Marines.Together We Served

Monday, August 29, 2016

Echoes of Boot Camp (Part 2)

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
29 August 2016

Echoes of Boot Camp (Part 2)

Continuing from last week . . .

The first night in Marine Corps boot camp had its memorable moments. Right after marching (more like shuffling since we weren’t trained in the fine art of precision marching as yet) we found ourselves formed up on a paved area alongside the Parade Deck, a.k.a., the Drill Field. This extensive bit of paved real estate was where we would spend countless hours learning how to march.

There we stood, bleary-eyed, at 12:30am, desperately wanting to go to sleep, hoping beyond hope that we would awake back home in our beds. Not so fast, cupcake!

As I mentioned last week, I, along with three others, were selected by the drill instructors (never call them a D.I.) to be squad leaders. A platoon is roughly made up of 65-70 men. The platoon is then broken down into four squads. Each squad occupied a Quonset Hut as their living quarters. But before we turned in at about 1:00am, the squad leaders were called into the Platoon Commanders hut. The Platoon Commander is the senior person, the boss, the head honcho, and you NEVER called him a drill instructor! The drill instructors work directly for him. To impress upon those of us chosen to be squad leaders, we were told in no uncertain terms what we were to do, when to do it, and the dire consequences to follow should we disappoint in any way or fail in our prescribed duties. To make the point, the Platoon Commander, Staff Sergeant Lynch, stepped in front of us, and with a balled-up fist, punched each of us square in the chest. That was his way of putting an exclamation point on his previous instructions to us. Other than rocking us back on our heels there was no damage done, but his point was made. Did I mentioned he used to be on the Marine Corps boxing team?

Back outside we each gathered with our squads to pass on the “scoop” or “dope” or “the word” as information of this sort was routinely called. I was scared spitless, afraid that I would oversleep and by so doing, fail to have my guys up, dressed and on the road by 4:00am, or what the Marines call 0400 (zero four hundred). Before we could hit the rack, we had to make our racks. Then we had to drag our wooden footlockers out to the center of the floor in a neat formation. We then stood at attention on our footlockers wearing only our white boxer shorts (Marine Corps issue). One of the rules we had been told earlier is all personal items (watches, rings, etc.) were to be locked in our footlocker each night. That was my first mistake . . .

The drill instructors would walk around us as we stood on our foot lockers, looking at us intently to see if there were any physical abnormalities, bruises, or other such apparent health related issues. As the drill instructors made their way around to my side of the hooch, I was startled by a sharp pain in my left side. The punch in my kidney area was administered by one of the drill instructors who then proceeded to rip me up one side and down the other. My error, I soon realized, was that I still had my watch on my wrist. Had I forgotten to remove it when I was preparing for bed? No. Since the drill instructors told us we were responsible for getting our own guys up and ready by 0400, and there were no clocks on the wall, I figured I would need to know what time it was during the night. I assumed – which was a big mistake – and assuming is not Marine Corps policy.

I jumped off my foot locker, tossed my watch inside, closed the combination lock and once again stood at attention atop my locker.

The drill instructors then ordered us into our racks, where we again assumed the position of attention. The lights went out with nary a sound but that of deep breathing.

Now remember – I was scared to death that I would fall into a deep sleep as I had always done back home. Not to worry! At this point I had been instantly cured of this malady – I just didn’t know it yet. I laid there awake for a while afraid to sleep, but knowing I desperately needed the rest. I dozed off for about thirty minutes, jolted awake by the fear that I had overslept. We were not allowed to turn the overhead lights on which made fumbling with the combination lock on my foot locker very difficult. Fortunately, it was a clear evening, providing just enough ambient moonlight through a partially open window for me to see the numbers on my lock at which point I then would grab my watch and check the time. It was 1:40am. I would then tuck the watch back in the locker and fall back to sleep. Again I would awake in a near frenzy, grab for the lock, spin it open, check my watch, close my locker, and repeat this fearful routine several more times until about three-thirty when we got up and dressed, ready to fall out on the road at four. What a relief!

I still sleep well to this day and can fall asleep in a matter of seconds. But I have never been able to sleep quite as soundly as I once did when in my teens. I can command myself to fall asleep and wake up at a certain time regardless of how tired I am.

God made us to enjoy sleep, of this I’m certain. And I have always enjoyed sleeping. But what my experience taught me in boot camp was to appreciate sleep. There have been times in my life, particularly in a combat zone, when you do not have the luxury of sleep.

One story that accentuates this point occurred when I was a corporal. I had spent a couple of days virtually non-stop working in Da Nang, South Vietnam with our maintenance crew preparing our “Jammers,” E-A6As, for sorties over North Vietnam. Weary to the bone, we boarded a C-130 troop transport which would take us back to Naval Air Station, Cubi Point in the Philippines. The three-plus hour flight was my first chance to relax. Even though I was in a jump seat (read: not designed for comfort), I really didn’t care. I dropped my chin to my chest and was out before we took off. I woke up when I felt the plane preparing for descent. But something did not seem right. Opening my eyes, I realized my head had gradually leaned to my right, resting comfortably on a Marine captain’s shoulder in the jump seat next to me! Recognition of this fact caused me to snap my head up. Thankfully, he said nothing to me. I gradually realized and then appreciated the fact that he fully understood the rigors of war and silently made himself available to a fellow Marine who desperately needed sleep.

Next week I’ll take a look back at mealtime – boot camp style!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Echoes of Boot Camp

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
22 August 2016

Echoes of Boot Camp

Even though it has been nearly fifty years since I joined the United States Marine Corps, the memories, shared experiences with my fellow recruits, and the era in which we joined are a permanent part of me. It was October of 1969 and I was off to MCRD San Diego. For the uninitiated, MCRD is the acronym for Marine Corps Recruit Depot, better known simply as Boot Camp. Parris Island, the East Coast boot camp, is perhaps better known to the public.

On the lighter side of recruit training, I thought I’d share some of my memories which echo yet in my mind, validating the adage, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” The young men which comprised Platoon 2193 are yet in my thoughts nearly every day. I see their faces, though their names more frequently escape me. That’s when I open my boot camp book and revisit these men from my long ago past. I have been successful in part in connecting with a number of these 65 guys who shared the rigors and trials necessary so we could claim the title of United States Marine. Joe Harden and Larry McEntire have stayed friends all these years. I’ll have more to say about them later.

I arrived at the Induction Center in Oakland, California on October 27. After saying good bye to my parents I walked inside where I was processed and then placed on a bus headed for the Oakland Airport. There were eleven of us flying to San Diego. Seven were headed for Navy boot camp, and four were headed for the Marine Corps boot camp. I guess because I was the oldest at 21, I was placed in charge of seeing that all of us got on the plane and arrived safely in San Diego. I didn’t know any of these guys, and figured if they wanted to change their mind and take off, there was little I could do about it!

On arriving at the airport in San Diego late that afternoon I spotted a Marine Staff NCO. I informed him that we had all just arrived. He looked at me as though I had just insulted his parentage, barking an order at me to get on “his” bus (The drill instructors always referred to everything as theirs.). Marines refer to this “bus” as a cattle car. We were instructed to sit at attention and look straight ahead. As we rolled onto the base after passing through the security gate, I heard someone call from one of the buildings we passed, “You’ll be sorry!” in a sing-song manner, stretching out the “sorry” part which I still hear in my mind to this day.

The cattle car stopped in front of the receiving barracks. Still sitting at attention, we were startled by a drill instructor bounding into the car screaming at us to get off his bus and stand on the yellow footprints NOW! As one man we burst through the doors seeking the infamous yellow footprints. I was one of the first to step on the footprints only to have a drill instructor screaming at me for some unknown reason to me. I had no idea what he was saying. I did know however that he was not pleased about something and I was probably the nearest target to him at that moment.

We stood there for what seemed like hours but was probably no more than an hour or two. I just remember thinking to myself, “I volunteered for this? I could be sitting home right now kicking back, relaxing watching Johnny Carson’s nightly monologue.” My world had changed.

Even though it was getting on toward midnight by now, we were waiting to have our first haircut. Yes, the barbers were there at that late hour to shave our heads with electric razors. I didn’t mind this so much because I had had a “butch” haircut for many years growing up. After being properly shorn, we then began to pick up our initial issue of clothing. We then packaged our civilian clothes and personal items and turned them in to be mailed home. At some point in this process we were instructed to sit down and write a postcard made out to our parents (or loved ones) informing them that we had arrived and were doing fine. Yeah, right!

With a sea bag full of new uniform items from socks to covers (hats) we marched to our new home in what were called Quonset huts. These buildings looked like a Coke can cut in half length-wise and set down on the flat side of the cut. We stood outside in formation at attention while the drill instructors informed us of what we were going to do next. Four squads were formed and I was chosen as the leader of one of the squads. It was now sometime around 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning. We were assigned to Quonset huts where we would sleep and stow our gear. We were then told to hit the rack, but we’d better be up, dressed and ready in formation “on the road” by 4:00. The tone “Or Else” was very clear. Since I was the squad leader for the guys in my hooch, I was terrified that I wouldn’t wake up in time. You see, I could sleep through anything. My mother used to get annoyed with me because when the alarm of my clock/radio would go off it had the most aggravating sound imaginable. Mom could hear it in the kitchen which was at the other end of the hall from my room. One day, hearing my alarm go off, she decided not to come in and roust me out of bed as usual. After listening to the alarm for thirty minutes, she couldn’t stand it any longer. She marched into my room, blustering over my irritating alarm, and roundly excoriating me for not hearing it and getting up on my own. I swear to you, I never heard it!

So perhaps you can see why I was concerned that after only a few hours of sleep I might not wake up, placing myself and my guys in serious trouble at the outset of our Marine boot camp experience.

I’ll let you know next week how that first night’s sleep turned out, along with other notable experiences during our transformation from civilians to Marines.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Civil War Enigma

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
15 August 2016

A Civil War Enigma

The strange events that occur in any war are no more strange than those that took place during the Civil War.

This last weekend Isaura and I joined other family members for a reunion of the Coppage/Coppedge descendants meeting in Winchester, Virginia. Each year since the reunions began in 1948, a different location is chosen. For instance, last year we met in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  It’s a fun time getting to know folks who are kin even though we may never have met until a few years ago.

During some free time on this family weekend, we decided to visit some of the historic spots in the town of Winchester. The first place we checked out was the home of General Stonewall Jackson which was a short five block walk from our hotel. His reputation as a great field commander was second only to Robert E. Lee for the Confederacy. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was a deeply spiritual man of whom it was said, “It was the fear of God which made him so fearless of all else.” One of Stonewall Jackson’s biographers wrote that Jackson was “a Christian soldier in every sense of the word.” 

One of the strange oddities that took place was the untimely death of General Jackson. From the beginning of the war Jackson had masterfully executed one campaign after another, creating a great deal of consternation for the “boys in blue.” In his late 30s. Jackson was outmaneuvering the Northern forces at every turn. During the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, word came to Jackson that the Union Army (Army of the Potomac) was quite lax in securing one of its flanks. Jackson took his Confederate Army (Army of Northern Virginia) and prepared to move on the exposed enemy. Wanting to see the situation for himself, he and his advisors rode their horses to reconnaissance the line. While still well back in their own area of control, but with evening drawing nigh, the Confederate soldiers standing guard on a picket line had been told that anything on horseback would be the enemy. Unknowingly, Jackson and his small cadre were unrecognized in the diminishing light of day. The pickets opened fire killing several of the riders and severely wounding General Jackson. Within a week he was dead from the onset of pneumonia which was primarily caused by his grievous wounds and amputated arm.

Yet another strange story that couples with the death of Stonewall Jackson: “The Civil War has sometimes been referred to as a war of "brother against brother," but in the case of the Jackson family, it was brother against sister. Laura Jackson Arnold was close to her brother Thomas until the Civil War period. As the war loomed, she became a staunch Unionist in a somewhat divided Harrison County. She was so strident in her beliefs that she expressed mixed feelings upon hearing of Thomas's death. One Union officer said that, though she seemed depressed at hearing the news, her Unionism was stronger than her family bonds. In a letter, he wrote that Laura had said she "would rather know that he was dead than to have him a leader in the rebel army." Her Union sentiment also estranged her later from her husband, Jonathan Arnold.” ("Laura Jackson Arnold: Sister of General Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson". Civil War Women Blog. November 29, 2010. Archived from the original on December 23, 2010. Retrieved June 24, 2015).

The last of the strange occurrences for this article centers around the life of the town of Winchester, Virginia where we held out Coppage/Coppedge family reunion. Geographically located in the Shenandoah Valley, this quaint, historic community is the quintessential small town of America. But during the Civil War it earned a rather dubious distinction no town would ever wish to have. With its close proximity to the newly formed northern state of West Virginia, yet firmly established in the southern state of Virginia, the town was never sure who had the upper hand on any given day. Both sides fought for control of the town repeatedly during the four years that the war dragged on. By the end of the war, the town of Winchester had changed hands 72 times! On one day alone control changed hands five times. There were folks living in the town who were sympathetic to the North, and of course, there were many more who were ardent supporters of the Southern Cause. So as not to put themselves in a bad way, residents of the town would wake in the morning, and first thing look out their window toward the town hall to see which flag was flying: Stars and Stripes, or Stars and Bars.

If you should have the opportunity, take time to travel through this beautiful, historic area. Plus there is so much more to learn. For instance, in 1756, then Colonel George Washington was commissioned to build Fort Loudoun to fight the French and Indian War. The fort, on what is now downtown Winchester, was manned until the start of the American Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War in 1775 a unit of men from Winchester known as “Morgan’s Sharpshooters” marched to Boston, Massachusetts where they captured a number of Hessian soldiers, holding them captive in Winchester. Hessian soldiers were known to walk to the high ridge north and west of town, where they could purchase and eat apple pies made by the Quakers. The ridge became affectionately known as Apple Pie Ridge. The Ridge Road built before 1751 leading north from town was renamed Apple Pie Ridge Road.”

I still cannot get over the fact that Winchester changed hands 72 times in four years! Strange, indeed.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Can't Make This Up (Part 2)

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
8 August 2016

Can’t Make This Up (Part 2)

So in last week’s article I commented on my utter disdain for Hillary Clinton for any number of reasons which are too numerous to list here, and my utter dislike of Donald Trump for his boorish and offensive comments.

Let me be quick to add that I will be voting in November. And it will not be for a third party candidate, or Alfred E. Newman, or Mickey Mouse. The privilege and responsibility as an American citizen to vote is not something I take for granted. The shed blood of too many of our patriots defending this freedom we enjoy should be protected at all costs.

I will not be voting for Hillary, period. She and the Democratic Party have moved so far left as to be staggering. And since the Republican Party still has a platform that I can agree with for the most part, I will be voting for Trump.

There are several reasons for my taking this particular course in voting for Trump. These are in no particular order, but they are positions I have been thinking long and hard about. First, referring to God is not only okay, it is encouraged within the Republican Party and its platform. In 2012 I sat stunned watching the Democratic National Convention vote God and the use of his name off of their platform. This year during the opening prayer (invocation) I was again stunned to hear the delegates booing when the minister (a woman) ask for blessings on Hillary Clinton, stopping this lady clergyperson in mid-prayer. Now, you may not like a minister’s prayer, but as I shared with another pastor some years ago who was a bit unsure of how to pray in front of a crowd, I said, “You are talking to God, not the people. You are talking to God on behalf of the people. You are merely inviting them to listen in.”

Secondly, as a Christian minister I identify as an Evangelical. Webster’s Dictionary states that "an evangelical is of a Christian sect or group that stresses the authority of the Bible; the importance of believing that Jesus Christ saved you personally from sin and hell; and the preaching of these beliefs to other people." During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump clearly stated that he was grateful for the strong support he had received from Evangelicals, and that as president, he would rescind the law enacted in 1954 by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson which, in effect, restricted pastors from bringing politics into their sermons, particularly from the pulpit. If they did, the church could lose its tax-exempt status. The Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly, Alliance Defense Fund) was formed in 1994 to battle this abuse of government toward the church and other religious institutions.

Thirdly, I am greatly encouraged by the people Trump is surrounding himself with. Beginning with his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Now I realize that the vice president in any party is normally little more than window dressing. However, that a man of Mike Pence’s caliber being so close to Trump is encouraging. Pence is quite the opposite of Trump in that he is mild-mannered, not bombastic. He has served as a senator for Indiana, and currently is the governor of that state, bringing political savvy and managerial skills to the table to compliment Trump’s business acumen.

Another person who has Trump’s ear at this time is Dr. Ben Carson, the man I personally supported in the primaries. This man’s reputation is above reproach. He is credited with rewriting medical books when it comes to brain surgery, and particularly his landmark successful separation of Siamese Twins at the head which was never done before. It was always a decision left to the parents as to which child they wanted to live! When it comes to intelligence, Dr. Carson is always the smartest person in the room. Should Trump win, I can see Carson being appointed as Surgeon General, or possibly Secretary of Education. That would be refreshing!

Fourthly, Trump is strong on national defense. He would very likely do what Reagan did during his presidency and rebuild a seriously depleted and weakened military, courtesy of Jimmy Carter. We face serious threats to our nation’s defense. A robust military will go a long way to push this problem back. A strong, muscular military provides peace not only in America but around the world. Bad actors and rogue nations walk much more carefully when the United States is strong.  

Lastly, under a Trump presidency there would be the very likely probability of several Supreme Court Justice appointments during a 4 or 8-year presidency. Due to the advanced ages of several justices (late 70s and early 80s) it is expected that the next president will be making a number of appointments, including the one for recently departed Justice Antonin Scalia. Justices typically are appointed while middle aged (40s-50s), thus a twenty to thirty-year appointment is very likely. Their judicial views will affect the way law is interpreted for a very long time. I very much want to see conservative constitutionalists appointed.

So, Trump it is! Voting is my right and obligation according to the Constitution. And it is my right and obligation as given by God. See you at the polls in November!

Monday, August 01, 2016

Can't Make This Up

Roots in Ripon
1 August 2016
Chuck Roots

Can’t Make This Up

Mercifully the political conventions for the two parties are over for this laughable partisan brouhaha season which the electorate is forced to endure every four years.

A special honor should be attributed to those hearty souls who sit up each night of the two weeks of festivities and political attacks, watching the parade of political wonks, has-been politicians, up-and-coming political stars, and celebrities from Tinseltown.  I can’t help but feel as though the conventions are self-serving. That is to say, they are created and conducted for those in attendance. Or as we say within the Christian faith, “You’re preaching to the choir.” Those of us in TV Land are merely spectators, allowed to peak into a world that seems very fascinating yet strange to us. Something akin to going to the zoo, only the animals in the zoo are normally better behaved.

Vindictive, vitriolic, abusive and defamatory words and attributes are leveled at anyone who dares to disagree with the vaunted leaders of the opposing party. Now that the two presidential candidates from the Republican and Democratic Parties are validated by their delegates, the real claws and fangs come out. For the next three months we will be subjected to a haranguing by each candidate toward the other. Listening to the rhetoric from the two parties painting the other’s party as the worst possible political organization since Genghis Khan roamed the Steppes of Russia.

Aside from voting along party lines in sycophantic fashion, if you’re like me you have to be asking yourself, “Are these two presidential candidates the best we can produce?”

For those of you who have followed my column during the past 13+ years, you know that I am conservative when it comes to my faith, politics and overall philosophy of life. Though I grew up in a home where my mother and step father were Democrats, I found myself at odds with the philosophy of the Democratic Party. Crushed after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I found myself adrift politically. I liked what I heard coming from Senator Barry Goldwater who was the Republican nominee in 1964. On the other hand, I did not like President Lyndon Johnson at all. Over the years I have watched the Democratic Party shift further and further to the left to the point that JFK would not be welcomed into his own party. The Republican Party has also shifted to the left, just not nearly as far as the Democrats have.

Conservatives today are viewed as Neanderthals which is unfortunate since most of us in the conservative ranks are simply trying to hold to the Constitution. There is a point where you draw a line in the sand declaring you will not compromise your beliefs – period.

So then, you see that I do not line up with the Democratic party. Plus, there is no way on God’s green earth that I could ever pull the lever for Hillary Clinton. I first questioned her truthfulness when she stated that husband Bill’s sexual exploits did not bother her. Second, she said she was named after the famous New Zealand explorer, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to successfully climb Mount Everest on May 29, 1953 – when Hillary Clinton (Née Rodham) was nearly six years old! But the real show-stopper for me was Benghazi. As a 34-year retired veteran of the Marine Corps and Navy, need I say more?

Conversely for the Republican Party, Donald Trump angered me from the get-go in this presidential race when he chose, for whatever his reasons, to attack Senator John McCain’s military service, stating that the senator was not a hero. Just as a reminder, John McCain was shot down over North Vietnam, suffering serious physical injury. He then spent five and a half years in a POW camp, euphemistically known as “Hanoi Hilton.” He endured daily beatings at the hands of his captors. And as the war was drawing to an end, he was offered an early release which would have allowed him to be home with his family for Christmas. When he learned that the other POWs were not being offered the same opportunity, McCain refused, choosing to stay until all were released. And Trump says John McCain is not a hero? Senator McCain and I do not line up very well politically, but this man has more courage than ten men. Mr. Trump should have valued the sacrifice of Senator McCain’s service.

Next week I will come at this election season from another angle: Who, if anyone, I choose to vote for and why.