sight groups at Parris Island were tight until pollen on the winds of
early spring blew in over the marsh from Beaufort, causing me to tear. On
the second day of live firing, each time I squeezed the M-14 trigger the
target became a blur resulting in the inevitable "maggy's drawers."
Before the wind kicked up I was a "dinger" but now the once boastful DIs
were swarming over me trying to diagnose my problem. In the end I got KP,
a non-qual washing mountains of pots and pans for the battalion. Soon we
were proud marines, marching before our still stunned parents. To lend
some historical chronology to this time, news papers even in small town
America included an obscure news article June 1963 about Thich Quang Duc
the Buddhist monk in Saigon who had defiantly committed self-immolation in
front of the French Legation. Our orders, for boot Marines of this period
had already been cut.
Early summer of 1964 I, along with many of my acquaintances fresh
out of Parris Island, with 0300 MOSs and orders for the FMFPAC, reported
to Pendleton's San Mateo. The "old guys" Reyes, Anderson, Gindowski,
Wheat, were waiting for us, sitting around the barracks squaring away.
George Jones whaled a heart breaking song on a transistor radio. I was
assigned to weapons platoon, in a line company. Even before I was able to
unpack my sea bag, Anderson a smooth talking private form LA with an ivory
smile said with his best poker face "Hey Malsbary, you’re in our squad so
here’s my dress shoes. Have them ready for morning formation."
Everyone watched for my response. Some hint. Would I spit shine
Anderson's shoes? Would I get nasty? "I don't have to shine your shoes."
I said "Your a private just like me." Quite unsure of my exact legal
positon, to be sure. To my relief everyone howled with laughter.
Anderson's con hadn't worked. Anderson became a fun loving, buddy with a
great sense of humor. Later he accused someone of breaking into his wall
locker and shinning his shoes. But it was not I.
In the late hot afternoon prior to liberty, someone one said "fall
out, the new Lieutenant is coming. The new LT was fresh out of
Annapolis-gold bars gleaming upon freshly starched dungarees-head
shaved-perfectly blocked cover- very boyish complexion- his uniform
creases cut the dry dusty air as he walked over the gravel on immaculate
spit shined field boots. Speaking in a lowered deliberate voice- he
introduced himself to his first platoon. Platoon Sergeant Scott stood
close and behind the Lieutenant looking us over. This was a time when
C-Rations were issued during field maneuvers. Ham and Limas, Turkey Loaf
and the likes with fruitcake, date loaf, peaches and my favorite
apricots. Sergeant Scott, a freckled faced, skin headed NCO would zero in
on each of us boots, finding our weakness, probing our unique
personalities. The "old guys" would train with us, transfer the skills of
warfare in the next overseas tour and then most of them would be
discharged. After that we would be the "old guys" For now, though, we were
the "new guys". I became the Lieutenant’s first PRC-6 radio operator.
It was with this unit we were forged into the real Corps. When I
had hesitantly asked Corporal Baines, my Drill Instructor at PI, what
exactly we would be doing. He said tersely that "You will be working your
fucking ass off Marine." and walked away. So that's what we did. Humped
the hills of Golden Meadows and all that surrounded it. As a kid I had
watched, on our black and white TV, Poncho and Cisco riding the range out
in these hills. Now our troop columns wound upwards through the same
choking dust, into the canyons and across the saddles, us puking
slobbering and sweating and passing gas like pack animals, as “lock-on”
training whipping us into better condition than we would ever know again.
You know that ad on TV today? That’s what we did day in and day out
transforming into high grade, high Rockwell steel troops that could work
together and get a job done. Far up the head of the column, swaggered the
fit and able Second Lieutenant and I behind him with PRC-6 to my ear
puffing madly to keep up. Soon after lock-on which was the term for
preparing troops to be combat ready, we were at sea and headed for the
land of the dragon, it was around mid year 1964.
A full and complete far east tour deposited us once again back in
the dry, brown, treeless hills of Pendleton, this time it was Camp Los
Pulgas. Now the "old guys" had sung their last short timer song and danced
down the gang way doing that little surfer hang-ten pose that suggested
they had caught the wave back into civilian life for which the had yearned
for so long. Now we were the "old guys." It was we who were in charge. It
would be six short months before we, quite unexpectedly, would head out
once again, this time for "Down South" as was euphemistic reference to
Vietnam. By now we had all seen Larry Burrows in Life Magazine pictures.
In bought a camera in Japan and made photography my preoccupation, after
cleaning my rifle, my rocket, my uniform making my bunk, cleaning the head
to include the toilets, showers, wash stands, floors and windows to such a
degree that I could never tolerate anything less.
Just prior to shipping out on the Valley Forge around April of
1965- out'a Long Beach- bunch of us had motorcycles- Triumphs. We'd tool
around Oceanside and up and down the coast highway soakin' up the Southern
California life. Fresh back from Okinawa, we’d got an apartment, an
aqua-marine cinder block flat out in Oceanside. Triumphs were parked
around all the time unless we were out humpin’ the hills again. This time
we force marched with the only Marine Corps artillery without wheels, the
81mm Mortar. An impeccable field-day of the barracks, weapons inspection
at Los Pulgas, and we’d bee line for town. Come the weekend, unless I
caught duty I’d join the mass exodus from Pendleton- to the apartment and
seven to ten Marines sitting around the aqua-marine apartment drinking
Coors, bullshitting, eating bologna sandwiches and watching Johnny Carson.
Nothing else in the frige but Coors, bologna and several loaves of bread.
"Belch." Then came word to pack up our gear and be ready to ship out in
48 hours. All business had to be taken care of in town.
The last exodus from Polgas. A rash of immunization shots and I
took off to San Clemente to pay a surprise visit on my girlfriend and her
family. The rest of the grunts went to find storage for their motorcycles
and close out the apartment. Sitting at the dining room table in a
fashionable golf course community in San Clemente, I suddenly puke on the
floor and pass out, probably a reaction from the shots. Next thing I
know, my girlfriend, not too happy, is hauling my delirious ass back to
Pendleton. She delivers me to Sick Bay at 2 AM by rolling me out of her
convertible and pulling away. On a gurney in Sick Bay I wake the next
morning soaked in a sweat and wonder over to the 81s barracks- AWOL! - not
for long. I’d missed morning formation but the Gunny fixed it.
The rest of the gun crew found a service station that would keep
the bikes. Then we loaded onto the Valley Forge, eastbound again into the
setting sun. For the next year spent in Chu Lai, amidst all of our worries
about staying alive, seldom a day went by without a discussion of what
route these guys would take back East on the Triumphs when they got out.
Endless, agonizingly detailed discussion at every conceivable event,
waiting to head out on a UH-34 search and destroy, a full night of firing
the 81s, in a chow line with mess kit clanging, waiting for UH-34 to pick
us up, out in the holes locked and loaded, "so how many miles can we get
on a tank of gas, Otto?" Second only to these discussions was a floating
card game that is probably going on to this day.
Before our departure the Lieutenant was battalion adjutant (1st LT)
-Then overseas- into South Vietnam. After Starlight out on the beach
near the deserted village of An Cuong, cleaning our guns, I looked up and
saw the Lieutenant’s head pop out of the bamboo hedge row. He was a
Captain. His old radio operator as a private, I was then a Lance Corporal.
I said hello-walked up and I think shook hands but Lance Corporal’s don’t
shake the hands of Marine Captains-so I could be wrong about that
recollection. That that was the last time I saw of him for thirty years.
Thanksgiving Day- around 1995, I'm reading the Philadelphia Inquirer
and note the Commandant of the Marine Corps had uttered some politically
incorrect statement- and someone acting as his spin-doctor sent in to
straighten it all out was clarifying the matter to the wire service
reporter. At the end of the quotation the article concluded
said the Commandant's spokesman, naming the spin doctor. The Lieutenant
had done pretty well for himself. He had reached the rank of Major
General, a magnificent military career. Guess he made it out okay.
January 1, 2003
click on photos to enlarge