This is my FIRST attempt at writing a blog.
I remember the FIRST Marine I ever saw/knew. His Name was Douglas Caldero, a Korean War Veteran, and a long-distance truck driver who came home to the Bronx, and on those occasions could be seen walking King, his big German Shepard, twice a day.
They were a sight to my young eyes. Mr. Douglas, that’s what I’d learned to call him, was well over six foot three, always in his Marine Corps Utility Jacket, never with a smile, and in a constant tug of war with King as they pulled each other up the sidewalk.
Everyone who regarded Mr. Douglas showed their respect for him. Neither he nor they ever seemed to utter a word; it was just that look, a nod of the head, as he and King passed.
One day I saw my favorite person in the world, my father, speaking to Mr. Douglas. It caught my attention mainly because of the visuals. Dad, five foot one, was looking up at him in genuine conversation and they were smiling. King was at Mr. Douglas’ side, at peace. And from that day onward, whenever I saw Mr. Douglas and King, he spoke, used my name, and asked how I was doing. And for some reason that really struck my 3rd grade fascination, and immortalized the Marine Corps. However, I’ve always wondered what Mr. Douglas did and saw in Korea. What was his story?
Needless to say, I became a Marine, graduating from Parris Island in the spring of 1966 as one of the top in my class; as Squad Leader, Platoon Guide and Meritorious PFC out of Boot Camp.
Afterwards, at Camp Geiger near the conclusion of ITR, I was in the PX and in walked the FIRST Force Reconnaissance Marine I’d ever seen. Everyone hears them at Geiger, all day and half the night, shouting their Esprit de Corps at the top of their lungs, as they train and run around acting crazy. But I’d never been close enough to really see them. All of a sudden, the doors opened into this very small space, where my endowed ego was occupying a significant amount of it, and in walked PFC Eddie Beaston, buffed, handsome and wearing the biggest, brightest, gold jump wings I’d ever seen. The air was immediately sucked out of the place, and it became very quiet. “So that’s a Recon Marine, up front and center, wow…” I breathed.
Then a few months later, I was reporting to a new Duty Station at Camp Pendleton California, after leaving my FIRST Duty Station at Eighth and I, the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington D.C. I’m the FIRST to arrive, very early in the formation of this new unit, 3rd MP Bn. I report to Cpl Gilbert Weissbock, a former Recon Marine, who has the idea of making a small group of us “Scouts”. We train as “Aggressors” and go to Escape and Evasion Training, then we’re deployed as the erstwhile “Viet Cong” for the Staging Bn exercises. Marines coming out of Basic and going straight to Viet Nam as replacements, who only had two weeks of training called “staging”, chased us all day over Pendleton’s hills and dales, and we returned the favor by raiding them all night as they tried to rest and recover.
This lasted a couple of glorious months, then the 3rd MP Bn became fully formed and we had to come back and adjust, which for some if us was very difficult. I was getting into a lot of trouble with all the regimentation, and our Sgt. Major approached one day and said, “Moragne, you think you’re a tough guy, don’t You… (not a question). I replied with a smile and immature honesty, “Yes Sir Sgt Major Flowers, I am a tough guy”… His response was, “My former FIRST Sgt, First Sgt Burke, is over at Camp Del Mar with 3rd Force Recon Company, and they’re looking for tough guys. Do you think you can make it?” Well it was onto Recondo School at 5th Force, to qualify and train, then onto 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, where my life changed immediately. And for the FIRST time I knew it, was profoundly grateful, and have been vastly rewarded ever since.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit. We left Camp Del Mar on April 22nd, 1967, by truck to MCAS El Toro and on to two C130’s. FIRST stop was Point Magu, CA less than 50 miles away to gas up. I would later learn that our payload and personnel on board the aircraft would have been too much to lift off on El Toro’s short airfield. We then flew onto Kaneohe Bay, where we overnighted. Then onto Wake Island and the same, then onto Guam, and arrived April 25th in Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam.
I remember FIRST deplaning and mustering near the aircraft, as we waited to board smaller aircraft to fly us into Phu Bai airport. There were Marines and other servicemen on the ground in various states of what seemed exhaustion or boredom. They were awaiting transport home or at least out of there. Suddenly, there was an energy surging through these men as we passed. The surge was a result or consequence of our appearance. We had deplaned wide-eyed, ready to take care of business, in starched state-side utilities, and shiny Corcoran Boots toting “grease guns”… and in retrospect I got it, I can’t suppress the laughter even after all these years. But we were serious as all get out. From there we flew to Phu Bai, where my fondest memory was the color, muted gold and beige terminal building, brilliantly illuminated, backlit by the sun and highlighted by intensely green mountains in the distance behind.
I remember my FIRST Vietnamese food from a stand there was PHO, and after the long flight, it was more than delicious. We were finally trucked away and onto Phu Bai, the base, our FIRST home, and reunion with our Company’s FIRST Detachment.
MORE TO COME…