There are a number of things going on in my life right now, some of which have prevented me from posting or commenting as I would like. One of them in particular, along with this discussion sparked by Army Wife Toddler Mom, has helped bring back some memories of a Marine -- my Dad.
I will keep it short today, for to tell his full story is a thing for a book. What I will share is just a bit of his time in the Marines.
Dad was born in the early 1900's, just in time for the family to be devastated by the Great Depression. They kept the country house and farm, and lived there, but there was no money for any luxury, including college. At the recommendation of some family friends, including I believe one in Congress, Dad enlisted in the Marines so he could apply for the Academy and a college education. All was on track, and the tests showed that he would be in the upper ten percent of his class, when someone deliberately delayed his paperwork such that he was two weeks too old for the cutoff in place at the time. Not even Congressional pressure could do anything about this, and the episode left Dad with no love for or trust in high command.
In the tradition of the Corps and his family, he shut up and did. A good shot by Southern standards, he earned Marine marksman qualifications with rifle, pistol, and (eventually) BAR. He was good enough that he did competition shooting for the Corps, even unto National Match level.
It was there that one of my favorite stories derives. When I was small, I did the typical boy thing and made some comment about "gurls" not being able to shoot. This earned the ire of my Mom, who was the first woman on Mercer University's rifle team, and a story from Dad. He told me the story of the "Girl From Texas."
It was on the long-distance (1,000 yard?) range, and the competition was down pretty much to Dad and this woman, who was I think younger than Dad. Dad was just getting ready to take his shot when she shot, and the signal for dead bull came up on his target. Dad immediately halted, called the range master over telling him he had not shot. As his gun was being inspected and his not having been shot verified, she called out that she had shot, check the target. Maggie's britches flew at her target, and the sign for dead bull once again flew on Dad's. Yep, she had shot the wrong target, dead center. Her mastery of invective impressed Dad, who I think learned some new ones when she cut loose. From what I remember of the story, that is how he did beat her -- that one shot.
Dad was also the sole survivor of a training accident that first time through. On his cruise, he and his mates were called out onto the deck of the battleship they were on for a naval gunnery demonstration. It was one of the small guns, a 5-incher I think. Dad was standing in formation behind one of his best buddies in the group, a big red-headed fellow who was larger than Dad in every dimension. A good thing for Dad, as the gun blew, and Dad came to hearing someone grab him and say "This one is dead too, brains all over." They were all over, just not his, but his friend's who's body had shielded him such that he lived. I found out about this one day after Dad met a former buddy of mine, who reminded him a lot of his long-lost friend.
When his hitch was up, he left the Corps and went back into the world. When WWII came, he was working for Hercules Powder as a foreman, which was a draft exempt job. Dad's boss, however, kept only getting temporary deferments for him. Dad told him that either make it permanent or he was going back in to fight. His boss didn't, Dad did, despite having a wife and trying to start a family.
Dad had to laugh, sort of, when talking about going in. He went in and started the process, and was startled when the man told him he could pick what service he wanted. Dad had figured that there was no choice, given prior service. His memories of before were not good when it came to high command, and he had some reasons to want to fight in Europe, so he -- on impulse -- asked for the Army. Nope, no can do, full up for Army today. Well, in that case, give me the Navy. Nope, no can do, full up for the Navy today? Then what's left? Marines! Step right this way. He made the comment one time that the process felt oddly like coming home...
Because of prior service and prowess at hitting targets, Dad was assigned as a marksmanship instructor in San Diego. How he and his wife ended up living next to Joan Crawford is a story for another day. For now, I will just note that those days were why Dad swore Gomer Pyle USMC was a documentary, not a comedy. No place on a range was safe when some of those kids got their hands on a firearm (much less a grenade).
One day on the range, he and the other instructors heard an announcement over the loudspeakers. Marine snipers were urgently needed, and the following people had volunteered. He and several other instructors heard about their volunteering for the first time as they listened.
Dad packed his wife back to her family and found himself headed into combat. When he arrived in Hawai'i, he saw a notice on a bulletin board for a bodyguard and orderly for a Navy officer. The requirements were close, and knowing that his mission was in effect a suicide missiion, he decided to apply.
The officer who interviewed him grilled him pretty hard. When Dad listed his prior orderly service, the man growled at him "Are you a goddam retread?" "Sir, yes sir, I am a goddam retread Sir!" Dad was quite happy to distract him, as his prior orderly service had been for the captain of the battleship, and was his convalescent duty for all of about two weeks after the gun had blown. The man told Dad he was everything they could want, and more. Would he like to meet the man he was to guard and serve? Sir yes Sir. The man went and knocked on an adjoining door, opened it, and said "Admiral Spruance, would you like to meet your new orderly?"
This led to some interesting times for Dad, including sleeping on the Hiroshima bomb. For today, that is it. This month marks both his birth and his death. Thanks for reading and letting me share a few memories of a man who loved his fellow Marines with the same passion he hated high command, and who taught me a lot of very valuable life lessons and skills.