Career in the Corps

On January 25th, 1971, I departed Peoria, Illinois for Chicago and by noon on the 26th I was sworn into the United States Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program. Returning to Peoria, I graduated Limestone Community High School on June 6th and after a stormy departure, arrived in San Diego, California on June 21st to stand on the yellow footprints. Twelve weeks later, I marched off the parade deck a United States Marine.

Boot camp at San Diego and Infantry training at Camp Pendleton were followed by 10 days leave back home, and from here I was off to NAS Memphis, Millington, Tennessee, where I studied Aviation Fundamentals. Completing this basic aviation course, I was placed in Aviation Supply (AK) "C" School, where I learned the basics of how to procure those materials required to keep Marine Air IN THE AIR. Completing this school, I was ordered to duty at the U. S. Naval Air Station, Alameda, California, where I would be assigned to the Inspector/Instructor (I&I) Staff which held the responsibility of training Marine Reservists. This would be accomplished AFTER a short trip to Pensacola, Florida where I completed Still Documentary Photographer's School. There was more to it, but I was a snot nosed Lance Corporal straight out of school and smart enough to keep my mouth shut until I figured out my surroundings. The helicopter unit attached to this reserve unit was Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) - 769, and they flew CH-53A model aircraft.

Alameda wasn't a picnic. This was home base for U. S. Navy carriers like the USS Hornet, Ranger, Enterprise, Constellation, Coral Sea, Oriskany and others. My friends and Comrades were dying in rice paddies far from our shores and peaceniks from college campuses at Berkeley and Oakland were storming our gates AND PERIMETER every time a carrier would come home. More than once, EVERY active duty Marine on the base was recalled to stand perimeter guard as a sea of flesh attempted to overrun the gates to get at the carriers. The protestors even attempted to breach the perimeter by using small boats, so we used everything we had to keep them on THEIR side of the fence. I recall vividly standing this duty the day a young woman screamed at us and called us babykillers as she spit at us, then looked at Staff Sergeant Keith K. and asked him how many babies he had killed.

Two negative incidents occured while I was stationed here, the first was the crash of an A-7 Corsair into the Tahoe Apartment complex located in the 1800 block of Central Avenue, where the pilot and 10 civilians were lost on 07 February 1973. The second incident was the loss of one of our CH-53A helicopters, 153400, on 26 July 1974, that took the lives of six Marines, including Cpl. McHunter Tipton, one of my best friends.

I met my wife, GLENDA CORRINE KLEESPIE, when she checked in to the base as a Seaman Apprentice (yes, she was in the Navy) in April of 1973, and married her the end of July with my superiors taking bets the marriage would never last. As their marriages fell apart, mine grew stronger and our first son was born. When my enlistment expired I was totally disallusioned, so I packed up my wife and son, and we went home to Peoria, Illinois where I had a job and a place to live waiting for me.

To make a longer story short, the house and job didn't exist and I missed the brotherhood so after only a few months I reenlisted in the Marine Corps and was ordered to HMM-161 at MCAS(H) Tustin, California. Tustin was a different Corps all together, and it was here with the Marines of '161 that I found out what the Marine Corps was REALLY about.

At Tustin, my occupation was important, but there were other jobs that needed doing so I was sent to schools to learn additional skills to fill in the gaps with collateral duties. My second son was born here in Santa Ana, where I became the local NBC Defense Specialist and photographer. I had a ball working with the CH-46 helicopter crews, and learned a lot from them, but all good things must come to an end and I was ordered to duty at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan with the First Marine Aircraft Wing.

My first year was spent with MAG-12, then another three years with station, at which time my wife and sons joined me. Here, I was sent to school and assumed duties as a Substance Abuse Evaluator at the local counseling center. When the three year tour ended, I was ordered to duty with MAG-15 and spent the last of my five years on Japanese soil as a Substance Abuse Evaluator. My third son was born here, the first Iwakuni baby of 1980. From here I was ordered to duty with Second Marine Aircraft Wing at the Marine Corps Air Station New River, Jacksonville, North Carolina.

I arrived at "the River" during July of 1982 and was ordered to duty with Marine Aircraft Group 26. I was immediately sent to Meridian, Mississippi for retraining, On 26 January 1984, I was standing duty when an accident was reported informing the command of the loss of 2 Marines from our Support Equipment Section and I was sent to the scene of the accident. Later on that night, I was to meet MSgt. Mark Peterson (Top Pete) for the first time, and the ONLY time I ever saw that Marine cry. As a result of this incident, LtCol. Marks, the Commanding Officer, became acutely aware of my "other" qualifications/training, and I was pulled from my occupation and transferred to the command staff. Here, I was assigned duties as the Human Affairs (S-5) Officer (normally a Major's job) with collateral duties as the Substance Abuse Control Officer (Captain's job) and Assistant Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (Lieutenant's job). The unit commander placed all "problem children" within the unit under one Staff NonCommissioned Officer, and I was it. I dealt with ALL of the "problem children" within the unit. My job was to return them to the unit productive, or see to it that they became civilians. During October of 1988, I received orders to First Marine Aircraft Wing, Okinawa, Japan, and after taking 30 days leave to get my head straight, I arrived on the island of Okinawa during November.

Here, I became the Supply Admin Chief at Marine Aircraft Group 36, and the tour was anything but uneventful. I completed the Battle Skills Training Course in February 1989 and had my first stroke a short time later. The remainder of my tour was spent on restricted duties of one form or another, pushing papers and feeling depressed, though those around me knew nothing of this. Hiding feelings well, I completed this tour of duty and returned to the River.

I was assigned this time to Marine Aircraft Group 29, and became the Supply Management Division Chief. My duties were to monitor all activity within the Group Supply Division and inspect as required. I reported to the Supply Officer, and he reported to the Commanding Officer. It was a real small chain of command, and it was efficient. It worked so well, I wanted to retire. Matter of fact, I submitted my retirement package.

On August 2nd 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the entire Marine Corps was placed on alert. I felt that retirement at this time would be an affront to the brotherhood because this is what I had been paid for over 20 years and now I was leaving the Corps? I requested that the retirement package be pulled or at least set aside, and as many were putting packages in to get out, mine was placed in the trash. Meetings were held and names were needed. Marines were called upon immediately to act as the advance party in the event we were called to war. I was called upon to provide Marines, and the best of my best were on their way to Bahrain before the end of August.

I arrived with MALS-29 at Ras al Jubail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the first week in January of 1991. The arrival was not my first of this type, but you could see the look of worry as the bottom dropped out of the sky and the big bird commenced a "rapid assault landing in hostile territory," as the pilot called it. Troops, upon landing, summed it up (better than the pilot) as "an elevator ride to hell." In the dead of night we were herded onto buses escorted by armed guards and a convoy of 50's for the ride to our next home, the SS Wright, which was tied up at Jubail. Upon arrival on the ship, the Ship's Captain was informed that one of my duties while deployed was to function s the squadron photographer, and I was granted unrestricted access to all spaces on the ship with exception of "Officer's Country. All told, I shot over 30 rolls of film while deployed.

Three or four days after our arrival, the squadron was split and half were sent forward to a support base that was named "Lonesome Dove" by a colonel that had seen the movie. Troops dubbed it "the Rockpile" and this name stuck a whole lot better. We also deployed Marines to Ras al Ghar, Ras al Mishaab and Ras al Khafji in support roles related to forward aircraft maintenance. For a selected few, there was Operation Ripper and red strikes, but most had to bide their time with solitaire, mock beer, PT and LOTS and lots of "down time."

While at Jubail, I recall being on the phone speaking with my family when the air raid siren went off and having to bail into an enclosure after dumping the call. The wife and kids were frantic, asking what all the noise was in the background, and I wasn't about to tell them. Needless to say, they turned on CNN and watched the action in living color. When the "all clear" was sounded, I called again and finished the conversation, trying to gloss over the happenings at my location. I noticed an immediate increase in the amount of mail I received from home, especially from my oldest son who sent cassette tapes and other goodies as well.

Less than a week later, I recall walking out onto the fantail of the Wright just in time to hear the air raid siren go off and see sparks flying all over the place over the ship, and something hit the water off our starboard side. It was a Scud missile, and it hit the water ABOUT 150 METERS FROM THE BOAT. As I watched it fall out of the sky, I hit my knees and prayed that it didn't detonate. Ras al Jubail at the time was a major storage point for ammo and munitions, and if this thing blew, there would be a crater where Jubail USED TO BE.

Sirens and horns were going off all over the place, the Czechs and Brits donned NBC gear, and the Wright stood down (took no action). The deck watch was a BIG Merchant Marine named Tiny, and he was going nuts, screaming and yelling enough to wake the dead. The Captain of the ship was summoned and he made the decision that all was well, so the Marine commander (my XO) was not informed of the incident until 0530 the next morning. When LtCol. McCalla was finally informed, the roof was no doubt blown off the boat captain's wardroom. By this time, the USS Curtis, which had been tied up right next to us on the pier, was over the horizon and out of sight.

Marines on the boat KNEW about the scud. They knew it was live, and that it could detonate at any moment. They wanted to bail. They wanted to get off the boat from the moment they found out. Our orders were to "stand fast." The mission we were given was vital to efforts at the front, and the ship could NOT be abandoned or moved. Here we sat, on a powder keg with a lit fuse, a mission, and orders to carry out that mission. I prayed every chance I got that the warhead not detonate, and my prayers were always answered time and again. Finally after what seemed like several lifetimes, a dive team went down and removed the danger from our midst. I thanked God for saving us, and carried on with my duties.Curiously, the USS Curtis returned shortly after the scud's removal.

There was boredom and then there was excitement. There were high stress times, and there was laughter. I once again learned that I could fall asleep in the chow line and be wide awake by the time the tray was full so I could sit down and eat. I could fall into a deep sleep, but be wide awake the instant someone cocked a hammer.

We left Saudi Arabia via Ras al Jubail during May 1991. During the long flight home, I recall troops asking me what it would be like upon our arrival. I told them I didn't know but deep inside, I prayed it wouldn't be like the mess we dealt with at Alameda with protestors. I prayed, "Lord, I know the press says people at home favor this mess, but I'm still scared. PLEASE don't let me be spit on again."

We arrived in a little New England town somewhere around noon, and the C-5 was down for a bad generator. Met by buses, we were informed that there was only joy and happiness for our safe return here and that we might want to prepare for the welcome. There was music and a welcoming committee of HUNDREDS waiting to see us, and they were all smiling this time.

Coming through the side doors of this enormous hangar, we marched single file into a space covered with yellow ribbons, American flags and smiles. A walkway had been cordoned off and as we continued single file, the first smile I saw was on the face of an Air Force Staff Sergeant dressed in a green zoom bag (flight suit) with an outstretched hand. This zoomie was an Air Force Air Crewmember. As I grabbed the hand, he looked straight into my eyes and said, "Thanks, Gunny." Looking down at the name and wings, I instantly lost it when I looked at MY EXACT SAME NAME on his uniform. Was God working here, or what? Yes, I got a picture to prove it. I only wish I had been composed enough to get his address. This is where the idea came from for the gif I placed on my page and my dad's. Staff Sergeant Smith, wherever you are, you were God's message to me that my prayer had been answered and I sure wish I could find you to tell you face to face. Your simple words melted 19 years of ice.

Marine Gunny Roger D. Smith on left,
Air Force SSgt. Roger D. Smith on the right
ROGER, thank you!

As the unit's Substance Abuse Control Officer on 31 March 1992, my last official duty was to sit on the keg of beer located at the finish line of the Physical Fitness Test, where the squadron party had already been set up. On April Fool's Day 1992, I woke up to my first day out of uniform, as I had been transferred to the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve (retired) at Jacksonville, North Carolina. On February 1, 2001, I was officially retired from the United States Marine Corps.

GunBunny's Corner is dedicated to those in uniform, their wives and their children. Yes, I am a Marine, but we ALL feel the pleasure and pain. There is NO ONE on the planet that feels our pain like those of the brotherhood. Did you draw a line and commit yourself to deal with whatever crossed it in the service of OUR country? Brother OR sister, you belong here. Did your husband, wife, father or mother draw this line? Did you stand beside them? You are home. This is MY home, and you are welcome.

A parting note to those Marines and Sailors stationed at THE RIVER: I'm not there, but I'll never forget you and you will forever be constantly in my prayers. Check out my chapel when it finally comes on this site, if it doesn't look familiar, you are not at the same New River I was attached to.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2008, 2018 Roger D. Smith,Sr. (The Word Worx), All rights reserved.

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