|Sgt. Bert Marshall 6280th CSG/366th Gunfighter Squadron, Takhli RTAFB|
I graduated high school in late May of 1970 and the Vietnam War was still very much in the news. 1968 was the year of the most killed in action, but 1970 recorded over 6000 servicemen KIA. Like most students, Vietnam was as close as Jupiter and I knew about the same amount about both places. It was a time when if you wanted to know anything about anything, you pretty much went to the library to learn about it. At 17 years of age, I was more interested in living day to day then worrying about Vietnam.
I moved down to Pasadena with a friend from St. Louis until my family could relocate here and stayed in an apartment near Southmore Street. A few months later, my parents relocated on Red Bluff and I floated around a bit, like flotsam in the bay. That pretty much describes me too. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a job and was basically extra baggage for my parents. I decided I had better enlist in the Air Force, but I would check out the other branches before I signed my life away. Did you know the military is the one job that they can ask you to sacrifice your life?
The recruiters were pretty busy back in those days, as the war was raging and they needed new talent. I walked right past the Navy recruiters, even though my dad was a sailor and we have a history of the sea in our bloodline. I just couldn’t see the shore from a boat and that made me uneasy. The Army was going to make me what was called a ground-pounder and even I knew that, so why enlist for 3 years when I could simply be drafted for 2? Well, I did not want to be drafted, that is for sure. That was a guaranteed ticket to Vietnam.
Then I saw it! The standing full-sized Marine display and they were looking for a few good men. Well, I smoked cigarettes and talked like a man, so I stepped inside. There before me were two Marines; a huge black man and a smaller white one and both of them looked at me like they were cannibals and I was a pot-roast. “What do you want?” the shorter one bellowed.
“I, I, uh, I was thinking of joining the Marines and I wondered what they had to offer…sir?” Wrong question, as they both started screaming, foaming at the mouth, and clenching their fists while saying something about what I had to offer the Marine Corps. I barely made it out the door alive.
I pushed open the door of the Air Force recruiter in a cold sweat, which in itself was amazing as it was August and about 100 degrees outside. “Back here!” I heard a friendly voice call out. The room was empty and I walked down to the first office and there behind the desk, eating a donut and drinking coffee was an Air Force Staff Sergeant in what I would later learn was a 1505 Tropical grade uniform. “Have a seat fella, what can we do for you?” he said and offered me the same fare as he was enjoying. It was love at first sight!
There was a made for TV movie called “Tribes” that I watched and it was informative in one area that I was totally ignorant about. It is or was known as “Recycling” or “getting set back”. In the movie, the main character never assimilates into the Marine Corps mentality and is not graduated with his class. He is recycled to a motivational platoon to do it all over again. In Boot Camp, this became our greatest fear and one that none of us knew anything about prior to entering the service, despite the movie.
Out of 60 airman basics, or “Rainbows” as we were called, we lost an easy 1/3 to this practice. We picked up that third from other squadrons that were set back. The funny thing is, in the remaining 4 years I was in the Air Force, no one ever admitted to being set back. Now our TI’s or Technical Instructors as the Air Force called them were meaner than rabid Tasmanian Devils and most of them had been to war in the Army or Marine Corps. They were preparing us for war and dangnabit, they were serious as cancer about it. Somehow I graduated to join the war. I do not regret my time in the armed forces and these men helped mold me to the man I am today.
Some of my brothers and sisters went from boot camp to a lifetime of pain and suffering, while I walked away unscathed. The excellent VA hospital in Houston is a testament to their physical and mental suffering and that old demon Agent Orange is still working its poisonous treachery. I was around the stuff for almost 2 years and yet? Nothing so far.
Friends, November 11th is a day set aside to thank Veterans for their service. The best you can say is a simple, "Thank you for your service," and remember there are thousands of women who served in the armed forces too. Fly your American flag and if you can, attend a Veteran's Day service. As a Veteran, I know that behind each Vet is a whole multitude of people who were affected by their time away while serving and for that, I say thank you!