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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir

by George Lester
George Lester
The first time I remember wanting to be a Marine was when my friend Bill introduced me to his brother who was home on leave. He was dressed in his starched summer Marine uniform and he looked like a recruiting poster. War had been declared and he would soon be off to battle. I knew from that moment I wanted to wear that proud outfit myself someday. I would have gone down and enlisted right away but there was one big problem standing in my way. I was only sixteen. My buddy Bill was already of legal age to join and he said he was going to do so right away. I never felt so left out in my life. I would just have to wait another year to join and then only if my parents would sign for me. The more we talked about it the more I wanted to enlist immediately.

Being the constant schemer he was, Bill came up with a plan that would get me around the age restriction. He had heard of a kid who enlisted before his 17th birthday by claiming that he was a year older. When I asked how he did that without proof of his age Bill told me the young fellow had claimed his birth certificate was lost and got his parents to fill out an affidavit attesting to his being of legal age. I couldn't even imagine confronting my parents with such an idea and I told him to forget it. I thought that would be the end of it but everyday after that Bill would extol on the wonderful life we would have as Marines and how proud we would be when we came home on leave wearing that nifty looking uniform. I had already seen a Technicolor extravaganza movie glorifying that wonderful branch of the service and I didn't need much encouraging.

One day I got up the nerve to ask my mother and dad about the plan to beat the age barrier. Their reaction was just as I expected, it was completely out of the question. I told Bill the sad news but he was undaunted by this temporary setback. Once again he started his sales pitch about what I would be missing out on if I didn't enlist with him. He insisted that I renew my effort to get that all-important affidavit no matter how much pleading it took. Reluctantly, I brought up the subject with my parents again. They were still against it but I sensed a softening of their attitude. The more I begged the softer they became until they finally agreed.

As much as it must have hurt them to see their young son go off to face an uncertain future in the United States Marines they obtained the needed document. I was ecstatic and I couldn't wait to tell Bill. Here is where the logistics become fuzzy in my memory. I think he went to the recruiting office with me and we both went through the preliminaries. We were to come back later to be sworn in. When I returned to make it final Bill didn't show up that day. I went on without him, figuring he would be along later. He never did make it that day. I was now an enlistee and Bill was still a free civilian. In a few days I bode a sad farewell to my parents and caught the train to San Diego for boot camp. The first letter I received from Mom and Dad revealed that Bill had just simply chickened out at the last minute and left me to go it alone. They were livid about how he had enticed me to pull all kinds of strings to join and then left me high and dry. I don't know to this day why I didn't feel the same way. I guess it was just because we were such good friends that I tried to rationalize that there must be a reason for his action.

The only way a person can imagine the living hell of the first few days of Marine boot camp is to go through it. As I stood there with my head shaved and people screaming at me from every side I flashed back to just a few days before when I was running free in the East Texas hills. It was absolutely the worst time of my life. To divest myself of all this was as easy as approaching my drill instructor and telling him I was only sixteen. A few weeks later we were on the rifle range learning how to sight in on a target. The drill instructor had told us to concentrate on the target and not move from our prone position no matter what. It was so hot the sweat was running into my eyes and I couldn't see the target. I made the unforgivable mistake of wiping the perspiration away. Immediately I felt a tug on the straps of my backpack. With one mighty heave the drill instructor lifted me to eye level using only one hand. The tongue-lashing he gave me was a classic. As much as I tried to hold it back, the tears streamed down my cheeks. I wanted so badly to say that I was only sixteen and I wanted out of this "chicken outfit". The words would not come. I stood there shaking and gasping for breath and said nothing. From then on until the end of boot camp things seemed to go better for me. I had faced the worst crisis and came through it without giving up. I knew I could take all they dished out after that.

There is no way to explain that exhilarating feeling of graduating from Marine boot camp. Suddenly you are a Marine, a person and not just fodder for the drill instructors anymore. Even after all I had gone through it was a sad day when I shook the hand of J.C. Stallings, the best drill instructor in the whole Corps. When I said goodbye he had to remind me several times that I didn't have to address him as "sir" anymore. If I could see him today I would still say "sir" to him. That is impossible because he died over twenty years ago after a successful life as a radio station owner and philanthropist in Nacogdoches, Texas. There is a science lab in Sam Houston State University named after him.

About six months after I enlisted I got a letter from Bill's mother telling me that he had been drafted and he was going through basic training right there in San Diego. I looked up his platoon and went by to see him. I had to wait at his tent for a while because his platoon was out learning to march. When they returned and he was dismissed I walked up to him and extended my hand. His face turned a deep crimson. I sensed that he wanted to apologize for what had happened but I never gave him the chance. I just told him how glad I was to see him and wished him well in the Marines. I never saw him again for the duration of the war.

Several months after I was discharged I was awakened one morning from a sound sleep. It was Bill knocking on my door. He had also come through the conflict unscathed. We had a lot of catching up to do about our experiences in WWII. A few days later he left and returned to his home in East Texas. Not one word was said about what had happened when I enlisted alone a few years earlier. All was forgiven and forgotten. I haven't seen Bill since then and in spite of numerous attempts I have not been able to locate him. At my last school reunion no one could tell me anything about him or his whereabouts. I hope he is well.

George Lester
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