Veteran’s Day Musings

Yesterday was Veterans day. We watched a live stream of the NYC parade on YouTube. It was nice because they obviously put a lot of effort into it. There were representatives from all armed forces, except I didn’t notice any Space Force people. There was a guy dressed as Uncle Sam and he was giving out photo ops. There were several marching bands and Honor Guards. The Air Force crew passed out complementary baseball caps as the children danced with gleeful excitement. Renee watched the whole thing with us, and it was a nice evening. It reminded us of some parades that we have actually witnessed back in New Mexico.

Technically I am a veteran myself. I enlisted into the Marine Corps back in 1988, and graduated boot camp on my 19th birthday. I had orders to Report to Camp Johnson in North Carolina. I would then begin truck driving school, because my military occupational specialty was Motor Transport. My fellow Marines would playfully give me grief for not choosing the Infantry instead. Perhaps they were secretly envious. Motor T is one of the best jobs in the Marines. Not only do you learn a valuable trade which can dovetail seamlessly into civilian life, but you also supply guns, food, and mail to the front. The front-line fighters love us for it because truckers are a lifeline in a combat zone.

I had a beef with some of the policy however and I went on a personal crusade to make it right. Instead of reporting as ordered I went AWOL for two weeks. I decided to quit the Marines, and I had only just completed Boot Camp.

I had two different defense lawyers while I was in the brig. Presumably, they were from the Judge Advocate General’s office. I don’t remember their names anymore, but I fired the first one. He kept insisting that there is no chance in Hell that I could get out that easy. He was a bully. “I’m quitting the Marines because I was betrayed,” I told him. “How in the wide world of fuck could a shitbird boot Marine possibly be betrayed by the beloved Corps?” I told him “I busted my ass in boot camp to earn my dress blues. Boot camp was harder than I expected, and I only qualified to march in my Alphas upon graduation day.” It was at this time that the berating began in earnest. I thought to myself that this same man could be described as a ‘boot’ as well. In the Marines boot means newbie. Like me, He was just barely starting his military career. In my mind he didn’t have that much rank over me. I contemplated these things in silence as the Lieutenant ranted and raved. I was cool as a cucumber and that angered him further. Eventually he drew a deep breath and spat, “well, what do you have to say for yourself?” I calmly stated that it was “just like I told you.”

You see, I felt short changed because the photographers insisted that we all have dress blues for the family photos. I didn’t agree that my boot camp family photo should display me wearing dress blues when I didn’t deserve them. I felt like I should have been wearing my Alphas for the photo. “To add insult to injury, they weren’t even real uniforms!” I added. They were paper mache and chicken wire with the fabric of an actual uniform glued to some cardboard. This is nothing but Hollywood bullshit I told my lawyer, who then abruptly informed the duty Marine to have me escorted back to my squad bay. At the end of three meetings which were spread out over several weeks (which consisted of constant harassment) my lawyer pulled out a sheet of paper and says to me “sign it!” I knew it would annoy him, so I took my time as I leisurely perused the document. Interestingly, the last line, second from the bottom stated that “I agree that I had appropriate legal counsel.” Those are not the exact words I’m sure, but even at the tender age of 19 I realized that it was check-mate for the cocky boot Lieutenant.

He was a handsome guy. The picture-perfect Marine; a real poster boy. I still recall how his New Englander accent reminded me of the Kennedys. He was already seething at the fact that I took so long to read the documents, so you can imagine the pent-up fury that was unleashed as I told him “I’m not signing this!” His face was as red as a beet! He thrust himself out of his chair and kicked the table as he said nothing. I know I saw his inner demons pop out for a few seconds there. I think he literally was contemplating murder. He knew I had him! He had to go up to the judge, in front of a court martial, and admit that he was unable to contain a boot green Marine! He must have been ridiculed by his peers for years. I’ll bet his friends still rib him about it to this day!

Another week or so passed before the replacement council showed up. He had a flat affect and quiet demeanor. He was already seated at the table as I was escorted into the windowless room. I snapped to attention, and he simply gestured to have a seat. The comfortable silence continued as the man flipped though the meager amount of files that I had accumulated during my short service. Finally, he pushes away from the table using both hands. This created an obnoxious screeching noise as the metal feet of the government Issue chair ground against the highly polished deck. In the Marines we called floors ‘decks’. The noise reverberated from the cinderblock walls as if some sort of captured banshee was trying to claw her way out of the room. The silence was broken but neither of us said a word. My defense counsel literally blew raspberries as he scratched his meaty head.

“What do you want?” he asked in a neutral tone. I told him, “I want to be a civilian.” “What if the judge sends you back to duty?”  “I’ll just keep going AWOL over and over until I finally get kicked out” I replied. I intended to tell the judge the same thing. The loophole about going AWOL revolves around the principle that you cannot be gone for more than thirty days, otherwise it turns into something called ‘Desertion.’  I didn’t want to be painted with that brush, so my plan was to keep going AWOL for two weeks stints, upon which time I’d turn myself in at the main gate. I explained these things to my second lawyer as he silently listened.

A few more weeks had passed before my court-martial date. The news that I fired my lawyer spread throughout the squad bays faster than the previous salmonella outbreak! I was billed as some sort of hero, and my fellow inmates loved me. Suffice to say that my brig time was relatively pleasant due to the fact that I had, what could only be described as, a celebrity status. Everyone in the brig knew my name. It was a good experience for me. The chow was especially good.

So that was that. I stood tall before the Man and told my tale. I was awarded a Bad Conduct Discharge and time served. Back in the squad bay everyone was amazed. To celebrate my departure, the members of my crew signed my personal Bible like it was some sort of a high school yearbook. Looking back, I didn’t think it would have been that easy to just quit the Marines. In fact, I was initially terrified of what the brig would be like. I thought I was going to endure pure Hell. However, I held firm to my convictions and faced my fear.

I love the Marine Corps and I often times regret not just turning a blind eye to my perceived betrayal. I would have loved to drive trucks for four years. In fact, I would have loved it so much that I would have stayed in for life. I didn’t actually believe that I would be discharged, but I felt like making a stand anyway. That’s how my life goes. Like Renee, I tend to fly by the seat of my pants. Everything happens for a reason, and perhaps I would never have found my true love otherwise.

Happy Veterans Day to all those who carried on and served proudly!