Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Day...a Marine 56 years later.

 Memorial Day is tomorrow.

A day when we honor those who gave their lives while serving in the military.

I joined the Marines right after graduating from Bishop England high school in 1957.

Had no interest in any "more school" and joined the USMC to be one-up on my older brother who was wearing USAF blue.

Back then you could sign up for six months of active duty and then remain in the Reserves for 7.5 years, subject to call up.

Boot Camp at Parris Island (in July and August!) was sweaty but went ok.

Then advanced infantry training up at Camp Lejeune, NC felt comfortable.

All Marines are basically infantry.
I was lucky enough to be designated as a Combat Photographer (MOS 4641).

This just happened to be during a very peaceful time.

It was so good to be attached to the Base Photo Lab, Support Company B, Headquarters Battalion, that I re-enlisted for three years.

This also eliminated the many years of the Reserve requirement.

But, instead of combat, I was basically doing PR.

Snapping photos of Command Changes and medals being pinned on Marines.

Sometimes a funny thing would happen and I was there with my USMC-issued Speed Graphic.

Life was comfortable but I was getting antsy to do something more than covering parades and "grip & grins."

I wanted to be out in the field for more than a few hours with eager Reservists who came to LeJeune for two weeks of annual active duty training.

I was not involved in the 1958 invasion of Lebanon and heard the stories that the amphibious landing was greeted by bikini-clad bathers and soda pop vendors. Actually, though, some Marines were killed.

I finally got my chance to get away from the parade field and starched khakis late in 1959.

I volunteered to be assigned to a Tank Battalion as its photographer for several months.

I cruised for 7-days with them down to Vieques, a Navy-owned "training" island off the coast of Puerto Rico.

We did a pre-dawn landing, climbing down cargo nets into small landing crafts that zig-zagged toward the beach.

We set up tents as our sleeping quarters and I finally was in the field, training with an armoured aggressor force.

Dust, dirt and booming tank cannons were the everyday norm.

This was far from the spick and span Base Photo Lab.

There we sometimes spent hours, experimenting with posing and lighting formal portraits.

This was eating rations in the field and taking photos as dedicated tankers performed a variety of tests and maneuvers.

Instead of a prim uniform hat or cap, I now was getting used to wearing a steel pot, a camouflaged helmet.

And, smoking a lot of cigarettes, which were very inexpensive in Vieques.

Also, being pleased to see beer was ten cents a can and five rum & Cokes were made with just one 8-oz classic Coca-Cola.

Work hard and play even harder.

I learned from my fellow tankers that when someone didn't make the grade, training in endless-track machines, they were reassigned to become Tank Killers.

Proving the Marine Corps had a sense of humor, both groups frequented the same bar on base.

Yes, the MPs had to break up many discussions on the merits and safety of tanks.

Looking back a half century, I realize that if I had stayed with the 7.5 years in the Reserves, I might have been called up to active duty in the Vietnam war.

(Click on the photos and links for details.)

My time in the Corps convinced me that college was a good idea.

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