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    The General   
By; Mike Malsbary


Weapons Platoon - click photo to enlarge

       My 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.  

Mike Malsbary

January 1, 2003

  click on photos to enlarge              

Mike Malsbary
U.S.M.C. 1963-1967
My eternal thanks to
all those rattlesnakes that
never bit me. To the ones
that did, well, peace.

Semper Fi