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 Philadelphia, south of Spruce Street, initiated fife and drum rallies to recruit the two battalions in 1776. Presumably duty at sea was embedded somewhere in the recruiting pitch. One battalion, months afterward, went down at sea.  The other was dispatched up and across the Delaware River under command of Colonel Cadwallader and his Associators to assist General Washington then prosecuting the battle of Trenton.

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 to France again.  The Marines, numbering about one thousand, were deployed against the Scotts at Penobscot Bay, from sailing ships there, ships that went down in a violent sea battle with the British, leaving Marines  to force march to Boston, an event that no doubt added to the already swelling catalog of choice profanity  that is to this day is unique to the Corps.

            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 New Orleans and on the Potomac near Washington. Marines sailed upon the U.S.S. Essex into the wide Pacific in search of British Whalers.

            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 Florida swamps and rivers, a campaign that was plagued by misery and tropical fever.

            President James Polk dispatched a Marine advance party that included Kit Carson to annex California, the units capturing Los Angeles and San Diego by the mid eighteen forties. After the war with Mexico, in which Douglas McArthur’s father fought as an officer in the U.S. Army cavalry,  the Marines raised the changing American Flag at Palacio Nacional which was built on the ancient foundations of the Halls of Montezuma. The victory presented an opportunity for some young musician to finish out a phrase probably begun on his scratch pad lauding a long trek by Marines across the Libyan Desert to assault the fortified Tripoltian city of Derma a century earlier.  He hastily whipped out his note book and added a final notation to a long awaited phrase, thus completing the now timeless lyric in the Marine Corps Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.” a song which has to this day been sung in the most celebrated of occasions, the most inebriated of occasions, and the most desperate if occasions. 

            Commodore Perry, with an attachment of two hundred Marines opened the way to Canton in the late Nineteenth Century. Marines would fight the Moros of the Philippines and the “Righteous Fists of Harmony” in China who formed their opposition to so called arrogant foreign devils then entering China, precipitating  an event that is more famous as “The Boxer Rebellion”. A thousand Marines were killed or wounded in France during World War One at the famous battle which took place in a square mile forest known as Belleau Wood. A battle that saved France from the Hun. Over twenty eight thousand Marines had died in combat during World War Two and Korea combined courageous and bloody histories that were at this time a matter of record.  

*     *     *

 

CHARLIE TUNA: The Adventure Begins

Episode 4

 

            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 Beaufort, South Carolina, a place marked by a large rectangular sign oddly flanked by a stand of palm trees. A red sign, brightly illuminated in the darkness read "U.S.MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT, PARRIS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA" Loads of new recruits were then arriving by the hour from other parts of America east of the Mississippi. It was near midnight and as the bus pulled up the bright lights of the staging area blinded the exhausted passengers for a moment.  One enlistee awoke from sleep coughing and reaching for the pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. Poplar looked back and saw that he had long pork chop side burns and a duck tail hair cut, a popular hair style at the time. The boy who awoke peered out the window and sounded an alarm that arced through the bus from front to back.

            “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 , PARRIS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA. YOU WILL KEEP YOUR FUCKING MOUTHS SHUT. FROM THIS MOMENT ON, YOU WILL DO EXACTLY AS YOU ARE TOLD.  YOU WILL NOT DO OR SAY ANYTHING WITHOUT PERMISSION. WHEN ALLOWED TO SPEAK YOU WILL ADDRESS EVERYONE IN THIS PLACE AS ‘SIR’.  Then he turned and leaned close to the face of  Sideburns. “NO, YOU CAN NOT GO TO THE BATHROOM, WHATEVER THE FUCK THAT IS. SIT YOUR SLIMMY ASS BACK IN THAT SEAT UNTIL I TELL YOU TO MOVE.”

            “But..”

            “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 faces from Bronx and Brooklyn, Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant, and Far Rockaway. Italian faces from Providence and Little Italy, Hells Kitchen.  Farmer faces from the Mississippi Delta, Faces with glasses, little fat faces, lean bony faces, Black faces, fair Irish faces, proud faces and doubtful faces. And  big Polish faces too, a few preppie faces, all of them dressed in a rainbow of colorful civilian cloths, but each one of them now death silent, not one moving a muscle.  The Marine guard walked slowly back toward the front of the bus. Pausing, he waited and listened. Stone silence. Then he pivoted and stepped back off the bus with his fellow duty guard. 

            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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