Memoirs of a Woman Marine, 1962-1964

By Linda O'Brien Yaw (pen name — Darby Thorpe)

When people ask me why — Why did I join the Marine Corps — I give the usual pat answer: Wrong line at the post office, or I got a guy pregnant.

Then I give them the serious answer. I'd been patriotic even before my first letter to the editor, written when I was eleven years old. Tears welled up in my eyes at parades, I played Army with my boy cousin and his buddies, and dreamed about traveling around the world. Mount Morris, NY (birthplace of Francis Bellamy, author of the Pledge of Allegiance), the town where I grew up, was a place without much opportunity after high school.

College in 1961 was a goal for the more affluent. Driving to Rochester to work at something wasn't possible, as I had neither a license nor a car. I often thought about the service. There was an old TV show that featured a Wave, and I'd seen movies featuring women in the service. My thought was that they traveled and got to see many places I'd probably never see — and they served their country.

I never gave much thought to the training, even after finally talking to a Marine recruiter in the spring of 1962. Neither of the two sergeants I dealt with emphasized the harshness of boot camp. I chose the Marine Corps because it was the most elite, with the fewest women. I also chose it because of the WWII movies I'd seen featuring Marines. I already had an inkling of what esprit de corps meant.

I took the test and passed; discussed it with my parents by long distance. They were in favor of it, although they had their doubts about me sticking to it. Neither they nor I realized that once in, there was no way out. I was an only child and lacked discipline in many ways. My parents were divorced when I was fifteen and I lived with my father in Florida for a while and was, more or less, my own boss from then on. Whatever their doubts, they supported my decision.

Parris Island
A couple of weeks after my physical in Buffalo, I went back there, raised my right hand and left on a train with another recruit for Yemassee, SC. A bus picked us up and took us to Parris Island. Because we arrived in the middle of the night, we were shown to our bunks and had four hours of sleep before our lives changed forever.  

The next days were a blur of activity filled with feelings of nausea, fear, excitement, bewilderment, regret, enthusiasm, more fear, desperation, and a feeling of being trapped with no way out. It took me longer to adjust. 

I did too well in my classes to convince them that I wasn't cut out for Marine Corps life. I did try to convey that in many ways. Dyeing shoes, sewing on nametags and domestic things like that were just not up my alley. I caught on to drilling and even PT. I adjusted to being yelled at. Although stories told by many Marines will tell of hearing the WM sergeants and corporals swearing and cursing the recruits out, I never heard one curse word from them. Not to say they weren't mean and green. They were all of that.

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