks.  Or if not drunks, Jesus freaks.  I had to leave my little family in California.  

I did not become a drunk in Japan.  In fact, I didn’t enter a bar.  I was one of those who was a Jesus freak.

One, I was grieving my being away from my little family: two small boys, a wife, and a small dog with a pup.  We owned a Volkswagen fastback and little else.

Two, our little family often went to the on-base chapel in Santa Ana, California.  Cheapest entertainment available to a family of four living on base earning $2,000 a year.  I earned extra delivering the Orange County Register.  My route consisted of seven trailer courts out on Harbor Boulevard.  The other low-cost entertainment was running.  I started running about three miles a day.

The first year of our marriage we grossed about $1,000.  We couldn’t afford butter or bacon.

Our dog, Ning, Todd, and Penny at base housing in Santa Ana.

When I got orders overseas the Marines sent me to Treasure Island, a base between Oakland and San Francisco to a casual company.  Another name for it would be perdition.

You march around when you aren’t picking up litter or raking leaves.  How do you keep your sanity?  I found a garden tool and a file so I sat down and sharpened, thus finding a niche for myself that didn’t involve endless bending and picking up.

Evenings I attended a Bible study and hymn sing-along with a bunch of hoarse, loudmouth bully types, each trying to outdo each other in their piety.  It was okay.  I had been running every day, so I put in an hour or two of running around the base, up one street and down another.  The place was lush with California greenery—holly hedges, ivy, deciduous trees, palms.

(The following year, on my return from Japan, they sent me back to Treasure Island for another week, awaiting further orders.  Many Marines were getting out of the service and garbage cans were festooned with uniforms discarded by gleeful soldiers.)

The plane ride to Japan seemed to take a couple of days, but the sun remained high in the sky throughout the trip.  My beard grew and my armpits stunk by the time we stopped to refuel in Hawaii, then refuel again at Midway Island.  It was a military jet with ancient looking flight attendants.  Eventually we landed in Yokusaka in the rain.  My fellow fliers were vomiting into the little paper bags.

Japan shocked me when I saw tiny little people squatting to pee on the side of the road!  And little!  Most of them seemed to be about four feet tall and the city smelled of urine.  Yokusaka.  From there we got on a Marine CH-46 helicopter and rode several hundred miles to Iwakuni Air Base.

At first it rained every day.  Fall was the beginning of the rainy season.  Rusted bicycles under tin roofs.  I rented a bike for $10/month.

I was assigned by the First Marine Air Wing Supply sergeant to Marine Air Group 12 supply.  I was hoping for an aviation supply job, but the sergeant asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam where half the squadrons were deployed.  I told him my wife and children would be bummed if I went to Vietnam, so he assigned me to MABS-12.  A support squadron for the base in Iwakuni.  This was essentially a backwater squadron assigned to deal with the red clay-encrusted garbage being shipped back from Vietnam.

My supply shop that looked like a modestly outfitted garage, had Lieutenant Roach, Sergeant Ortega, me, Lance Corporal  Ragsdale, PFC Thigpen, and Private Humphries.

Lieutenant Roach, our supply officer, was living with a whore in town, and things got dicy when his wife came to Japan for a visit.  Roach also had a two-cylinder car with A-4 nose wheels on the back, giving the car a kind of playful forward stance.  I don’t know how he got the nose wheels, but I do know how he got a lot of other cool things from the supply department. 

I thought it interesting that Lt. Roach was promoted to captain while in Iwakuni, ahead of Lieutenant “shithead” Robertson who was squadron personnel officer, a tightly-wound career Marine whom everyone hated.

Sergeant Ortega made staff sergeant soon after I arrived.  An immigrant from Mexico, he was divorced and had several small children.  He spent every evening drinking beer in the enlisted club.  Eventually he got up in the night, peed in his wall locker, and got put on medical leave.  He cried about his broken family.

“Rags” Ragsdale was a black kid from Philadelphia, extremely intelligent, small in stature but large-hearted.  He thought my religiosity was a lot of bullshit.  As did the other black guy, Charles Thigpen.  “Thig” was a fairly good basketball player and a problem for Rags when he got promoted to corporal.  

At one point, a kid from another division, Pvt. Flowers, sucker punched Thig and knocked out a front tooth, broke his jaw.  Thig had to drink soup from a straw for a month, or so, until they unwired his mouth.  

Despite such interesting fellow Marines, I spent all my spare time with the Jesus freaks, or I ran.  I ran every day, 6,7,8 miles/day around the base perimeter.  A concrete sea wall had a walkway on top and I could run three or four miles each direction.

“It’s Christmas, you idiot,” yelled someone one morning when I loped along the sea wall.

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: