While I worked as
a newsman at our local daily, the editorial editor was a gentleman by the
name of Frank K. Myers. Frank was a newsman of the old school. You wrote
what had happened and NOT what you thought should have happened. This was
before, during and after Woodward and Bernstein had a new generation of
writers thinking they were investigative reporters and not just plain newsmen.
Frank told me that
during WW 2 he was taken into the Corps in his mid-30s. Unusual enough,
but he was destined to be part of a counseling unit in Charleston, SC,
to help Marines suffering from battle fatigue. Also serving in the unit
was Frank Blair of TV reporting fame.
Frank's DI on the
Island turned out to be Lou Diamond, the already legendary mortar master
of the Corps. He was also, at the time, a self-made case hardened barrel
of terror and strict discipline. Frank said Diamond was so well connected
in the Corps that he would tell first and second lieutenants to go to hell
if he didn't like their orders. He also, according to Frank, called captains
"son" instead of "sir" if it suited his mood.
Diamond would come
into the recruit squad bay and proceed to demolish it if he found anything
remotely offending his DI's eye. It wasn't unusual for him to grab a boot
by the utility jacket lapels and hold him dangling a foot above the deck
while flooding the air with colorful and very basic Anglo-Saxon descriptions
of the entire squads ancestoral lineage. This was followed by his casually
throwing the boot through the hatchway. Diamond had such a tough reputation,
Frank said, that he could clear a slop chute by taking a beer bottle in
hand and crushing it into shards. I guess that signaled that Diamond was
about to take on anyone who displeased him....one and all.
While on active duty
in the Corps (1952-72), I was interested in the stories that abounded about
Lou Diamond; in those early days (the early '50s) I occasionally
met an older Marine who had knowledge of the legendary Lou Diamond and
who would relate stories about him, but it was always second person knowledge.
Nobody I met--and I met some pretty interesting old time Marines in those
days-- had ever really himself served with Diamond. I'm sure there were
many Marines still around at that time who both knew and had served with
Diamond, but it just wasn't my fortune to run into them. But stories
about the colorful Lou Diamond were plentiful. Thus, I had heard all of
the old stories about Diamond, i.e., his raising chickens on the base,
his goatee, etc.
But it was not until
approximately 2-3 years ago that I met a former Marine with first hand
knowledge of Diamond. That was Chester Milks, who had enlisted in
the Corps in 1938. Milks had been in Diamond's company, H-2-5, at New River,
NC (now Camp Lejeune) at the time of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of
Milks told me he
had wanted to volunteer for the newly forming para-Marine unit, and had
arranged with the company clerk to do so. But, one problem: Diamond was
known to take it personal when a Marine attempted to transfer out of his
outfit. In the interest of making a longer story shorter here, Chet told
me that he soon got the word that his transfer had been approved
and his orders were being cut; he also got the word that Diamond had gotten
wind of it and was on his way to see him.
Chet went on
to say that when he next saw Lou, his only, and unexpected, reponse was
to slap Pfc Milks on the back, shake his hand and say, "Milks you just
made my team!"
Months later, on
Guadalcanal in 1942, Milk's new unit, 1st Parachute Bn, was running low
on supplies. Knowing that his old unit was on nearby Tulagi island, Milks
secured permission to make a boat run over there to see his old comrades.
He said he received a warm welcome from his old unit, and Lou Diamond as
well; and he returned to his company on Guadalcanal with the sought-after
items of supply. Chet confirmed that most of the stories about Diamond
were pretty accurate.
have no memories of our route, movements or actions between these two objectives.
In fact I doubt that I was even aware that up ahead we had a river to cross.
I do, however, recall walking around a sharp bend in the road and seeing
a bevy of amtracs parked in the middle of the road. That was a clue.
was once again dusk and we were assigned to various amtracs and wait for
the crossing. Little did we know the crossing would not take place until
the next morning. We patiently sat, stood or leaned around in our amtrac
for an hour or so. It was not only uncomfortable and crowded in there,
but being September it was also damn hot. Finally, with the usual mutterings
about how screwed-up the Marine Corps is, we trickled outside of the open
rear hatch and laid down on the road, smoked cigarettes and tried to get
some sleep in spite of the light drizzling rain which had set in.
was well after dawn when the word came down the line to load up, once again,
in preparation for the crossing. I don't recall any in-coming small arms
fire coming our direction as we crossed, but I heard a few BAR bursts and
an occasional M-1 bark during the crossing and when we reached the other
side. I found some considerable comfort in that observation.
NK side of the Han was bordered by a range of low hills with a small dirt
road between the hills and the river. When our amtrac made landfall all
of us expected the rear hatch to drop open signaling us to disembark and
begin our assault up the front slope of the hill. To our surprise, and
I'm sure to any resident NK's surprise this did not happen.
amtracs made a left turn on the little road, and ran post-haste (What is
that, maybe 15 or 20 mph?) to a gap in the line of hills and and delivered
us to the reverse slope of the hill. At that point the rear hatch did indeed
open and we moved rapidly to the crest and front slope of the hill. Once
again, I have no recollection of any incoming small arms fire.
I'd gained the front slope I off-loaded my radio, leaned it and my carbine
against a knee high burial mound, sat on the mound and lighted a cigarette.
there on the ground beside the mound lay a russian carbine. I picked it
up, noted it was set on "battle sight", removed the round from its chamber,
and closed the bolt over the remaining rounds in the magazine. It was no
big deal; by that time we'd all seen and handled a multitude of enemy equipment.
sat there watching as fire teams swept the slope looking for any remaining
NK's and inspecting the area for "spider traps" which we'd been warned
about. At this point I spotted a single NK bent low and running along the
shallow drainage ditch which ran between the hill and the dirt road on
which we'd made our left turn just 10-15 minutes earlier.
disappeared briefly from my view behind some stubby brush growing along
the bank of the ditch which also concealed him totally from being seen
by our fire teams. I put my cigarette down and reached for my carbine.
Then thought, no no, I'll take him out with the Russian carbine. I put
a round in the chamber , shouldered the weapon , took the slack out of
the trigger and aimed at the point where his journey down the ditch would
once again bring him into my line of sight and clear of brush.
he appeared I led him just a tad and began to squeeze the trigger. In those
brief moments I could see he was very young, scared out of his wits and
unarmed--not to mention that he was surrounded by most of the Fifth Marine
Regiment. The thought came to mind "Why are you about to kill this man?"
I relented and backed off the trigger. Once again ejected the chambered
round, closed the bolt and lay the weapon against the mound.
I retrieved the cigarette a startling fact came to my attention. The barrel
of the Russian carbine was clogged with mud! God had shown just mercy to
someone who had just shown some compassion. In 47 years I have never forgotten
(The second of three stories by McDonald).
Every once in a while
the subject of the old rank structure (E-1 thru E-7) will come up, usually
by a Marine who was just coming into the Corps around the time (1959) of
the transition from the old to the new rank structure; newer Marines not
having any knowledge of it at all. At the time, it was a source of confusion
to us, and it must have been even more so for new people just coming into
the Corps at the time of the implementation of this change.
Here's what I recall
of it. I was a staff sergeant three times. I made SSgt on Okinawa in 1957,
then I became an Acting SSgt (E-5) some time, I guess, between July of
'58 and July '59. Finally, I made SSgt again under the new rank structure
The old rank structure
(without the crossed rifles in the chevrons) consisted of pay grades E-1
thru E-7 -- Pvt, Pfc, Cpl, Sgt, SSgt, TSgt (Technical Sgt--but, usually
referred to as Gunny) and MSgt. (MSgts filled the billets as 1stSgt/SgtMaj
in each unit.)
The new, and present,
rank structure consisted of pay grades E-1 thru E-9 adding the rank titles
of LCpl, 1stSgt, MGySgt and SgtMaj--with the new chevrons with the crossed
We did NOT just get
up one morning and put on the new chevrons when the rank structure changed.
There was a transition period where we continued to wear, for several years,
the old chevrons until promoted. However, our rank title was changed to
the use of the word Acting preceeding your rank, and followed by the paygrade.
For instance, a Cpl would then be known as Acting Cpl (E-3), a Sgt as Acting
Sgt (E-4), etc. And so we had, all at one time, both Acting Cpl (E-3) and
Cpl (E-4), Acting SSgt (E-5) and SSgt (E-6) and so on up and down the line.
Most of the lower
ranking NCOs disliked the new system--we pretty much were happy with things
as they were--but nobody much liked the idea of just putting on the new
chevrons either, which would seemingly drop us down a rate. Especially
we SSgts who would apparently lose our SNCO status.
period involved some confusion as even some commanding officers did not
agree on the interpretation of directives involving the transition period.
I recall one case where an Acting SSgt (E-5) had been reduced one grade
by his CO to Cpl (E-4). This bust was soon overturned by higher authority,
but the Marine was reinstated, not to SSgt (E-5), but to Sgt (E-5). But
other commands handled certain cases differently.
Most of us were promoted
again prior to the cutoff date of the transition period, and so that solved
the problem for us. But there were some who were not promoted in time and
were required to revert to the new rank structure at the time of the cutoff
date, late 1962 or '63, I think.
Just prior to the
cutoff date, however, provisions were made in that former SSgts (E-5) would
retain their SNCO privileges (although then wearing the new sergeant chevrons)
but I know that this did not always work out that way for those concerned.
Again, everybody had a different perception as to what the directives said
In my opinion, the
one lasting problem caused by the rank structure change was that Marines
tended to begin referring to one another by paygrades rather than rank
title ( originally, just to simlify things, if anything). But this trend
apparently stuck, despite efforts then and there to stop it. I had thought
that this was by now a problem long gone. Not so.
Not that long ago
I was seated in BurgerKing (or whatever) at the MCX complex at Camp Pendleton.
I happened to hear, to my amazement, some young Marines at a nearby
table referring to other Marines as "that E-4", and/or "that E-5." This
really surprised me, the original cause of this lingo being so long gone
and apparently forgotten. But habits die hard.
This reminded me
of something that happened back in the '50s when things had gotten a bit
lax just after the Korean war when all the "draftees" had just left the
Corps, etc. Then General Randolph McCall Pate became CMC, he quickly put
out a directive requiring Marines to use strict Naval terminology--e.g.,
walls would again be referred to as bulkheads, floors as decks, etc. That,
and a few other things, did the trick; discipline was soon back to peacetime
standards. But, like I said, habits die hard, and if you're not careful
some things can almost become tradition.
Someone told me about
your website after I relayed this story to them. As you or any other postal
Marine that has served at Camp Hansen in Okinawa knows, UDP (UDP=Unit Deployment
Program) Marines mail quite a bit of "stuff" to themselves while on deployment.
Then the day comes when the battalion becomes single digit midgets
to go home and there's a battalion formation at the post office for everyone
to mail their "stuff" back.
In 1993, I was a
Second Lieutenant, Platoon Commander, with 2d Battalion, 3d Marines. My
battalion was in line at the Camp Hansen Post Office to send "stuff" back
home at the end of a six month deployment. I was number 460 or some where
there abouts. We started seeing Marines going past us from the front
of the line with their packages that hadn't been mailed. When I asked one
Marine what the deal was he said "Those postal guys are being *&~~%$#@
and the packages have to be perfectly taped or they send you back. That
scuttlebutt spread like fire through the ranks and Marines began sprinting
to the exchange to buy tape.
Being a locked and
cocked 2ndLt., I wargamed the scenario of my package being rejected in
my head, thought about it, and thenI sprinted like the rest
of the Marines to the exchange to buy tape. When I got back I taped that
box up like the old Egyptians would a mummy and thought I was good to go.
At just about that time the Postal Marines, being good sorts that they
were, thought they would speed things up by pre-inspecting packages of
Marines already in line.
The Marine in front
of me had a sneaker box wrapped in the pre-requisite brown paper and securely
taped sitting on the ground at his feet. When the postal Marine got to
him looked at the Grunt, looked at the sneaker box and then he looked back
at the Grunt with an evil twinkle in his eye. Can you guess what happened
next? Well I didn't see it coming but that Postal Marine must have been
a place kicker for the base football team because he launched that sneaker
box clear across the road. He didn't miss a beat either when he said,
"Now see that Marine that wrap job will never survive the U.S. Postal
Service. Do it again!" After I stopped laughing, I pulled the
Postal Marine to the side and corrected him on his tact and then I asked
him not to check the wrap job of my television the same way.