“Thus, in short order, having now been stripped of our side arms and various and sundry concealed weapons, we were led, like convicted criminals to the building, where we, as draftees, would be sworn into the military. We were formed into a long line and each of us was handed a single sheet of white paper, and one of those stubby little yellow pencils golfers use. It was a simple questionnaire. There was not much written on it. At the top it said:
I WANT TO BE IN THE:
2. MARINE CORPS
3. DOESN’T MATTER
I thought to myself, “I’m no John Wayne, I’m checking ARMY.”
After a few minutes, a very fit-looking United States Marine Corps sergeant, dressed in a starched khaki shirt with a chest full of medals, olive colored pants, with a sharp crease in the legs, and very shiny black dress shoes came by to collect everyone’s forms. He wore a Smokey-the-Bear hat pulled down straight and tight to just above his eyebrows on his freshly-shaven head. I handed him my form.
If you checked “ARMY”, you got army. If you checked “MARINE CORPS”, you got the Marine Corps. If you checked, “DOESN’T MATTER”, you got the Marine Corps. Apparently, there were still not enough recruits for the Marine Corps. The sergeant paced up and down the line, carefully studying the motley assemblage of young men waiting in line. It was 1966, the “hippie era” and many of the others had long hair. I wasn’t one of them, and anyway, I generally wore my hair short. “Mac”, a 47-year old friend of my parents, a veteran, who had been a navigator on a B-24 in World War II and had been shot down over the Pacific, pulled from the ocean with a large cut across his cheek, and who had spent three delirious days in a rubber raft drifting in and out of consciousness from loss of blood before being rescued, had advised me to “get a haircut” before being inducted. I did so. You don’t ignore advice from a guy like that.
The Marine sergeant stopped next to me. I could hear him slowly breathing like a wild animal. I looked straight ahead, avoiding eye contact, trying my best to look invisible, but I could feel his eyes burning the skin on the side of my pimply 19 year-old face. “You’re gonna be a Marine…..” said the sergeant to the side of the my head. I momentarily panicked. I thought my knees might buckle and I thought of how embarrassed I would be, as I lay there on the floor in a semi-conscious state, a large crowd of strangers staring at me and laughing derisively. I wondered if I’d wet my pants again, like I had done when I was nearly choked to death by my friend’s brother five years before. Then, to my great relief, I realized the Marine sergeant was addressing the guy in line in FRONT of me, a tall country-boy, probably from Pooler or Garden City, two little country towns just outside of Savannah. The poor fellow had long reddish-blonde curly hair down to his shoulders.
“But…. I doan wanna be a marine,” he protested meekly in his slow Southern drawl. The sergeant took one step forward and moved closer to him, raising his manly voice exactly one octave– and repeated: “You’re gonna be a MARINE!”
The country-boy protested once again, in a slightly louder voice, this time: “But, I doan WANNA be a Marine!!” The sergeant took him by the upper arm and led him away from the rest of us. “But, I doan wanna be a Marine”, he said again as the two of them disappeared somewhere behind me.
I have often thought of that tall, lanky Georgia boy– and wondered what happened to him. I wondered if he made it back home alive after his service. It was 1966, after all, the Vietnam War was ramping up. And I had heard from my older cousin, who was in the navy, that “Ricky, Marines are CRAZY! When they’re not shooting at the enemy, they shoot at each OTHER just to keep each other from getting bored.” I really hope he made it home.