Recently, my friend, Doris, introduced me to a blog (www.writingformercy.com) written by another former Woman Marine. I read it with avid interest since I wanted to see her style and learn how she set up her blog. Turns out she is an award winning, published author who writes entertaining, thoughtful blogs. She probably entered the Marines about 20 years after I had gotten out. As she, Doris, and I talk, I am finding that her experience is totally different from ours.
In the 1960’s, when Doris, Darlene, and I enlisted, it was the time of Vietnam and the ensuing protests against the war. Most people didn’t or wouldn’t stand behind the United States’ stance on assisting South Vietnam in their fight to maintain their freedom by keeping the North Vietnamese communist at bay. At that time, very few young people in the United States supported the military and it was avoided by young men, if at all possible. Being assigned to Vietnam was considered a death sentence. Some men stayed in college to avoid the draft, others went into the National Guard which wasn’t involved in Vietnam, and still others fled to Canada which was a felony in those days. The silent majority’s silence was deafening as the protesters reigned. Drugs were rampant and the drug-hazed mind ruled the day.
This is not to mention the public’s attitude toward women entering the miliary at that time. Those unstated opinions were that you had to be either a whore or lesbian to be in the military and my friends and I were neither. Our class consisted of young women who just wanted to be in the Marine Corps; to be a part of something with history and tradition; and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We were a lively group who bonded yet willingly went our separate ways to do the jobs assigned. We were from good families who supported us and lived through the fear and worry. I’m sure that hasn’t changed even today.
After completing USMC Basic School following college graduation, I was sent back to the school I had just left to recruit other students for the Marine Corps. Accompanying me was a staggeringly, good looking male Marine who would talk with the men. He stood tall and exuded strength from every pore. He was poster perfect in dress, attitude, and looks. I, on the other hand, was nervous and definitely didn’t want to be there at all. So, I drew on his strength and “Marineness” to get through the day.
As my recruiter and I walked down the halls of my alma mater, I remember asking if he had blood thrown on him as he had gone out recruiting at other colleges. Somehow, it became acceptable for protesters to throw blood on military personnel to prove how awful recruiters were. He replied tersely that he had and the subject was dropped. It had obviously left a bitter imprint on him. We didn’t recruit anyone that day nor did we really try. This conservative, religious community quietly, politely ignored us as though we weren’t even there.
I served my three years and got out to pursue bigger and better things. The first thing I learned when I got out was that you didn’t discuss being in the military, didn’t mention it, didn’t refer to it, and didn’t acknowledge the time you had just given to your country. You were forced to remain mute, and, in my mind, ashamed, of what you had just done. The only support I ever received for my time was from an employment agency who preferred to work with former military officers. I learned my lesson well.
I buried the years and went on with my life. I have never discussed my time in service with anyone but Darlene and Doris and only rarely then. My husband worked for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for over 30 years dealing for the most part with Viet vets and I never once talked about my military experience nor was I ever asked about it. FYI–I am not a Viet vet since only a very few Women Marines served in Vietnam and were only there in administrative, noncombatant slots. I am a Viet era vet.
It was a nasty war and ended badly leaving loss, despair, and bitter memories for many of us. Maybe, I left too soon since Darlene and Doris don’t seem to have these emotions. I tend to smirk at how the nation now supports the troops. For me, it is a matter of loyalty. The nation let me down when I was doing my best to help in the only way I knew how. So, now, I’m opening the box marked Marine Corps memories once again. It’s safe now. Those were such great times, great memories, and the best of the best along side the worst of the worst.