Had the honor and privilege of spending one day (and evening) at the end of January in the week-long celebration at Camp Pendleton, for the 63rd anniversary of the forming of the First Marine Division. The event was sponsored by the First Marine Division Association. I was the guest of Gunny Jay Lindsey, and his lovely wife Jo. Beth wasn’t able to attend so I invited my neighbor, John Clifford, a Korean War cannon-cocker with the 11th Marines, to join us.
The day was organized thusly: Breakfast at one of two messhalls, a parade, lunch at the Santa Margarita messhall, two field demonstrations, and a dinner. Lotsa activity for us oldsters. Won’t bore you with a play-by-play but rather some observations.
Breakfast: John & I arrived at the Las Pulgas Gate at 0630 and putted about looking for the messhall. Found it by following Taco Bell signs. Actually, for a moment, I looked for valet parking–habit I guess. Parked behind some barracks and walked to the messhall. There’s a kiosk set-up inside the entry manned by a civilian to collect the $1.40 and a sign-in sheet. Most of the personnel are civilians with a few Marine cooks.
The NCOIC spied us and came out to chat and answer questions. The food served on one line is similar to typical fast-food MacBreakfasts, with a second, short line for cook-to-order breakfasts. Fruit bars, etc. The SOS is now low-fat made with TURKEY. I passed.
Nowadays officers, staff NCOs, NCOs and enlisted all eat under the same roof with only virtual, or understood separation. Interesting! Sat down with two corporals and a lance corporal to eat. They kept calling us Sir. I explained that we were NCOs, not to call us Sir. Of course their response was "Yes sir, we won’t call you sir, sir." Ah, what the hell.
Clean-up your own mess and dump the stuff in the scullery. And the day begins.
Walking back to the car, we checked-out the barracks. They are more like a hotel in Cancun: a quad with a courtyard, two men to a room; appeared to be about Company size. In the courtyard were the obligatory laundry, soda machine and a PIZZA machine.
Drove over to the Santa Margarita area and did some snoopin’ and poopin’. The receiving barracks are (still) actual squadbays, the mattresses are about a foot thick and the wall lockers are now more like armoires. Smelled like a barracks–feet & sweat.
Colors! Then wandered around some more and hatted-out to mainside for the parade.
Noticed a lot of port-a-potties set up everywhere we went, including in the hills and the bush. Discovered later that slit-trenches or behind-a-tree are verboten now – might harm the flat-tailed swallow-faced rat toad, or yikes, cause erosion. Ah well, it IS 2004, which means there actually are port-a-potties for the handicapped that, upon reflection, make about as much sense as Braille at drive-thru ATMs.
Got to the 1MarDiv HQ parade ground, where we were to hook-up with Jo and Jay. John wandered over to the seats while I conspicuously remained out on the road. Watched the troops form and march onto the parade field. A small working party was cleaning the street, wearing sweaters rather than utility jackets (or whatever they’re called today). A MSgt saw 'em and chewed their asses hard for not being in proper uniform. They went back to work. Heard a LtCol comment that this event was perfect timing for the morale of the division preparing to deploy to the Middle East.
The oldsters, scarlet and gold to a man, began to show-up. Many canes, crutches, wheelchairs, missing limbs, bad limps. Time and old wounds. I think that only the Corps can inspire pride and joy in such a spectacle. I really don’t know how to say what I mean here.
Active Marines were busy greeting us, informally and enthusiastically. These guys look sharp. Jo and Jay arrived and we found John, who had staked out four primo seats under a large canopy. John had been collared by “Ski,” a 'Canal and Pelileu Marine who regaled us with bawdy jokes for the rest of the morning. We settled in.
An Aussie lady was busy finding Pelileu Marines for a documentary she was putting together for PBS. Jay signed-up. That film crew worked their butts off for the rest of the day. Kinda comical later on to watch them, in their Caddy sedans, high-heeled shoes, and Hollywood regalia, out in the bush.
The band formed, marched directly in front of us and serenaded us for a few minutes before the parade. The parade was an all NCO affair with a platoon from each regiment representing that regiment. The 1stMarDiv colors were presented and the battle streamers were reattached individually by active Marines. The band played appropriate popular music of the particular era for each streamer. Among others: "China Nights" (she-ain’t-got-no-yoyo), for the post-WWII China Occupation, and the Stones' "Paint It Black" for Vietnam.
The Division Association president presented a granite monument commemorating those Marines lost last year in Op Iraqi Freedom to the commanding general. Echo taps concluded the presentation . . . only the deaf could see clearly.
The troops passed in review, each platoon (regiment) had a corpsman as tail-end-Charlie. Great touch.
The film crew went to work, collaring the Pelileu vets and beginning interviews.