Growing up in New Bedford, Mass., Capt Ernest Botelho worked part-time as a delivery boy after school and on weekends to help support his family. During the summers in the 1950s, he worked as a carpenter’s helper making $1.50 an hour. His parents migrated to the United States from Portugal in the 1920s via Ellis Island, N.Y. The island served as the primary entryway to America from 1892-1924.
When two of his friends were drafted into the military, Botelho thought about his future. As the youngest of five children, he decided that after his high school graduation that he would enlist in the Marine Corps in July 1953.
“At the time that I joined, the Korean War was going on. I did not want to be drafted into any other service,” said Capt Botelho. “I had read a lot of stories about the Marines—that was the service that I wanted to go into.”
Training to become a Marine can be strenuous and challenging and not everyone succeeds. After months of training at Parris Island, S.C., and Camp Geiger, N.C., he entered the fleet as a light vehicle track operator.
“Bootcamp was a shock,” said Capt Botelho. “I was not accustomed to people yelling at me. I had to adapt to the Corps.”
While on a blind date Capt Botelho met his future wife RosaLee Childers. They had three children Phyllis, Joseph and Michael. They have been married for 55 years.
“I regretted that I had to leave my family [but] I was happy to go where my country needed me at the time.”
Capt Botelho hoped that while serving with Marine Corps Security Force Regiment (MCSF) that he would have a chance to be stationed in his parents’ native country of Portugal where his grandparents still resided. MCSF provides security to naval installations throughout the world that contain nuclear vessels and weapons. He was stationed in Saudi Arabia and Tangier, Morocco.
Capt Botelho entered the officers’ ranks in 1966 through the temporary commissioning program and was permanently commissioned two years later.
“I relished the idea of responsibility. I knew in the enlisted ranks, we had responsibility but I wanted the authority to enforce it so that the mission was completed. I wanted to be able to enforce my responsibility.”
Even after being commissioned as an officer, Capt Botelho never attended The Basic School (TBS). He later returned to TBS as an instructor.
“I found it ironic that I never attended Officer Candidate School or The Basic School, yet I went there to be an instructor and train Marines.”
While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Capt Botelho met then-Col Alfred M. Gray Jr. and the future 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, while on duty one evening.
“I met him while on my post, he was a full bird colonel at the time. He made a big difference in the Marine Corps. He enforced the human relations between all Marines of different races. He brought back more authority to the battalion commanders in the Marine Corps.”
Advice for Today’s Marine
“Be true to the Corps, true to your country, and never forget the ones who have gone on before you. Keep the Marine Corps traditions steadfast and remember that you have the privilege of being a United States Marine.”
Capt Botelho’s decorations include the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal With Combat “V”, the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal, The Combat Action Ribbon, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Medal With Palm Ribbon, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
- Tina Valentine