Letters to Brian
“The Gauntlet” - Prologue

                                                     Dedicated to:

                               My dad, who died before I got to know him.

I never had the opportunity to know my dad. I remember he was a gentle soft-spoken person, but intense. In the twenty-three years I lived in his home, I can remember only one conversation he had with me. I was eighteen and he called me into the living room to discuss the “birds-and-the-bees.” He leaned forward to share his fatherly wisdom. I can remember his words exactly as he delivered them. “Son! Just don’t do anything stupid,” he said. The room was silent except for the sound of the furnace that had just kicked on. “Is that it?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. He was unable to communicate with me, and I hated him.

Born in 1900, he traveled to America, alone, at the young age of sixteen. He sought to build a life and escape the poverty and entanglement of the gang wars in his hometown of Palermo, Sicily. The Mafia was establishing roots in America too, but he would be able to protect his family in a large and growing new world. He could vanish into any community, village, or city and begin a new life without people questioning his past. He could start over.

At his first job, when he arrived in Michigan, he made five cents an hour. He then got a job working at Chrysler for twelve cents an hour. He paved the way for his mother, father, and siblings to follow him to the land of freedom. He met my mother and got married in Detroit. It was an arranged marriage – he was thirty-three and she was twenty-two. As young adults, they lived through the Great Depression and WWII while starting a family. After the war, America was on the road to prosperity. He not only cared for his young family, but he supported his father, mother, and sister. His parents lived next to us, in a two-family flat. He cared for them his entire life, and that placed additional stress on his young marriage and family.

My dad’s father was an angry and abusive man. I remember walking past him and frequently receiving his backhand, just because I was within reach. My three older sisters knew him as a mean and a spiteful person. I discovered, later in life, that my dad vowed to protect his mother from his father. Each day he came home from work, he first checked on how his mom was doing before he entered our house. That alone says more than my imagination can dream up.

When my mom came into their family, she was emotionally and verbally abused. She was raised in a happy and jovial family, but became angry, reactionary, and swore like a drunken sailor. I remember she frequently slammed cupboard doors, and pounded her rolling pin on the counter.

I learned that I couldn’t trust what mood she might be in; over the years I observed her behavior. She taught me that a reckless outburst of anger will keep others away from you. She could go from calm into a rage in a split second. I used that same strategy successfully to keep people away from me. I was good at keeping my distance. It is easy, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It works well but it is not healthy.

The lesson on trust, however, came from my dad in one swift moment. When I was ten years old, my older sister was bugging me and I called her a rat.” In a rare moment of fury, my dad chased me into my bedroom. By then, he was fifty-seven years old. It was no contest – my speed as a ten-year-old left him in the dust. I dove under the bed, where he couldn’t get to me. After ten minutes of the standoff, I made him promise not to spank me when I came out. As soon as I came out, he broke the promise and gave me hell with his thick leather belt. That was the last time I cried. I vowed never to trust anyone. I told myself when you get close to someone you will get hurt and betrayed.” I built a shell of armor around my emotions that the horrors of war would not penetrate. I have learned that vows you make can affect you – and those you care about – for a lifetime.

There were a few occasions when my father attempted to bond with me. When I was eight, he took me bowling a few times and we played checkers on the living room couch. I remember this because we had just moved into our new house in Saint Clair Shores, a suburb of Detroit. When I spent time with him, I felt I was special but I learned not to look forward to it. For the most part, my father was just the man that shared dinner at my table, and then disappeared into the living room to read the paper.

When I was in junior high, I played on the school’s basketball and baseball teams. He attended only two of my basketball games in three years. When I was in eighth grade, I made the final basket in the semifinal Catholic League championship game, with only a few seconds left. I played second-string point guard. Our first-string guard fouled out with only a few minutes left and I went in to cover.

Their guard was taking the ball up the court for one last drive when I slapped the ball out of his hand, burst down the court and made the basket as time ran out.

The crowd exploded and my team lifted me up on their shoulders and carried me off the court cheering. But, I wasn’t the hero of the game. The final basket really didn’t mean anything. We were ahead by eighteen points, so the two points just rounded our lead to twenty. But, playing in the game and being carried off the court was exciting and made me feel special and proud. I wished my dad were there to see it. When I told him about the game he said“That’s nice.” He wasn’t much for showing emotion.

He attended one of my baseball games the year we won the league championship. I was chosen to be the All-Star second baseman, but he wouldn’t let me play in the All Star game. It had something to do with my age and league rules. League rules allowed thirteen-year-olds to play in the regular season, but not in post-season games. I was thirteen, but looked much younger. I tried to convince him that no one would know that I was thirteen. He tried to explain that it was the honest thing to do, but I didn’t want to hear it. I got tired of playing organized sports after that, and besides, I was looking for more interesting things to do. The streets were calling my name.

My three older sisters knew my father differently. To them he was a loving man, younger and happier. He was forty-seven years old when I arrived on the scene. He began having heart problems in his mid-fifties and it wore him down. He retired at age sixty-two, after years of health problems and nervous breakdowns. His vitality for life had ebbed away. He was only a shell of the man he had been when he arrived in America at sixteen. He had nothing to offer a late-in-life boy who tested every boundary and limit he imposed.

When I was a toddler, I recall seeing him fly into a rage throwing chairs and flipping tables. I never saw an emotional reaction from him except when he had nervous breakdowns. He would disappear for months at a time. When I was about eight, I discovered he was in the hospital. When I visited him, I heard my mother and the doctor discuss “shock treatments.” The last time he had a breakdown I was sixteen. He returned a solemn, broken man. I remember him sitting on the sofa watching “The Price is Right.” He had given up, and by then I had gotten accustomed to him not being there for me. Neither my mother nor dad could show love, or any emotion other than anger. I never saw them hug, laugh, or kiss. Our home was sterile, more like an operating room than a carnival.

I was twenty-five when my father passed away. He had a series of strokes and his body was failing. He spent the last month of his life in a nursing home. He couldn’t speak or move his arms or legs. He could barely move his right hand. My sisters tried to encourage him to write. They placed a pen between his fingers, held a paper pad to the pen, and supported his hand. Regardless of how much he concentrated, he wasn’t able to scribe a single legible letter, much less a word. This made him extremely frustrated, and watching his decline was very hard for my mother and sisters.

I was at work when I got a call from my sister. It was 1:15 p.m. “Dad had a massive stroke. They think he only has a few hours left.” When I got to the hospital, my mother and sisters stood at his bedside sobbing. He was barely conscious. I stood in the back of the room as rigid as a cold steel pillar. I learned in Nam that death was just a cold hard life event; you shake it off, and move on to the next objective. I couldn’t understand their emotional outbursts.

I didn’t want to be there, but I came to support my mother and sisters. As I stood in the back of the room, my sisters asked me to go up to the head of the bed and tell my father that I loved him. I looked at them in defiance and stood rigid, unshakeable. They pressed me for several minutes. I reluctantly gave in to their demand.

“Tell him before he dies. If you don’t you will regret it for the rest of your life!”

I moved to the head of the bed and looked at the broken man. I stared into the face of a skeleton. His eyes and cheeks were sunken in. His skin was a pale gray. His lips were dry, crusted and chapped. My sister tried to give him a sip of water but he couldn’t swallow. The water rolled out the side of his mouth onto the bed. My mother took a wet washcloth and softly wiped his brow, cheeks, and lips. He seemed to appreciate it, or at least that’s what my mind led me to believe.

His breathing had slowed to eight shallow breaths per minute. He struggled with each breath, and his body was cold and clammy. He could no longer move his eyes, and it looked as if he was staring up, at the ceiling. There wasn’t much time left. I bent down, close to his ear, and the smell of death burst into my nose. I had smelled it a thousand times in Nam. I forced out the“I love you dad,” and saw his chin quiver as he tried to move his lips, but he was too weak. I then noticed tears well up in his eyes and a single tear slowly flowed down his cheek. It was a moment I didn’t expect and will never forget. In a split second, my worldview of my father changed. I realized that this was not the man I knew growing up.

That single tear sent me on a journey to discover who my father really was, and to get to know my mother while there was still time. I didn’t know how to start and I was inept at everything I tried.

At age forty, I made a decision to conduct an experiment and challenge my mother. My goal was to get her to say, “I love you” without prompting her. I decided to say, “I love you mom” and hug her every time we were together. The first few months she stood stiff, as I hugged her, like a cold steel pillar. She had no emotion. The expression on her face was one of complete surprise and fear, as if she was about to receive bad news like, “mom the doctor told me I have three weeks to live.” Or, she looked around the room expecting to be mugged. Perhaps it was a throwback from her youth, since two of her brothers had ties in the Detroit mob scene. I suspect there were times she got too close to seedy characters and learned to look over her shoulder when she felt uncomfortable.

Sometime during the first year of the experiment, she loosened up a bit. She patted me on the back and said, “That’s nice” when I told her “I love you mom.” In the second year of the experiment, she learned how to say those three words. It was very mechanical. I could have trained a parrot to say, “I love you” with more emotion. By the end of the second year, I heard some sentiment in her tone. We were making progress. Little signs of progress continued through the third year also.

The breakthrough came in the fourth year of the exercise. I don’t remember the details of the exchange or how the conversion progressed, but she spontaneously gave me a hug, without my prompting, and said the words I waited for. I was now forty-four, and it was the first time I heard those words from her lips. Perhaps she told me that she loved me many times while I was young, but I have no recollection of it. As far as I was concerned, it was the first time I had heard it from her. She died shortly after that and I wondered how things might have been different if I had started the experiment ten years earlier.

Because of my family’s inability to relate, I was determined to do something different with my son. I started telling Brian stories when he was a young child. I also wrote him letters and shared the good and difficult times life brings, with the hope he wouldn’t make the same mistakes I had. I hoped he would make different choices and be spared some disappointment. Perhaps he wouldn’t learn the anger and hate that lived within me, which darkened my existence for years.

When Brian was in his twenties, he moved out of state for several years. He missed the bond we had known, and asked me to write him some letters. I was thrilled that he wanted to reestablish the connection we had. Thus, these letters are the result of Brian’s request. It is my hope that these letters will provide Brian with a view of something every boy and man needs – a connection with their dad.

“Who is or was my dad?”

“What drove him?”

“What shaped his life?”

“Why did he do what he did?”

“Did he care about mom and me?”

“Will I have his strengths, or his weaknesses?”

A few years after Brian was born, I was eager to know how I would measure up as a father.

“Would Brian see me as I saw my father, weak and out of touch?”

“Would he judge me as I judged my father?” I had judged my father based on a child’s limited understanding of the difficulties of life.

“Would I press too hard, to be what my father wasn’t, and push him away?”

“Would I give up on him because I had no idea of how to reach him and meet his needs?”

I had sought answers to these questions for years, since Brian was born. I spoke to a dozen men who had managed to establish healthy father/son relationships. I had read books and had taken classes. While the information was good, I came away with facts and the life experiences of others. I had nothing more than a mosaic of ideas; bits, and pieces of a puzzle I couldn’t solve. I needed help. I had tried everything I could and had nowhere else to turn. I didn’t really have much faith in God, but I was desperate. I had nothing to lose. If God wasn’t real, or He didn’t give a darn about my concerns, my prayer would just drop to the floor like a brick. But, if there was a chance He could do something, I had to give it a shot. So, I prayed and asked God for help. I threw in a Hail Mary and Our Father, just for good measure.

Brian’s fourth birthday was coming up and I still didn’t have any answers. Then, one day I happened to be going through some old papers that had been stored in a box, untouched, for more than ten years. I found my dad’s wallet. His driver’s license, union card, Blue Cross, and social security card were tucked into the side pocket. I found a certificate of achievement from Chrysler, for his thirty years of service. He had kept a log of the jobs he held. He saved an old pocket watch that had a broken spring and stopped working. I remembered seeing him pull it from his vest pocket, to wind it, often. I found his birth certificate, citizenship papers, marriage certificate, and several poems he wrote to my mom. I then came across his death certificate. I froze as I read it. I felt my stomach sink. I could feel the blood rush to my head. My heart raced and my head began to throb. I could feel blood pulsate in my neck veins and across my temples. I got lightheaded, and sweat beaded up on my forehead. I was numb.

The date of his death caught my attention. I couldn’t come to grips with what I read. My father died on April 16, 1973. It seemed like an hour before the impact of what I read sunk in. April 16 was not just the day my father died, it was also the day Brian, my son, was born. I had never made the connection before. April 16 not only symbolized the day the history of anger, between father and son, ended. It now represented the day a new father-son legacy began. It was the piece of the puzzle I was looking for. The realization that fate was in my corner gave me the conviction it would all work out.

When Brian asked me to write him letters, I was thrilled he wanted to reestablish the connection we had known. I knew we had established a special father-son bond, but the ultimate confirmation that we had broken the anger barrier – the hallmark of my family’s dark past – was cemented the day I stood next to him at his wedding, as his Best Man. Of all of my life’s accomplishments, this honor will always be the premier moment of my life. With the old legacy dead, we have launched a new birthright into orbit, a destiny to be passed on for generations.

This book started simply as letters to my son, Brian. But, it has forced me to reevaluate the life I had with my father, and get to know him as the valiant man he was. Brian touched my life the moment he was born. However, living life with him has molded me to be the father he needed.<!—EndFragment—>

First Night Ambush

 “Round up,” Carter yelled. The group circled him to listen for the orders. The fresh fish, Bryce and I, followed in silence like lost children. “For you new guys, I am Captain Carter and this is Staff Sergeant Russell. We run a patrol tonight. We depart at 18:00 hours and set up an ambush two miles inside the village. At 04:30 we will sweep North through the village, just east of the airfield. At 05:00 we will set up a defensive position at the river and dig in. Sunrise is at 05:45; India and Lima Company will begin sweeping south, from the base of the mountain, and we will intercept all enemy trying to flee. Once in position the Rules of Engagement are to warn anyone moving toward your position to halt. If they do not stop immediately, or they engage, shoot to kill.”

“Wilson take your squad; you are assigned to Lima Company for tonight’s operation.” “Barber take your team and join India Company.” “Bryce you are with Parson’s team, he will give you your assignment. Peck, you’ll be carrying the radio and the blooper. Your job is to stick with me,” the Captain said. “I direct fire and communications. You’ll take directions from me, so stick to me like glue. Pick up the radio at the command center and gear up. If there are no questions prepare your gear and reassemble here at 17:45,” he paused. “Ok then, Company Dismissed,” he said. I had a lot of questions because he spoke so fast I didn’t get half of what he said and I didn’t have the courage to ask.  The group broke up and the men meandered back to their huts.

When I returned with the radio the men were gearing up.  I had questions after Carter finished his pre-mission lecture and I knew just the guy that could answer them. “Hey Moon, I know this is my first mission but I’m confused, can you answer a few questions?” “Sure, what’s up?” “Carter keeps referring to us as a company but a company has about two hundred men but I only count forty-six. Where are the rest of the guys?”

“Dis is what we got left,” he said.

“Whatcha talking bout? I asked.”

“We had two hundred but we ran a mission south of Phu Bai. Got trapped in the valley, surrounded by mountains, we were out numbered and got pinned down. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. It took two days to fight our way out. India and Lima tried to break through but got cut up pretty badly too. The gooks were dug in and we couldn’t get choppers to land and drop in fresh troops or Med-Evac out the wounded. Finally we got air and artillery support and they dropped 250 and 500 pound’ers on em.”

“A company of two hundred men cut down to only forty-six. How can that happen Moon?” “Look Peck, we do with what we got, get use to it. We don’t got tomorrow; we only got now. If you don’t focus on now, there won’t be no tomorrow. Now gear up, we run a mission tonight.” 

Gearing Up

I started to gather my gear and Moon watched me as I double checked everything and then rechecked what I had double-checked. He walked over to me. “Step aside Peck.” He dumped my pack on the floor. “We are only going out overnight, you don’t need five meals. Here, take the ham and eggs and leave the rest here. Pack your field jacket, rain suit and poncho. You need to chill; you’re ready. When you get out there your training will kick in and you will be fine. Trust me.” “Oh, tape your dog tags together. We don’t want you sounding like wind chimes jingling, as we walk through jungle.”  He tossed me a roll of electrical tape. “Just loop the tape around them one or two times. We don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to separate them if you get hit.” Another reality check I didn’t want to hear, but couldn’t avoid.  

The trucks pulled up at 17:45 and we were on our way by 18:00 sharp.  We drove south for about 30 minutes before we were dropped off and were assembled on Highway One. I stood there watching the taillights of the truck fade as it raced over the hill, back to the safety of Phu Bai. I remember thinking, “we have been abandoned. I am in a jungle 12,000 miles from home.” I looked around and saw villagers that had been walking along the road disappear. Their silhouette’s quickly melted into the jungle and they became one with the darkness, as night fell.  The only sign of life were the 16 Marines that stood at the edge of the highway. The sun began to set as we started out on our night patrol through the village.

 How can they send out sixteen men on a mission when they recently lost 150 in a firefight? I thought, we don’t stand a chance out here. The words of Sergeant Parker shot through my mind. “You are not paid to think. You will follow orders exactly as given; they just might save your worthless life.” Ok, I thought. All I have to do is stick by Carter. The words of Moon cut through the fear, “when you get out there your training will kick in and you will be fine.” I had my doubts but I needed something to believe in. The words of Parker, Moon and Carter would have to do; they were all that I had to hold on to. I swallowed hard, lined up behind Carter and began to pray.

Mission Briefing

“Peck, front and center,” Carter said. “Ever carry the radio?” “No sir.” “Did you see one during training?” “Yes sir,” I said. “Fine, that will do. Your call sign is Maple One.  Lima Company is Maple Two and India is Maple Three. The handle for headquarters is Chestnut.” “There will be no Friendly’s in the area until we settle into our defense line to 05:00. That is when we meet up with Lima and India.”                        

“There are three check points before we get to our first ambush site. The first checkpoint is a small cemetery on the left. It should take us sixty minutes to get there, as long as we don’t run into any Gooks. When I give you the signal call HQ, Head Quarters, and tell them, Dead Zone Secure. Do you understand?” “Aye Sir, check point Dead Zone on your command.” “Affirmative,” he said. The second checkpoint is a small bridge, about one mile past checkpoint one. You will radio to HQ that we reached Over-cross.” “Aye Sir.” “The final checkpoint will be called once we settle into our ambush site. You’ll confirm we’ve arrived, using Station Acquired.” “Aye Sir, Stationed Acquired.”

He had me repeat the instructions and informed me not to fire the M-79, unless he directed me to do so. He helped me put the thirty-pound radio on my back. “Okay Peck, radio HQ that we are underway and verify the time.” “Aye Sir.” I lifted the handset to my ear and looked at Carter. “Keep it short and specific,” he said.

  “Chestnut, Chestnut this is Maple One. Come in Chestnut. Over.”

  “Maple One this is Chestnut. State your position. Over.”

  “Chestnut, Maple One is at Ground Level. Over.”

  “Roger that, Maple One. Your location is confirmed at Ground Level. Over.”

  “Maple One requests time check. Over.”

  “Maple One this is Chestnut. Time check at Ground Level is 18:40. Over.”

  “Maple One confirms time check is 18:40. Over.”

  “Affirmative Maple One. Confirm the location of your next time check. Over.”

  “Chestnut, next transmission is at Dead Zone. Maple One Over.”

  “Affirmative Maple One, Dead Zone ETA 19:30. Chestnut Out.” 

“Peck, synchronize time check at 18:40. Pass it down the line, Carter said.” “Roger that sir,” I responded. “Its important you how to handle the radio, Peck.  It’s our only lifeline to headquarters and backup support if we need it. If we lose the radio we are blind and at risk. We will lose the only link we have to headquarters and any friendly troops in the area. You must keep that radio operating at all cost.” “I understand sir,” I said. “I don’t think you do,” he said. The lives of everyone here depends on your ability to keep that radio operating. You will protect that radio with your life Marine. You are expendable, the radio is not.” “Do you understand now?”

I had no response; I was numb. Without another word he turned, gave a hand signal to the point man and the platoon moved down the highway several hundred meters, to a small path that headed East into the village. The sun had set as we moved into the dark shadows under the jungle’s canopy and down the small trail that we would lead us to the first checkpoint.

The path was large enough so the wheels of a wooden cart could straddle a well-worn dirt track that had defined the village road for decades, maybe centuries. As we walked into the village I noticed the smell was rank. It was like camping next to an outhouse, during the heat of the summer, with the wind blowing into the tent. I held my breath, thinking I would walk past the smell of the rotting carcass that lay in our path. I would soon learn that there were no outhouses in the jungle. Villagers generally had defined locations where they took care of their bodily functions, close to their huts. But it was not unusual to see someone stop along the road, drop their pants and dump their waste. So, the smell of body waste would become something that I would get use to.

Circling the Village

 We walked a half-mile through the village; turned right and crossed a series of rice paddy dikes. Hugging the tree line, to hide in the shadows, we turned left when we reached a single lane footpath. Short time later we crossed a ridge where the cemetery was located and I confirmed we reached our first checkpoint at 19:35.

Every night the ambush is planned around the location of the moon; tonight was no exception. The moon was expected to rise at 20:30; it would be a full moon. The sky was perfectly clear and the moon would to be high and bright at 21:30. With a cloudless night, if we did not settled into the ambush site by 21:00 we would no longer have the advantage of hiding our movements in the shadows.

We continued to walk a convoluted, serpentine, route past checkpoint two and settled into our ambush site at 20:38. I made the call to HQ and confirmed “Station Acquired.” The next transmission was planned at 04:30 when the squad set out to establish our next position.

 The ambush site was a small bamboo grove along side the path. The spot provided additional cover as tall grass and a hedgerow encircled us. The area was shaped like a football, it was about thirty feet long and fifteen-feet wide. Sergeant Russell broke up the squad into three-man fire teams, spaced about 15 feet apart. We set a 360-degree parameter and each man was to pull a two and a half-hour watch. My team faced a large rice paddy and any movement could be seen at a distance of several hundred yards. I knew I would be able to see enemy movement with plenty of time to wake up the others and set the ambush.

 I pulled first watch, leaned back against a tree, and stared into the rice paddy. After thirty minutes of staring into space, my eyes were heavy and I struggled to keep them open.  As I fought to stay awake, I saw shadows dance across the landscape in front of my position. I tried to focus, but my vision was blurry. I had rubbed insect repellent (DEET) on my face and arms when we set in. The high humidity produced beads of sweat on my forehead, which dripped into my eyes causing them to burn. When I rubbed my eyes it irritated more and it became impossible to focus. Unable to see clearly, my heart was now pounding in my chest and it became hard to breath.

 Curtis was on my team and gave me his M-16. “Here, you can’t use the 79 at close range.” Don’t wake me up unless you got something solid,” he told me before he fell asleep. I looked at him sleeping, he was no more that three feet from me, but I was afraid to move thinking my movement would be seen. I couldn’t call out his name because it would surely give our position away. I slowly shouldered the M-16 and flipped the safety to semi-automatic and waited for the shadows to get closer. I wanted to make sure my first shot would count.  

In Country

We began circling the airport the 13:30 hours, I was still sick the night before. I recall that I woke up at 0500 lying on the floor, next to my bunk, covered in my own vomit.  I had gone out the previous night for couple of beers with a group headed to Nam. I don’t remember how the night progressed or ended. I never was much of a drinker; I didn’t like the taste of beer. It really didn’t matter anyway; we would be landing in 20 minutes.

As I looked out the window I remember thinking I could not believe there was a war raging below. It looked like a tropical paradise, plush and green. It was beautiful. However, I knew better and I waited for the pilot to swerve violently, taking evasive action to avoid “Land-Based Rockets” streaking toward the jet. Taking out 200 Marines, before they landed, would be a feather in the cap of a North Vietnamese gunner.  As we circled Da Nang I prayed we would land quickly.  I thought that I would have a better chance of survival running from mortars or rockets than being a sitting duck in a flying target. Why didn’t they just paint a red bull’s-eye on the side of the ship, I thought?

As we taxied onto the runway, I expected incoming mortar shells to begin dropping all around the plane. The jet stopped 200 feet from the side of the runway and the make shift terminals. The terminals did not look like any terminal that you would visit today. They were more like a series of pole barns with corrugated steel roofs. Most buildings did not even have walls; they were just open-air structures.  I was looking out the window as I waited my turn to disembark. There were hundreds of Marines that formed a single line, stretching the length of the tarmac, waiting to catch their flight back home. Most of them dragged duffel bags; some traveled with only the ragged clothes on their back.

We walked to the edge of the tarmac and were given instructions to retrieve our gear and wait in the terminal until called. A large flatbed truck pulled up and four jarheads began calling names, as they began throwing our duffel bags to the ground. “Peco; Raco; Peckoroco get your gear.”  “It is Pecoraro, Sir.” “I am sure it is. Don’t call me sir, I am a Corporal.” “Yes sir, Corporal.” “Just grab your gear you idiot, you are holding up the line.” 

I threw my bag over my shoulder and headed toward the terminal. There were hundreds of men waiting for orders. Many had just arrived; others were waiting to catch the “Silver Bird” back home. I scanned the terminal I saw bodies lying everywhere, on the mud caked concrete slab. It was impossible to get into the terminal without stepping over or on someone. The image of their bodies lying around was overwhelming; I dropped my gear and began looking for priest. I needed to go to confession.

Mail Call

“Mail Call” was another time I could not avoid a face-to-face encounter with Parker. During mail call the company lined up on both sides of the street and sat on our footlocker. If he called your name you were to run as fast as you could and stand at attention in front of Parker. He would hand you the mail and you were to run back and sit on the footlocker and read it. If you did not get mail you could write a letter, polish your boots, clean your weapon or study any one of the many training manuals we were given.

I was lucky, I got very little mail and no incidents occurred that made me stand out. Others recruits were not so lucky. Recruit Sturges was sent a “Care Package” from his mom. He had to open it in front of Parker. Unfortunately for Sturges she sent him a one-pound bag of chocolate candy. Parker made him dump it on the deck and commanded him to eat the whole bag as he did push ups. Sturges picked the candy up from the deck with each lunge. He ate half of the bag before his body could no longer handle it, he then empted his guts onto the deck. While we read our mail Sturges cleaned the deck with a bucket of water and rags.

Other recruits also fell on difficult times whenever a girlfriend or wife sweetened love letters with a scent of perfume, a lipstick kiss, cute drawings of cupid or with an “I Love You” on the envelope. Each offence was worth 100 push-ups. Recruit Lindy raked up 400 push-ups his first letter and another 1000 before he could get girlfriend to stop her distressing display of affection. He frantically wrote her daily, but she had fired off four letters before his first letter got to her.

Lindy watched Parker’s face every time we had “Mail Call” wondering how bad the penalty would be. The third time Lindy got mail Parker didn’t even need to call his name. Lindy saw Parker’s expression, he jumped up and stood at attention next to Parker. Parker stuck the letter between the poor boy’s teeth. Dropping into the push-up position Lindy finished the punishment with the letter between his teeth. After week three, mail call became boring. Lindy and the other sissified recruits were home free.    

This is the final photo for the book cover, it got the best reviews.
Thanks for all of the feedback.

This is the final photo for the book cover, it got the best reviews.

Thanks for all of the feedback.

Headed for Trouble

Marine Corps Boot Camp changed my life forever. I had been headed for trouble since age eleven. I hung in a street gang, looked for trouble and found it. We prowled the streets at night looking for garages that were left unlocked and sought to steal anything we could. We usually found beer or food, if there were refrigerators in the garage. I didn’t like beer; it was the adventure and adrenaline rush that drove me. If I was lucky I would catch the eye of the Grosse Point Woods Cops and lure them into a chase. The chase was a blast. I could fly over a six foot fence, cut through several back yards, never loose my stride and be two blocks ahead of them; or double back to elude them before they could get back to their squad car.

 Eventually I was charged with breaking and entering and grand larceny. I was injured during a break in and received 30 stitches, on my left temple, at a local hospital. I was arrested in the E.R after being patched up. The judge said he would not press for a trial, and a guaranteed prison term, if I kept my commitment to enter the Corps. I had already enlisted before the B&E gig, so my next stop was Marine Corps Recruit Depot.          

Greetings from Parker

“Welcome to my Marine Corps ladies, I am Staff Sergeant Parker. I will be your Drill Instructor during your stay in my resort,” he said as he walked down the aisle looking at each recruit. Rest assured that the Commandant, General Something or Other, will send your mother a letter informing her that you have arrived safely. Before the day is complete you will write her a letter also. It will be a nice letter and you will tell her how much fun you are having. There are a few basic rules you need to know and if you learn them we will get along fine. If you do not learn my rules I will be disappointed and you don’t want me disappointed.”  

    “Rule number one, when you address me you will Begin and End every sentence with Sir.”

    “Your life is now mine; I own you. You will follow commands as given and when given.

    I will do your thinking for you. I will tell you what to think and when to think it.” “You will do exactly what I say, when I say it.”

    You have no rights and you have not earned the right to be called a Marine. The title of Marine is only given to the few that earn it. I do not give it away and you have not earned it.”

    “You will not speak at any time, unless I give you permission. You will not speak to another recruit; you will not speak in your barracks, at chow or in the head. I better not even hear you talking to yourself.”

    “You will stand at attention at all times unless I give the command to stand at ease.”

    “In the position of attention you will stand straight with your shoulders square chest out and your fat gut sucked in.”

    “You will place your arms at your side with your hand against your leg; your thumb will be aligned with the seam of your trousers.”

    “You will look straight ahead, your eyes will be fixed on the back of the head of the turd in front of you; you will not look to the side. There will be no eye movement.”

    “I am not your mother and I am not your Priest. I will not hear your confession, whinnying or excuses.

    There are no shoulders to cry on. You can cry in your pillow, after lights out, just don’t let me hear you.”

    “You are gutter trash and you have not even earned the right to be called human. You are nothing more than maggots and gutter slime.

    My job is to teach you to survive. If you survive recruit training you might survive Nam. One out of every five of you will not return from Viet Nam alive and that will hurt my heart. So I will ride you hard so you just might reach the ripe old age of 21.”

 “When I give you the command to disembark, you will get off my bus in 30 seconds and place your feet on a pair of the yellow footprints painted on my deck. Do you understand, ladies? Silence hung in the air for a few seconds and then he belched out his question again. “Do you understand me ladies?” he screamed? “Yes Sir” the group mumbled in a weak monotone response. The words were still echoing in the bus when he stormed down the isle slapping anyone within reach. I was sitting on the isle and received a quick knuckle as he passed.

“I can’t believe you broke my first rule,” he screamed. “When you address me, you will Begin and End every sentence with Sir.” He stood at the front of the bus, a menacing figure, with his legs spread to the width of his shoulders, his “Smoky the Bear Hat” tipped down just above his eyes. Now let’s try it again, ladies.” The group yelled “Sir, yes sir.” “That’s better girls, now I want you to off my bus in 30 seconds.” 

As we exitedthe bus, the only sound you could hear was the scuffle of shoes as we moved into a brightly lit courtyard. Flood lamps turned the night into day. Rushing to escape the wrath of Parker, we ran into a gauntlet of Marines. They pushed and punched anyone they could reach as we tried to find the safety of the yellow footprints. I saw one of the Marines take a bead on me and hauled off a kick to move me along. I punched a quick burst of speed and shot past his boot. “You little turd, I am not done with you yet.” That didn’t sound good but I figured he wouldn’t remember my face, since it wasn’t my face he was aiming at. Within a few minutes, 200 boys were standing on yellow footprints and facing a very large building.

 As we scrambled to find footprints, Parker walked up to a kid that enlisted from Mexico. “What sir?the kid asked. “Did I give you permission to speak?”  “No sir, I thought.”  “You thought? Did I give you permission to think?” Parker interrupted. “I will do your thinking for you, and you will not speak to me unless I give you permission, do you understand?” “Yes sir.”

“What is your name boy?” “Hernandez sir.” “Are you stupid Hernandez?” “No sir.” “Well you must be, you broke rule number one.” “I don’t understand sir.” “Now I know you are stupid Hernandez, you broke my rule again. Parker was now standing nose to nose with Hernandez, poking his “Smoky the Bear” hat onto the terrified boy’s forehead.

“Are you playing with me Hernandez? No one can be that stupid. Do you want to play with me Hernandez? Do you think I am your girl friend? Do you want to make love to me Hernandez?” “No sir.” “You broke it againHernandez. Why do you keep breaking my rule?” “I don’t know the rule sir.”“Well Sherlock you better figure it out by the next time you speak to me.  You make me sick you slimy wetback grease ball.”  

Walking up to another recruit, Parker asked “Where did you get that coat cowboy; did you roll some drunk and steal it?  Are you a thief boy? Am I going to have a problem with you cowboy?” Sir, no sirthe boy said. “What is your name boy?” “Sir, Williams sir.” Parker looked back at Hernandez. “Williams your job is to teach Hernandez what rule number one is, before I speak to him again. Do you understand Williams? “Sir, yes sir.”“If he doesn’t know the rule by the morning I will personally take it out of your skin. Do you understand me cowboy?” "Sir, yes sir." "You better," Parker said.