In the year 1775, the Continental Congress of an
emerging nation authorized the creation of two battalions of Marines commanded
by Samuel Nicholas. Nicholas a captain, in collaboration with fellow tavern keeper, Robert Mullen the tenant owner
of the tavern at the corner of Tun Alley and Water Street in
The passing of a hundred and fifty years, would still find a selective number of young men in the fading pastel days of the Nineteen Fifties and the time of Vance Christian Poplar’s waning boyhood. The faint and fading distant voice in the background of Sam Cook singing Twistin’ the Night away would still find young lads in search of the physical test and worldly adventure. The ever lengthening shadow upon them of Marine Corps History may have been more attractive than the continuum of academia, but probably not. It was a history they had only passively sampled in the twenty cent Saturday matinees of day. The only image of a Marine most of them had seen, beside his recruiter, was the poster image of the Marine wearing a sharply airbrushed Dress Blue Uniform, greeting them as they entered the U.S. Post Office the day they signed up.
Upon being accepted into this hallowed fraternity, a lad would yearn to pull on those red striped blue trousers of poster fame and try and measure up to his new company of a few good men. Then it would come as a complete shock to most recruits that unless one purchased a set of Dress Blues, it was not specified as regular issue and most likely would not be his customary uniform of the day. So unless a new Marine Private was assigned to duty that would require the Dress Blue Uniform, duty like recruiting or Marine Corps Barracks Washington, it was a very remote likelihood, should he decide to purchase the magnificent threads, that he would only wear the uniform on liberty or leave, as one might wear a fine suit. It had become a symbol that reached far back into history, and only a very few of them had even the foggiest idea of the rich tradition and fierce history the regal uniform represented, a history and company in which they had hoped to be accepted.
John Paul Jones had recruited Marines for service aboard the Bonhomie
Richard in (year), the Marines fighting with the Irish Brigade, and later with
the French Army. They would return
President John Adams in 1798 signed a bill to authorize a few more good
men, about five hundred privates, plus a number of officers and non commissioned
officers, the total actually included the flourish of musicians, a fact which
may suggest an emerging swaggering self image. Still aboard ships, the swelling
ranks of the Corps found themselves in 1812, at war again with the British. The
Corps, still numbering close to a thousand men, was wisely divided into two
forces, a fleet force, and a guard force serving the Navy Yards of
Around 1850 the seagoing Marines, still wearing the famous leather
armament around their necks, drew sword and pistol upon the same pirates noted
by Joshua Slocum in the Mediterranean, and gun running privateers in the
Caribbean and slavors in the South Atlantic, though
presumably with revenue control purposes as opposed to any abolitionist
agenda. In 1835 Marines fought
fierce and rebellious Seminole and Creek Indians in the
President James Polk dispatched a Marine advance party that included Kit
Carson to annex
Commodore Perry, with an
attachment of two hundred Marines opened the way to
* * *
CHARLIE TUNA: The Adventure Begins
It was early February 1963. It was quite cold, but not unusual for the
tidewater region at this time of year. The air was damp which made the cold feel as if was seeping
into flesh and bone. A bus
arrived at a place outside
“Oh shit, good god damn, they’re standing there waiting for us.” The driver applied the air brakes,switched on the lights and opened the hydraulic doors of the bus. Two Marine guards in winter Dress Blues, covers and guard duty array, appeared in a blinding presence before them. One guard remained at the front of the bus. The other walked slowly up the aisle, waiting for someone to make a move.
The boy with the side burns had an unlit cigarette in his lips, realized it and quickly reached to put it away. The Marine guard’s hand flashed across his face snatching the cigarette before he had a chance to touch it. In a deep southern sleepy drawl the enlistee said, “ I’d like to go to the bathroom if it’s alright.”
“YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT ,
“YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP TURD.”
Sideburns, sat in shock still staring at the Marine guard.
“WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT TURD?” KEEP YOUR EYES FORWARD.” Sideburns looked forward over the backs
of the heads that were his fellow travelers. No one spoke. No one moved a
muscle. The lights of the staging Depot illuminated young boy faces, tough kid
“Fuckin Jerkoff.”came an utterance from the back of the bus. A quiet but nervous snicker rippled through the bus.
The new recruits filed off the bus. Their response to the Marine guard’s instructions was letter perfect. They did not speak and they ran. At this most embryonic moment it was comical to see each of them striding in their own unique styles. Some ran in long bounding, almost insubordinate strides while others ran in little choppy high school track steps which collectively presented to a jaded viewer of these debarkations from the vehicles, a parade of bobbing heads, heads with a great variety of hair styles. Because of the biting cold, each of them still wore their jackets. There was a lettered varsity jacket here and there. One or two had baseball caps. These would be the last vestiges of their individuality.
The run from the bus ended at the steps of Recruit Receiving, a long brick building which would process them flawlessly through medical, uniform, equipment, hygiene, and intelligence testing procedures. There was even a Morse Code test, which didn’t rely on previous knowledge but taught a few letters and asked the nervous recruit to write the letters sounded out in Morse Code. At this early hour they would assume an orderly position according to the first letter of their last name.
As a function of this rule, Malinowski, Mack, Mallik and Moffery would come to see each other always in the same position in line. Recruit Moffery would, in the position of single file, always see the backside of recruit Malloy. In the position of shoulder-to-shoulder formation recruit Malinowski would always find himself in between recruits Mack and Malloy. The order of military life would begin at the beginning. The mothball odor of new issue green cotton fabric and worsted uniform, of the new dress shoes and boot leather, of uncut web belts and odd clear coated brass belt buckles that would be stripped to naked brass, permeated their vision and nostrils. All of it was new to them.
Upon completing the uniform issue, the recruits collected 782 gear. Gear that would become symbolic of the field. Web gear, as it was called, included a web belt which held two canteen pouches and two canteens. The 782 issue included a shelter half an tent poles along with tent pegs, the shelter-half having a green and brown camouflaged side. A helmet too was issued. The helmet had three parts, a hard fibrous liner with fittings for the head, a heavy steel shell, often called a piss pot, and a helmet cover which like the shelter half had a green and brown camouflaged side.
Each recruit signed for all that was issued to him and placed it in a sea bag which was also issued. Two sea bags were issued. Impeccable accounting insured that the recruit would either pay, as a debit from his next paycheck, the uniform issue or in the case of 782 Gear, the recruit would take the gear on loan, which must be returned in the case of transfer to the next duty station, honorable, dishonorable, undesirable, medical, bad conduct discharge, or death as the case applied.
Ed note: The episode,Charlie Tuna will be written in installments. . mm
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