Chapter Nine
Twilight Cruise

My tour of duty in Japan came to an end in January 1961. Because I had over 17 years on active duty, I was on my "twilight cruise" and usually they assigned you where you wanted to go. I asked for the Marine Corps Supply depot in Albany (All-Benny), Georgia. After travel and leave time I reported aboard in late March. My family didn't come down with me. My wife had a newspaper route and wanted to turn it over to someone who'd run it right, so I was "batching" it at the Bachelor SNCO Quarters behind the SNCO Club.

I got a nighttime job helping behind the bar, learning how to mix drinks correctly. I made friends with many SNCOs and their wives who frequented the club. The wives got to calling me "Teddy Bear" because Elvis' song "Teddy Bear" was popular then. It's a good thing that "Hound Dog" wasn't number one at that time.

I was assigned to the Military Subjects School at Albany. In addition to teaching ABC subjects, I taught unarmed defense against knives and clubs, platoon and squad in the attack and physical fitness. Every class would wind up with an assault on a small hill that was defended by the instructors. We used blanks and practice grenades (no explosives). All the grenades had were fuses that were about as powerful as a firecracker. The fuses unscrewed from the grenade body, which was hollow.

A smart-aleck student thought he'd get a much louder bang if he emptied a clip of blank ammo's powder into the grenade. He got a bigger bang, all right. It landed about five feet in front of another instructor and I. We hit the ground, of course, and it was lucky we got as flat as we did. When the grenade went off, most of the explosives went over our heads, but particles of the grenade landed in a jeep about 75 yards away. There had been more powder in it than would normally be in a "live" grenade. We were lucky.

One night I was baby-sitting our kids while my wife worked at her job when I got a call from the OD saying that I was needed at the base right away. This was the occasion of the Cuban missile crisis, and Marines from Camp Lejeune were sent to GITM0 (Guantánamo Bay) in a state of readiness. I told the OD that my wife was working and I was alone with my kids. He said a babysitter was on the way and that I'd be away from home all night. There was a working party of 10 men waiting for me at the base. I was the only man on the base qualified to change the pressure regulator on the portable flamethrowers to convert them to shoot tear gas instead of flames. I had to have 100 of them ready by 0800 and after doing one of them myself to show the men how, I sat back and supervised. We had them ready at 0730. Note: The babysitter they sent out was the daughter of the chief of staff!

Bobby was born while I was stationed here, at the Air Force Hospital at Turner AFB. There were about 15 babies in the nursery. He was as big as any two of the others.

In January 1963, I came home one evening and my mother was there with my kids — but my wife was gone. She had driven up, got Mom and left before I got home. She had left and so we called it quits. I took Mom and the kids back to Conyers and moved back into bachelor quarters at the staff club for my last six months in the Corps.

The chief of staff for the base called me in and told me he wanted me to handle the Red Cross Fund Drive for enlisted personnel. The Red Cross is a very sore spot with me because of the SOB who sat on both of the telegrams when my son Douglas died was in the Red Cross Office in Washington, D.C. I told the colonel if he wanted even one cent collected, he'd better get someone else to do it. He did. I think he held it against me because I had a run-in with him two weeks before I retired. I forget the details, but I know it was such that when I received my farewell speech and picture I refused to have him do the honors. I got my company CO and first sergeant to do it.

This was late Friday evening, 31 July (everyone in the Corps retired on the last day of the month). Nineteen years and six months is all that's required for a 20- year retirement and I just made it. I couldn't leave until 12:01 a.m. on 1 August, so I (of course) spent my last few hours at the SNCO Club.

I was playing shuffleboard bowling, so there was powder wax all over the floor around the machine and my feet went out from under me. I landed on my back and cracked my head on the floor. They took me down to sickbay because my gourd was bloody. It took six stitches to sew up the back of my noggin and they put a big wrap-around bandage on it. I went back to the club. Some said I just wanted to go out with a bang.

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