Letter of the Month
(Leatherneck will pay $25 for a “Sound Off Letter of the Month” submitted by an MCA&F member or provide a one-year courtesy subscription to a non-member whose letter is selected.)
It was Christmas Eve in December 1968. I was the only Marine officer on a small staff at the Military Assistance Command in Saigon. We had heard that the Reverend Billy Graham would join the staff for breakfast.
I was standing in the back of a small auditorium waiting for Graham’s arrival when he appeared as scheduled. As we all sat down, Graham asked, “Is there a Colonel Smith in the house?” I realized he was talking to me. I had just returned from leave because my mother had suddenly died in October. My boss, a great Army general, had apparently told this to Graham.
I was seated near him, and he took my hand and said, “Let’s pray for your mother.”
To this day, I cannot believe this happened. A memorable Christmas in a far off war-torn land.
LtCol Rodgers T. Smith, USMC (Ret)
El Cajon, Calif.
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise
On my second float into Beirut, Lebanon, January through June 1983, we were given some R&R in Athens, Greece. I was with two other Marines, and we were walking around enjoying the sites, foods and local beverages of Greece. We had just entered Constitution Square where I noticed three Huey pilots I knew.
One of the officers motioned for us to come over to their table. There were five people at the table and one was covering his face with a menu. That person dropped the menu, and yelled out, “Golly, Sarge.” We three Marines were thrilled to meet Mr. Jim Nabors and to receive a “golly” from him.
After laughing and talking for a short time with Mr. Nabors, we handed him the Greek fisherman hats we were wearing to autograph. I still have that hat where it’s on display in my “hooch” room.
Cpl John Soper
WM’s 75th Anniversary
I’m disappointed that there was no mention in the February Leatherneck of the 75th anniversary of the Women Marines which was Feb. 13.
Things have changed markedly over these many years. I served under a special program in which college women could join for training in keeping with their college program. Six weeks training at Quantico, Va., between sophomore and junior years, again between junior and senior years, and upon graduation commissioned a second lieutenant with a return to Quantico for six weeks of officer training.
Our summer uniforms were a sweltering blend of nylon and Dacron dresses, regular cotton utilities, and exercise “peanut” suits. We then were assigned a first duty station and served two years on active duty, considered active reserve, then four additional years inactive duty with four to six weeks active duty per year. I did apply to stay on active duty, but only two from my class who applied were accepted.
A few years ago a friend sent me a video of enlisted women at recruit training. There have been complete changes in the uniforms including camos, boots and firing on the rifle range. It would be interesting if there was published information to show how so many things have changed for women in the Corps. A friend of mine, the late Colonel Vera M. Jones, USMC, was sent to Naval Language School in Monterey, Calif., and then sent for a tour in Vietnam. I never knew exactly what her duties were, I presume some sort of translation.
As I recall, Col Pauline Beckley was the commanding officer during my training from 1956 to 1958 at Quantico. I spent my two years of active duty at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and spent a few months working in the base legal office. A quota came out for junior officers to attend Naval Justice School in Rhode Island that I was recommended for. Unfortunately, I was not given the chance, as the major refused to approve my request. He felt it would be “a waste” to send a woman officer for that training. He instead sent a male first lieutenant from the naval hospital physical evaluation board. I was sent to fill his spot on the board. How times have changed.
Well, perhaps there will be a Leatherneck article about the many years’ service of Women Marines, varied MOSs, duty stations, etc.
I was promoted to captain in July 1963 and was finally able to put on the shoulder bars for my last active-duty stint at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Those bars were sent to me years before by our 1956 platoon sergeant, June R. Doberstein, USMC.
Cynthia L. (Stewart) Hollingsworth
- To coincide with this summer’s convention of the Women Marines Association, Leatherneck will be celebrating the centennial of female Marines in our August issue which will include an interview with the Corps’ most senior female Marine, MajGen Lori Reynolds. We have published numerous articles over the years detailing the history of women in the Corps and discussing the evolution of their roles and responsibilities. Many of the articles can be found at http://www.mca-marines.org/women_Marines_100.—Editor
4th Marines at Corregidor
I would like to comment on the 4th Marine Regiment that was attached to Corregidor Island. My father was assigned to USS Canopus (AS-9) in Manila Bay at the start of World War II. After the ship was scuttled by her crew to prevent the Japanese from getting the ship, my father, along with many other Sailors, was attached to 4th Marines in an attempt to defend the “Rock.”
Finally overrun and captured, my father and many others spent the rest of the war as Japanese prisoners of war (POW). As I attempted to follow the various POW camps that he was placed in, I constantly saw the name Private First Class Jack O. Elkins, a Marine who passed away a few years ago in the northern part of Washington.
I had the chance to know several Marine Corps officers who served as advisors to the Vietnamese Marines. I also worked with the Marines at Yokosuka Naval Support Activity including those assigned to shore patrol and the Marine detachment. The last time that I worked with Marines was while attached to USS Okinawa. I met several Marines including a gunnery sergeant assigned to the cargo handlers and a major attached to the air department.
I spent 22 years in the Navy and have complete respect for the Marine Corps, which was instilled in me by my father.
John E. Christian, USN, (Ret)
Iwo Flag Raising, March 2005
I may have the distinction of being the oldest Marine to raise the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. Not on Feb. 23, 1945, but on March 23, 2005.
After serving in the Marine Corps from Jan. 29, 1960 to Jan. 29, 1964, I was discharged with the rank of lance corporal. Entering the civilian world I became involved with the John Basilone Detachment of the New Jersey Marine Corps League and later became the detachment’s commandant. Since boot camp, where I first saw the famous statue, I always had the obsession of wanting to walk on the black sands of Iwo Jima and climb Mount Suribachi. The opportunity became a reality when I learned Military Historical Tours was running a special tour in March 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. I, along with numerous others, including Medal of Honor recipients, celebrities, dignitaries and the Young Marines, spent three days on the Island of Guam and 12 hours on Iwo Jima. While on the tour, I became friends with Medal of Honor recipient, Jack Lucas, and R. Lee Ermey, both of whom gave me their challenge coins.
Walking on the black sand is something I shall remember and treasure for the rest of my life. Since black sand is the only souvenir the Japanese allow to be taken off the island, I filled two quart jars with the sacred black sand.
Jack Lucas, I and the Young Marines were standing next to the monument where the famous flag raising took place. A few feet away was a 25-foot flag pole flying the American flag. Because the hoisting rope was dry-rotted, it broke while we were standing there and the American flag fell to the ground. Mike Kessler, who was in charge of the Young Marines, quickly organized a group to lift the 25-foot pole out of its sleeve in the ground. After getting new rope to replace the rotted one, the American flag was now ready to be flown again.
The group consisting of 10 Young Marines, Mike and myself proceeded to place the base of the pole into the sleeve and raise the pole and American flag upright.
Mel “Blackie” Meszaros
Reader Remembers’s Author
I really enjoyed the February issue, particularly the article on the USS Maine. Seeing Ron Keene’s name as author was icing on the cake. Any time Ron rejected one of my many submissions he would always explain why. He could reject writing, but never a writer. It’s hard to think of Leatherneck without thinking of Ron.
Thank you for your latest edition of Leatherneck. I almost always read it cover to cover the day that it arrives.
I found two possible errors in the March edition that I feel compelled to comment on. On page 65, you list an obit for Corporal Joe Stimpson. I always try to do the math when ages and dates of service are mentioned. If Joe had been 64 years old when he passed away this year that would mean he was born in 1953. There is virtually no way that he could have served from 1960 to 1964 since he would have been seven years old in 1960. Perhaps Joe was 74 when he passed away.
Secondly, on page 66, you featured a photograph that may have been supplied by James Thomas Lowie. The title of the letter is “1967 Tank Convoy.” The U.S. Marine vehicle in the photo is an M-51 Tank Retriever. I would have recommended that you call the letter “1967 Armor Convoy,” since the vehicle shown is not a tank.
Sgt John Wear
USMC, 3rd Tanks, RVN, 1968-1969
The tanks in the March issue, page 66, are indeed not tanks. I served in 8” howitzers for four years from 1963 to 1967. The vehicle is either 8” howitzers (self-propelled) or 155 guns. Noticing the gun’s insignia, they are either the 1st 8” How Btry or 3rd 155 Guns. The only way to tell is by barrel length.
I served in both batteries during my enlistment. Third 8” in the fall of 1963 where I was promoted to private first class on Nov. 22, 1963. In March 1964, 1st and 2nd platoons were transferred to Okinawa and became 1st 8”.
During the Tonkin Bay incident, 1st Plt, 1st 8” mounted out for a two-month cruise in a World War II rusty hulked LSD (amphibious dock landing ship). Tales are still spun over adult beverages about that cruise.
At the end of my tour in Okinawa, we were transferred back to 3rd 8” at Twentynine Palms, Calif. First 8” sailed to Chu Lai, Vietnam, soon after we left. In March 1966, 3rd 8” sailed to Chu Lai, relieving 1st 8”, who went with 3rdMarDiv to the Da Nang sector.
Both of these described guns and howitzers are on display after entering the main gate at Twentynine Palms.
Cpl William R. Van Meter
- Sgt Wear–you have a good eye. Several others pointed out the discrepancy with Cpl Stimpson’s date of birth and service dates. As far as “Tank Convoy,” Cpl Van Meter is correct. The vehicle is the back end of an M109 self-propelled howitzer. The photo caption was correct but the sub-head was erroneous.—Editor
In the March Sound Off section, Major James Murphy responded to the comment I made in our December 2017 issue regarding the E-3 rank. My comment had not been detailed.
I was released from active duty as an E-2 private first class. I then joined the Marine Corps Reserve where I stayed for just over a year. While in the reserve I was promoted to E-3 corporal. I don’t recall the promotion being an “acting” rank at that time but it probably was.
In my original letter I did not imply, as Murphy suggested, that I had later failed promotion. After my promotion to corporal, and during my short time left in reserve, I would not have attended a subsequent promotion board. Sometime after I left the reserve, I became aware that I was still an E-3, but an E-3 lance corporal. It may be that since I had left the reserves and was no longer qualified for future promotions, my rank as corporal had been “acting” and I simply reverted to E-3 lance corporal.
Regardless, ego aside, I was satisfied with my separation rank of E-3 lance corporal. I realized the Marine Corps knew far more about such matters than I.
In reference to the Sound Off letter in the March Leatherneck by Major James L. Murphy, USMC (Ret), his comment on the new rank system, I will tell him just as I wrote to Sound Off a couple years ago that the Marine Corps has completely forgotten the men and women that served in the Cold War between 1955 through 1960. We got shafted from every direction.
My complaint in the past was the issue of the National Defense Service Medal. Even though we signed on the same dotted line as the Marines before and after the above time period, it was a time period ribbon.
I was deployed three times, was issued the China Service Medal, yet not eligible for the National Defense Service Medal. Thanks to the Army, we were issued a certificate signed by General Colin Powell.
My second comment to the major is the new rank system. I made sergeant (E-4) Sept. 1, 1958. The Commandant did not come up with the new rank system until November 1958. I was relieved from active duty April 2, 1959. I walked off that base with three stripes on my sleeve. In my duffel bag was my promotion to sergeant (E-4) permanent in the Marine Corps. I was never told about any such thing as acting sergeant. I was told we would not lose a stripe and would hold that rank until our next promotion.
I was transferred to inactive reserve. There was no way I would be able to make another rank, yet when I received my discharge certificate and DD-214 it showed corporal (E-4) and showed me as being promoted on Sept. 1, 1958.
I tried for eight years to get a copy of my military records. I was sent two pages that showed where I was reduced in rank from private first class to private in 1956. And it showed I was deployed for Operation Strong back in the Philippines in 1958.
That was my record for four active years in the Corps. It showed no promotions, no letter of commendation from my battalion commander, no sea duty for two years, but it did show I qualified with an M1 and .45-caliber pistol five times at El Toro. Problem is I was never in El Toro.
I have had a love for my Corps for 63 years, but as I wrote above, the Corps forgot about the Cold War Marine. But they did remember they took a stripe.
You can see why I am discouraged about the way we were and are treated. They were trying for 25 years to get a Cold War Victory Medal, but DOD (Department of Defense) won’t approve it. But you look through the book of medals and there is one for everything from the MOH to cleaning up after a hurricane.
I wrote to Leatherneck a couple years ago about the National Defense Medal and was told by the Leatherneck Ed to stop my crying and be glad I was privileged to wear the uniform of the Marine Corps.
Sgt Frank Rinchich, USMC
- That was the previous Sound Off editor who told you, “You earned the title Marine, an Honorable Discharge, the G.I. Bill and VA privileges. You want eggs in your beer?” While he does make a valid point, I am a bit more empathetic about the lack of recognition for those Marines who served in the late 1950s.—Editor
Let’s Go Charlie!
I note that HMM-163 is mentioned in the article, “Let’s Go … Charlie!” in the March issue. I served in 163 for the majority of my Marine Corps career. However, I see the photograph on page 49 is of a 362 bird showing the YL code. 163 were YP. Any article with a HUS, later H-34, catches my eye and any mention of 163 gets my interest into high gear.
Three of us old Ridge Runners got together last September for a reunion. We were last together in 1962.
Many wonderful memories were discovered and remembered.
Cpl Glenn “Sam” Bass, USMC
In our April issue the Sea Story entitled, “It’s Better to Be Lucky Than Good,” should have read: “a spare F-18D replaced the damaged jet.”
Have a question or feel like sounding off? Address your letter to: Sound Off, Leatherneck Magazine, P.O. Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134, or send an email to:[email protected]. Due to the heavy volume, we cannot answer every letter received. Do not send original photographs, as we cannot guarantee their return. All letters must be signed, and emails must contain complete names and postal mailing addresses. Anonymous letters will not be published.—Editor