From Marine to College Student: In the Nick of Time
Profilers: Edward Dion, Eric Panganiban, Camellia Abou-Odah
Edward: When you decided to join, were you drafted or did you just decide to join?
Gary: No I decided to join, yea.
Edward: Were you aware of the war at the time or were you just looking forward to the Marine Corps anyway when you were a kid?
Gary: I just, I had friends that had joined the Marines, and I knew that was the only way to go. I didn’t want to go in the Army, Navy, Air Force… I wanted to be the macho guy of the Marines.
Edward: I can relate (laughter). Did you know about the war at the time or where was the war at that point when you..
Gary: Right at the time, they were having trouble in Laos. There was no big headlines about Vietnam yet. Then when I went in, it was probably…see I went in in 1960, in August, and it was probably within two years where Vietnam popped up then all of a sudden too. So maybe ’63… ‘62, ‘63 something like that.
Edward: Did you have any feelings about it or were you even concerned about it.
Gary: No I was just doing my job, ya know? In the Marine Corps you do your job, that’s it.
Edward: So tell me about it. What was it like back then?
Gary: Well, it was kind of fun to begin with. I had boot camp in San Diego, then I was sent to Camp Pendleton, to the Las Pulgas Marine Corps Base in Camp Pendleton. I was there for approximately 2 or 3 months, and then we went to the Far East. Got on a ship, got in at Long Beach, we went over to Hawaii. We had two days off in Hawaii. We got over, we went to Okinawa, we were stationed in Camp Zukeran, and this was about June/July of 1961 I think it was. And so it just happened to be that the island has a big football league: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force, they have a big football league there. And so, they were having tryouts for the Marine Corps football team. So I tried out for that. And I made the team. That was in June, July something like that. Well, the outfit that I was with, they had to go to cold weather training over at Mount Fuji, so they were gonna go over there for like three or four months. Well, I stayed in Okinawa where it was nice and warm and we played football. So, for about three months we played football against the island teams, and our team, we had like 3 college All-Americans on our team, you know a halfback, he was the coach of the team. And, 2 or 3 other, a lineman, and split-ends and so on, they had played college football already and they were officers, so we had a really good team. We went 8 and 0. We won the whole island championship. We were called the “Marine Corps Strikers”.
So and that took ‘til about Thanksgiving, and then my regular outfit was up there in this cold weather training. So we had to go join my regular outfit. And so I went up to Mount Fuji, is where they were stationed, just below the mountain in tents, and I got there just as cold weather training was getting over- thank God- so I think we stayed outside in the snow like two nights, and then we get two weeks off. R and R: rest and recuperation. So all we did is travel around the island of Japan and had a great time for two weeks. Then, now we’re talkin’ about the beginning of ‘62 almost, so we were then sent on this battalion landing team, we were in a troop carrier where you get in the boats and go land if you got a problem. We were stationed in the Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands, and that’s a popular navy base there. So, while we were there, I got on the ship’s softball team, and we – every week, we would go to a different town near Subic Bay and play the local Pilipino teams, in softball. We, we just had a great time! And we’d take jeeps, sometimes they were 10 miles sometimes they were 50 miles away, but we’d take jeeps and go play softball and then come back, and we, ya know, we socialized with the Pilipino people there and ate dinner with them and everything, just had a great time.
But, it wasn’t that we played softball everyday of the week. We had a special training, lasted about two and a half weeks, everybody on the ship, and they took us to a different island in the Philippines and we got off the ship and we met up with a different group of maybe 20 or 30 Pilipino marines. And, for the next 2 weeks, we did survival training Buy adalat online at their supervision. We were given a pound of rice each, and they, during the survival training, we go out into the jungle, and these Pilipino Marines were teaching us how to catch fish in a stream, how to build a catcher thing to catch these fish so that you don’t just live on rice alone. And they were teaching us certain trees or bushes or whatever, that you could use pick ‘em off for vegetables! Something I had never known in my life, and it was just fantastic! And they told us stories, what had happened in the second world war, that a lot of Japanese had taken over the Philippine islands, and yet the loyal Pilipino Marines that were, they were not gonna give up, they were way up in the mountains hiding places. They used to have great stories about that, ya know, over the fire at night when you’re sitting around. But that two weeks was special, because I think I could probably get along ya know if I was out in some jungle some place ya know it’s great- great training, great training.
Edward: Do you think they applied any of that to new guys going into, towards Vietnam?
Gary: Well, I don’t know the timing ya know, when Vietnam started up, if they had the time to do that ya know? We had the time to do it because Vietnam wasn’t a big deal yet, that was just a process to get us ready. But then, in the meantime, I was supposed to go back, I was supposed to only be a year overseas and a lot of the guys were that way, so we had replacements coming in. So, when they come in, the timing wasn’t there to do that. But that was a really nice experience. I mean, we had one pound of rice each for two weeks, and the rest of it we had to figure out. It was unbelievable. It was good. But they showed us great. I mean those Pilipino marines knew everything about jungle living or whatever survival training, it was just great, and they taught us all. And then the realization came that Laos was kind of bad and maybe Vietnam was comin, and so we went back to the ship and we got on this battalion landing team, and we had to just kinda go around to Vietnam in the water there offshore waiting for something to happen. Only one time did we ever have to go in, it wasn’t on the battalion landing team, but we were on helicopters and we landed in Laos, and that was just like a practice in case we had to do the same thing in Vietnam. But anyway, people could see that Vietnam was, on the…
Edward: On the horizon?
Gary: Yea it was, so we were practicing to go in when we would be needed, so… and then, on the way home, cuz I was getting short, I had been on two years, two and a half years, and we were getting replacements coming to replace us, so we were put on the ship, the USS Princeton, which was a aircraft carrier in WWII. And it belonged to the Marines, so we got on that aircraft carrier and they took us back to San Diego. Well, San Diego, when we got there, I got my orders to go up back to Camp Pendleton- this was like ‘63 then, ‘62, ‘63 somewhere in there- and I went up to Camp Pendleton, I think it was Camp San Onofre, on the northern part of Camp Pendleton. And uh, it just happened to be the time when they were having tryouts for football. So they played 8 man flag football, and the whole, all of Camp Pendleton, had different places had teams so we played there, we didn’t win anything there but we sure had a fun time doing it. While I was there, I did some testing for college, because I had been to college 6 months and left, and you know when I joined the marine corps, I knew that I wasn’t going the right direction, so I said ok, I’m gonna settle down here and get straight. And so I was trying to check out the college courses they had and so and and so forth and see if I could get ahead a little bit before I got out of the service.
Well, I took some tests and did well, but i still had a year to go. And so I was transferred to San Diego from Camp Pendleton, and I was at the US naval station on 32nd Street in San Diego, and my job there was as an NCO for the prison or they call it “The Brig”, the Marine Corps Brig there, and prisoners who were absent without leave or got in trouble and they were in jail and so on, they were where we were. And I was in the Marine Barracks there. We had approximately 300 prisoners: a lot of em were minimum security, they hadn’t done really that much wrong. Some of ‘em had killed people, and they had various offenses in between. So, we had a jail, there was 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 rows of cells with the bad guys that had really serious crimes, and then a big area for the minimum security people. I spent a year there, I was the Brig NCO, and maybe about a month or two before my four years were coming close, I had to go to the captain in charge, and he offered me a special amount of money to stay in the Marine Corps for another 2 years. Let alone I would get a promotion to Sergeant and more money and everything with it, but I declined because I had made up my mind that I wanted to go back to college and, ya know, graduate. So… I turned it down, and 6 months later Vietnam started. So, uh, I was very lucky there.
Edward: Wow… wow.
Gary: And, that’s really about it. I got back to school, I went to college, graduated in three years, and here I am.
Edward: Were you in school during the time where people started to protest the war, or was that much later?
Gary: Well no I was in school between 65-69 and that all happened then, yea.
Edward: How did that make you feel?
Gary: I didn’t mind at all, because I knew they were there for a reason ya know. The people that were there in Vietnam, they were there for a reason. So… yea. But everything worked out fine.
Lemme see… 60, 50 years ago… that’s a lot. That’s why I had brought some of this.. I had to… I had to refresh myself on when I was…. That’s all I can think of, no I think I got all of the lil tidbits in there, I think.
Edward: Well I appreciate it.
What unit were you with
Where you on the Princeton in the PI?