My adaoptive father,
W. G. Kirkland Jr., of Bamberg, SC, joined the Corps in 1934, took his
boot training at Parris Island. In those days you came to the island by
ferry craft and you left the same way. He told me a story of their DI who,
on about the second week, faced his platoon and said they were the sorriest
crew he had seen since his days in China.He then asked if there was
anybody in the ranks who thought they could whip him. Two muscular northerners
stepped forward. The DI had them fall back into ranks , left face, forward
march until they came to some old unused buildings. The DI, from somewhere
in Mississippi, according to my father, stripped off his utility jacket,
and all 155 pounds of his frame looked to be made of rawhide leather and
wire. Two minutes later the platoon carried both boots back to the main
section of the island as the DI just dusted off his hands.
My father then served
aboard the battleship MISSISSIPPI for a little over two years. Sleeping
quarters for the Marine contingent was literally a bare steel compartment
. At sack time, the Marines would open storage compartments alongside one
of the bulkheads where they stowed all their gear, took out hammocks and
strung them to the overhead. Next morning, down came the hammocks to be
put away according to tough Corps standards, and the USMC contingent went
to their duty stations. My father, AKA Dub, left the Corps in 1938, even
though he was enticed to ship over with the rank of corporal. Even though
the Corps had only about a total strength of 14, 000, he turned it down.
In 1940, he enlisted
in the Navy and was assigned to the USS CHICAGO. Before the Japanese finally
put her on the bottom off the 'Canal, he told me he would listen to Japanese
radio broadcasting the names of USMC captives and KIA, and he knew quite
a few of the men as he had served with them. I got the impression he felt
he had let down his old buddies by not reenlisting in the USMC.
After being plucked
out of the water at the 'Canal. he was assigned to DD USS AHRENS and later
DD USS HAZLEWOOD, both vessels taking Kamikaze hits in the last few months
of the war.
After his death in
1992, I was going through his effects and found he had saved quite a bit
of his Corps gear and awards. He was a quiet, gentle man, but still Corps
to the end. He said many times that the Corps, the old Corps training,
helped him through the war years and after. I feel my family was blessed
to have known and loved a man such as he.
I recall a couple
of other things my father mentioned. During his boot training they qualified
with the Springfield '03. One of the firing positions was from a squat
and my Dad just couldn't get down to the correct position. The range NCOIC
had a simple solution...one that would result in a courtmartial today.
He had my Dad squat with the '03 in firing position, then the Gunny just
sat on my Dad's back until his muscles, tendons and ligaments stretched
out to allow him the correct Corps position. Also, when he was on
the BB MISSISSIPPI, the ship would put into the smaller New England ports
and give the crew liberty, thereby giving the local depression-era a much
welcomed shot in the arm.
Fifty Years since
I first saw Parris Island as a raw recruit on August 4, 1948. Got off the
train at Yamasee and my world turned upside down; what the hell had I got
myself into? I was assigned to Platoon 168, Sgt Leland J. Hoover was our
To set this story,
I have to give some background information.
About four years
ago, a former Marine, Gene Degolier, got in touch with me. Gene was one
of the section leaders in Platoon 168 during boot camp. He said "RATs I
would like to locate the men of our boot platoon 168 and hold our 50th
anniversary at Parris Island in August of 1998. Can you help me locate
some of them?" It didn't take long for me to say, "will do what I can Gene,
but I don't remember the names of a lot of them." He said, "is there anyway
we can find out who was in the platoon?"
Well I knew 20 men
from Platoon 168 had ended up in How Company. Our first duty station straight
from boot camp was on Guam in December of 1948. So I had a starting place
as I had located most of them in my endeavors for How Company. With that
and the information the twenty men were able to supply me, was able to
locate a total of 46 men from 168. Some were KIA's, some deceased. Final
total was 35 living, and some still not located out of 75 total.
I passed this information
on to Gene. That was about three years ago. He was working on getting things
setup for our 50th annniversary reunion at Parris Island. A year ago this
past December, Gene passed away from a massive stroke. Things came to a
halt, nothing heard or said about the reunion. As time passed, guess that
idea was always with us, somehow it did not go away.
You know me, kept
thinking, this is something, his last big wish was to have this reunion,
so this past January I sent a letter to all 168 men and asked if they would
like to try and bring this reunion about and let Gene know (wherever he
is) that his wish would be fulfilled. 15 men from 168 responded in the
In January of this
year I made contact with Parris Island to get the reunion set for August
of this year. Got a yes, but only the normal tourist tour. That was not
what we had in mind. We wanted to walk the grounds of memory, see the recruits
in training, compare them with our experience of 50 years ago and see if
Marines as we knew them were still coming out of boot.
I sent an e-mail
to H-3-5 Maj/Gen Loyd Wilkerson USMC Ret. I told him of the problem we
were having in getting things arranged at P.I. A quick response from him;
"RAT's, let me see if I can take care of the problem." The problem was
quickly resolved and not only did he resolve it but said "I will
meet 168 at Parris Island and we will make the walk together.
Eleven men were picked
up from a bus from P.I. with a Sgt Alston, who was to be one of our escorts
for the next two and a half days, and transported us to the base from our
motel in Beaufort, S.C. on the morning of August 5th, where we met General
Wilkerson who was staying at quarters on the base. It was exactly one day
beyond the day we had reported to Parris Island as raw recruits in 1948,
50 years before. Guess you could call us "THE DIRTY DOZEN"
in feelings between this time and the first time 50 years ago. The one
difference most noted by us, we were not scared peagreen.
To say that the Corps
gave us a "Royal Welcome," would be putting it mildly. For 2 1/2 days we
were extended the greatest courtesy and respect. I give you a quote from
one of the Sergeants who was in D.I. School, "You fellows are history!"
We were shown anything we wanted to see, taken anywhere we wanted to go.
Example, all of you know that the firing line on the rifle range is a "no-no"
for all those not involved. Well they took us up on the firing line while
the troops were shooting for record.
I could go on and
on with the many highlights that we encountered but shall hold it to the
one thing we had heard about and wanted to see:
August 8, 1998, we saw the recruits coming in after a 54 hour ordeal ending
with this 5 mile hike with full pack and gear. To put it bluntly, they
had had it and looked so. But when they dropped their gear and marched
to the monument to receive their Anchor and Globe, "THEY WERE MARINES."
The Crucible is the
final test to see if you have what it takes to become a United States Marine.
It is 54 hours of hell, demanding in team work and physical endurance.
We saw 6 platoons
enter the crucible phase on Thursday morning and from time to time were
allowed to see their progress over the next 2 and 1/2 days. All start with
2 1/2 meals in their packs, can eat them anytime they want but it is all
they will have. They know they will be allowed only 8 hours sleep while
in the field and that is in two 4 hour segments. They have 6 different
phases to complete, each with problems to solve, all with many physical
obstacles to overcome, culminating in the 5 mile hike to the monument,
to receive their Anchor and Globe and be called a Marine for the first
In 50 years, as you
would expect, there have been many changes in the training a recruit receives.
Some things we all noticed, the D.I.'s cannot touch, hit or curse a recruit
and the term 'Maggie's Drawers' is no longer used. The barracks are
now brick, the chow halls are more like a buffet and the food is excellent.
And on and on, minor changes.
Some things have
not changed; Colors still give goose bumps and the chill up the spine and
when Old Glory reaches the top of the flag pole, maybe a tear or two. The
Marine Band still makes you stand straight, shoulders back and you feel
like marching. All in all, one of the great highlights of my life and I
am proud to say, "The Marine Corps has the situation well in hand."
In late 1967 or early
1968, USAF Gen. Robert L. Scott came to Orangeburg, SC, to address a local
civic group. I, being Army, retired, and a historian, made sure I got to
interview him for the daily newspaper that employed me. For you young 'uns
who don't know who Gen. Scott is, a brief background view.
Scott first flew
combat in China, 1942, when he cajoled a P-40 from the then American Volunteer
Group, commonly known as "The Flying Tigers". This was before the AVG was
absorbed into the USAAF and after former Marine aviator Gregory Boyington
had resigned from the group because of what Scott described as a case of
"the AVG not letting him fight air combat his way". Scott, who had been
flying supplies over the Hump from India to China scored several air kills
and hundreds of kills from his strafing of Japanese troop columns. He wrote
a book entitled "God Is My Copilot" which was made into a movie by the
When I got to the
General's motel room, accompanied by a co-worker, Conrad Martin, also a
history nut, we were invited to C'mon in! by a lanky man with a distinct
Georgia drawl. After introduction, I got down to the business of getting
the SOP public relations BS. Scott, who had kicked off his low quarters,
then hunkered down between the room's two beds. reached under the bed behind
him and pulled out a quart of sippin' whiskey. Ever the Southern gentleman,
he offered us a taste...then we went off record for one of the best conversations
I ever had in my life. I curse my not being able to remember everything
we talked about ...subjects ranging from the foibles of SAC CINC Gen. Curtis
LeMay to the best breed dog for quail hunting. But I clearly remember the
story he related about "Pappy" Boyington.
to Scott, already a legend in flying circles with his 28 kills, his brand
of hard drinking, bar fighting, top gun squadron in the Pacific area of
operations. When he was shot down and plucked from the water by a Japanese
submarine, he wasn't reported by the japanese as a POW. The REMF Corps,
said Scott, raised their faces to the sky and mumbled, "Thank you, God!".
Even Boyington was a painful rash to scratch on the bottoms of the usually
"Hell! He's a fighter . Leave him alone .", Marine command structure.
After 20 months as
an unreported POW, Boyington was released after the Japanese surrender.
Boyington, Scott told us , scrounged a set of utilities and bullied and
cajoled his way via a series of aircraft hops to Washington, DC, burst
into the office of the top Marine financial officer and yelled, "I want
my f-----g backpay and I want it NOW! Even my uniform allowances! Including
interest!" The finance officer, after looking at the wild blood shot eyes
of the gaunt, filthy and begrimed utilities of Boyington, supposedly put
his head down on his desk and moaned, "Why me God! WHY ME!" Scott said
Boyington eventually got his way. Being presented the Medal of Honor and
enough other medals and awards able to rupture a circus strongman, Scott
said. Scott said Boyington fell back into his old habits of getting deeply
in debt and drinking too much.
In 1975 I briefly
met Boyington at NAS Pensacola. He and George H. Gay, the sole survivor
of Torpedo Squadron 8 which took part in the Battle of Midway, were on
the "Pluck up the men with some rip-roaring sea stories" tour. Boyington
came roaring into the O Club bar demanding triple shots of everything the
bar stocked. His face was blood red and bloated. Out he roared leaving
a vapor trail of alcoholic fumes. A few minutes later, a harried Navy lieutenant
came hurrying into the bar accompanied by a pleasant faced and calm George
Gay. "Anybody seen Boyington?', he asked the whole room. Nobody answered.
We just pointed to the double glass doors leading to the rear patio. The
lieutenant slumped onto a barstool and told us, "I put SP escorts on him...he
give 'em the slip. lock him in his room...he gets out. I asked for a .45
so's I could give him jus' a little old leg wound, but they turned pale
at that! I'd handcuff him to an old R4D, but he'd probably get loose and
fly the damned thing away!" He slid off the stool and hurried out the patio
doors, followed by Mr. Gay, who muttered in passing, "That guy's a drunken
pig!" I never knew if they chased Boyington down...but I'd lay 50 to 1
odds they didn't!
During the summer
of '52, I was on the back of a 6x6 truck along with other Squad leaders
on our way to reconnoiter the positions on the MLR (main line of resistance)
and to prepare to relieve the 7th Marines.
I was chewing the
fat as usual with some of my pals when our Gunny sitting across from me
recognized my Boston accent. He asked when and where I had enlisted and
I told him the Post Office building in Boston in September of '50. He then
asked, "Do you remember the Sgt. sitting to the right of the door when
you entered?" I took a long look at him and I said, "Was that you?" and
he gleefully said, "Yes!" At that time, I was thinking, if you had rejected
me wouldn't be in this revolting predicament. From that moment on, Gunny
Wolf and I became the best of friends, although I think maybe he may have
thought that he had an added responsibility to keep me alive and send me
home in one piece.
When on line at that
time, you went on a combat patrol one night and three nights later
you took your squad on an ambush patrol. The Gunny used to come up to the
Platoon CP and sit in on the briefings along with the squad leader that
was going out and the rest of the CP personnel. We had a great outfit and
after, or even sometimes during, the briefings there may have been a bit
of jocularity and I think the Gunny may have thought we were all nuts.
In the fall, H-3-5
was on OP-1 adjacent to the Panmunjom Peace Corridor. I took my squad out
on a patrol in order to capture two gooks in a burnt out jeep that they
used as a listening post that was supposedly twenty yards from a cutout
in the road.We got there--No jeep, no gooks. I set up my squad and myself
and my point man went about 500 yards further on down the road--still
no jeep or gooks. I called the CP and was told to set up an ambush by the
cutoff in the road. We remained till about three A.M. , then we returned.
I reported to our new Captain who had recently joined the Company. I reprted
my findings that there wasn't any Jeep. He said in a loud voice, "what
did the gooks do, salvage it?" To say the least this ticked me off and
I proceeded to the front of the OP where you could observe this site and
low and behold, about twenty yards from their trenches was this "burnt
out jeep", about a thousand yards from where it was supposed to be. I returned
to the Co. CP and advised the Capt. of my findings.
The reason I give
this rendition is because on the following night, Sgt Pearce of the 3rd
platoon took his squad to the same spot I had occupied the previous night
where they were overrun by a reinforced company of gooks on the way to
hit our company sized OP. They ran through Pearce's squad with satchel
charges, grenades, etc.
Upon hearing this
at the Co. CP, Gunny Wolf grabbed his carbine and on a dead run through
the trenches of the OP asked for volunteers to accompany him. He ran down
the finger of the OP, arrived at the scene of the ambush. He spotted two
gooks lugging a Marine over a small rise and on a dead run emptied his
carbine and turned it around like a baseball bat and was about to swing.
When the gooks saw this, they turned and ran. The Gunny brought the Marine
back, set up a perimeter and safely returned the patrol with with its KIAs
and wounded back to the OP.
I got most of this
information from Sgt. Pearce while recuperating at the Yokosuka Naval Hospital
in Japan. (Sgt Pearce's escapades were later televised in the States on
the Kate Smith Program.)
Upon returning to
the States I eventually returned to my old civilian job and visited the
Gunny, who was back at his recruiting job in Boston. He asked that I be
present when he received his second Navy Cross, (WWII was his first) at
the Boston Navy Yard.
I held his his young
son on my lap during the ceremonies, but was saddened to hear that his
little boy died of some childhood disease six months later.
The last time I saw
Gunny was at my wedding in '56. I talked to him a few times when he was
in Harlingen, Texas at the Marine Corps Academy.
The Gunny was not
a big strapping, drinking, hard-nose type of individual. He was extremely
intelligent. He was a truly gentle person and sometimes would remind me
that he had a personality and demeanor of one of my favorite aunts.
Master Sergeant Wilmot
"Bill" Wolf passed away a couple of years ago. If ever in my life I had
met a Man's Man, this is the gentleman that I place on the highest of pedestals
and I know he's up ther in the "land beyond the sky" taking care of his
fellow Marines and making damn sure there'll be room for the rest of us
when our last taps are played.
Note: This testimonial
is another tribute to add to the wonderful article submitted by Thomas
Thomas in the H-3-5 News, volume 3, Issue 1.