He never moved or made any sounds that I could hear. His lifeless body was dragged away while the whole platoon, who witnessed this attack, was in shock. No one said a word. I wasn’t sure exactly what had transpired, being so far away. But that might have been a good thing since I was holding an M14 like the rest of the platoon. I know that if I had been right there next to Hank, I would have I am sure I would have smashed that drill instructor with my M14. With my luck, I probably would have killed him, albeit unintentionally. One way or another, it was a damn good thing I was not in that area with Hank. I thought Hank could be dead at this point, it was not a pretty sight.
The next day, Hank wasn’t in the squad bay. I needed to know if he was in sick bay or what his condition was. No one knew anything. Trying to get someone’s attention at Parris Island is not something any recruit wants to do unless he wants a beating or harassment. If you are from the wrong State or of a certain ethnicity, you were ripe for ridicule by the drill instructors looking to get under your skin. I don’t remember who told us that Hank was not in sick bay. Everyone wanted to know where Hank was and if he was alive or dead. I had a really bad feeling after all of the scuttlebutt revealed nothing about Hank or his whereabouts. He was deﬁnitely not in sick bay and was never admitted. My mind was having bad thoughts of the worst kind because SSGST White was not his usual self and all training for us seemed to be on hold for the moment.The Marine Corps trains and programs every Marine a certain way to ensure that each man is as good as the next man, as long as certain rules are followed. If you screw up, your whole platoon pays the price. Another rule of the most important kind is that no one is left behind. If one Marine is in trouble, then all of you are in trouble. Backing up your Brothers-In-Arms is non-negotiable, it is a Law, it is a Statute, written in stone, if you will. I knew I would be the one eventually, to be the one to have to make something happen to shed some light on this matter. After all, Hank was my friend and how was I gonna explain this to his parents? What happened to Hank?
It is part of the blood ritual that makes the heart and soul of a soldier spirit tough as nails in any situation. Soldiers are pushed way beyond the limits of human endurance, beyond what normal Special Forces have to go through. It takes a lot of pain and suffering to qualify to be a warrior robot in this green machine organization called the United States Marine Corps. An organization that is feared and respected by all countries, friend or foe. No pain, no gain. This system is ruled by insanity, so far past the point of no return as you can get, so far that fear is no longer an issue. Compare this to a quarter mile NHRA Dragster, red lining at eight grand in ﬁfth gear when you just shifted into fourth. The point is, if you don’t blow your engine while doing one million pushups, you try harder the next time, because you are now mentally tougher. This is what is expected of you. You are trained to attempt the impossible every time, because you do not believe it could be any worse that what you have already experienced. Foolish boy.
Death looks probable, and it is expected, that is what happens in a war. People die and people suffer because big corporations need us troops as the enforcers and the muscle. We are necessary to rob and steal and kill with permission. Wreaking havoc through those countries with no plumbing or electricity. Where the inhabitants sleep on their ﬂoors in family groups and cannot defend themselves against whomever is currently their enemy. These countries don’t want to cooperate or live under someone else’s rule. They don’t want to be someone else’s slaves in their own country.
Our politicians pay opposition party leaders a lot of money, and they pay to arm and train their troops to start these civil wars. This usually splits the country in two. Think Korea, Columbia and Panama. Death could even be a welcomed way out depending upon the amount of misery and pain and suffering that is at hand at the particular moment in your time. Misery is something that cannot be tolerated for very long periods of time. Emotions rise to the surface eventually, and it is easier to make mistakes. So if a mistake is made, death with honor will be a welcomed way out. With Honor, that usually means a reward of some sort. Too bad you have to be dead to get it. Those who get the highest rewards are those who are paid the most. Those in charge and those approved as witnesses. Ofﬁcers are the only ones who can authorize a higher award and that has to be witnessed by a fellow ofﬁcer. West Point Frat house members take care of each other, you see. Enlisted men, they get their awards posthumously. Ofﬁcers can resign with honor if charges are brought against them. There is a secret code on the DD214’s for these royal members of the Green Machine. No one wants to die. At least I don’t think so. Those that achieve robot status do not care as their adrenaline ﬂows through their bloodstream at the speed of light itself. Most grunts who have been there, know this. This is one reason why many of us have PTSD. We are, in fact, our own worst enemy. The suicide rate proves this.
Getting back to Hank, I joined this organization with my friend, who is now missing and I can only presume the worst. That he is deceased or severely injured, hidden away for obvious reasons. Someone has to be held accountable for my friend’s life. I felt like it was my duty to do whatever was necessary. No one else was going to to anything to bring this incident to light. You have to understand that it is not easy to ask questions. Especially when you have to ﬁrst ask permission to speak in the ﬁrst place. Saying something wrong or stupid to the person in charge could be a life changing event. The Corps has it’s own language and everyone learns it fast. The word “you” is a no-no. Do I look like a sheep? The word gun is not used, it is a riﬂe. As a gun is for fun. If you want to commit suicide, let’s just say all hell will come down on your sorry ass. But that is probably what saved my life under that bridge heading out to sea. I, too, had to dig as deep as I could, no joke, I was scared, big time. Freaked, scared, cold and miserable as it could get.
Requesting a hearing to the man in charge is like asking the cops to investigate themselves for breaking the law. Hank was missing and it was due to the fact that SSGT White had screwed up and had gotten carried away. But hiding a body, living or not made this incident look more suspicious, because it was not accident. It was probably not even the ﬁrst time, but that was his problem. Mine was ﬁnding Hank, no matter what it took. I was on my ﬁrst unofﬁcial mission. Another day went by and Hank was still missing. I was getting frustrated and I knew something had to be done. I did have and idea. I knew it was not a great idea, but it was better than doing nothing. Going AWOL would justify a hearing where those in charge would have no choice but to listen to my complaint, while prosecuting me at the same time. I knew whatever I did, the Marine Corps would not like. I never feared getting into trouble, because I felt more than justiﬁed. The No-Man-Left-Behind rule would have my back, right? I had to ﬁnd Hank.
Hank and I had met two other Marines back in Providence before boarding a train. All four of us shared an area on this slow as hell train to South Carolina. Long stops in New York and Philadelphia. Garcia and Hernandes were their names and we became the Four Amigos. We never imagined that we would all end up in the same 173 First Battalion. They were much closer to Hank during The Incident and had better view. They also thought Hank was dead or at least severely injured. I told them my plan, we agreed it was shaky at best but it should get us the hearing.
My plan was to go AWOL at midnight and intentionally get caught. I told Garcia and Hernandes of my plan and they wanted in. Three Marines, as a group, surely would get some attention and it would make it harder to cover up that assault. We agreed to escape and go separate ways at midnight. Midnight came and I was gone. I headed down the road that was in front of the barracks, it led to a bridge. I really had no plan, other than to make sure that they couldn’t cover up this incident. My head was spinning in confusion as I was running down the road towards the bridge. Think of a deer being hunted on opening day, running down the median strip of a divided highway. There were big, evergreen type trees about one hundred feet apart separating the opposing roads. It was dark and it was easy to hide, from basically no one. Security out there was not what I expected and trafﬁc was basically non-existent.
As a sports fanatic, I was in top physical condition. I had no problems with whatever the Marine Corps challenged me with physically. I always ﬁgured most recruits would fail before me, with a few exceptions that intimidated me in a way. So I had an attitude, I was one of the youngest of many, just having turned eighteen last month. That attitude became worse after I was told that there is nothing a Marine cannot do. The word “can’t” was not longer allowed to be used. I kept pacing myself as I was in no hurry to get caught. I thought getting caught would be easy, but I was leery of any surprises I might encounter. All of a sudden, I saw the bridge. It was all lit up. Holy shit, now what? I had assumed that there was some type of guard shack or a toll booth, but there was not so much as a Welcome Home, Marine sign or a Come Back Soon sign. As I got more frustrated, I ﬁnally noticed that the weather was colder than I thought it was going to be. After all, this is South Carolina.
I never felt the cold air until I stopped running, I was sweating slightly and decided to go under the bridge. Man, it was dark down there. I looked towards the other side, it didn’t look that far away considering Hank’s condition. Things took a turn for the worse as I thought about this plan of mine. Doing the impossible, a challenge that would really get some attention. According to those drill instructors, no one had ever gotten off of the island before. Every day of those ﬁrst two weeks, they would repeat this fact. Supposedly, if we heard this stuff enough times, we would actually believe what they were saying. This is called programming, or Propaganda.
This was not my original plan. Getting caught in the First Battalion area is one thing, but all of a sudden, here I am, cold, under a bridge, with no one around to catch my ass. I kept wondering if Hank was alive or not. I was a pretty good swimmer, as long as I was not in a hurry. So I was over conﬁdent that this was not as hard as I believed. Being a Marine, I had the gift of overconﬁdence. This warm water in March of 1966 was luring me to the sea. I was in some sort of trance, a daze, I was confused, but I could achieve anything, or so I thought.This seemed like I could do it. I could see the pilings of the bridge and that gave me a sense of security. At least I would not be ﬂoundering in the wide open channel. Being dark, I did not notice the speed nor the direction of the current. Up close it did not seem that bad, but as the water dropped off and got deeper I was about to get a reality check and half plus.
Off I went and no sooner than I had hit the water that I noticed not only was the current moving faster than I thought, but also in the wrong direction. It was moving away from those pilings that I was counting on, like my life insurance. So I decided to swim back to the shore and make a better plan but I was unable to make any headway because I was now caught in the current and probably drifting out to sea. I started to panic because my fatigues were acting like a kite or a parachute. I decided to take everything off, boots and all, it all had to go or I was a goner. Swimming in between bridge pilings is one thing, but I had drifted twenty feet in just on that dive alone. I was now two hundred yards from where I dove in. By the time I got all of my clothes off, it was a hell of a shitshow. I can say that much is, afﬁrmative.
The minute I got rid of my clothes, I was able to swim for my life. I made it back to shore another two hundred yards further, cutting my hands on some coral, which is written in my medical records. The pace of this swim was like doing the hundred yard dash in ten yards, it was do or die. This was a serious swim, I would gain two yards and lose one and a half. I had to get serious and get into overdrive or I was done. I am glad I ditched the clothes, I never would have made it and barely did, no pun intended. Naked, except for my bright red PT shorts.
When I got to shore I was breathing so hard and had a hard time catching my breath. But I made it, I cheated death. I didn’t even feel the cold, probably because I was cold and overheated. I pondered my good fortune, laying there on the beach, wondering what the fuck went wrong? I knew that my “no plan” was what went wrong as I laid there in my red PT skivvies like a wet, limp noodle. Pathetic, I was going to ﬁre myself if I could, but while was thinking about what a stupid moron I was, and looking at the bridge and noticing that there was no trafﬁc. I was sitting there freezing my ass off and thinking about Hank. At that point, I was even thinking about wading back into the water just to warm up. The air was colder than the water, but I decided not to chance it. Getting lucky twice in a row didn't seem very possible. Having failed I was even more determined to get over that bridge, and now, I had to piss.
I never liked losing at anything, and something this stupid, got my blood going. I knew I had to move and move fast while I could or I would die right here. Getting off of the island, a feat of impossibility that was beaten into my head every day, better be damn worth it as the cold was taking it’s toll. I was still mad at myself, for following a no-plan to following a second no-plan and almost drowning my sorry ass. I was one thick as a brick French Canadian. I can assure everyone, that if those circumstances were the different and it was not my friend and the Four Amigos, there ain’t no way in Hell I would have tried this stunt, no way, no how. This part of the story is the hardest to write, it is forgotten bad memory that I thought would have stayed in the past. It is hard trying to remember things that have been forgotten or blocked out ﬁfty two years ago; just to let everyone know what an idiot I was. Even so, I did what I thought had to be done. I did the right thing and I was very proud that I stood up for my friend. That is my description of what an American soldier is supposed to do, stand up for what’s right, unite.
While I was catching my breath, staring at the bridge, I noticed steel rails in between those cement piers as another no-plan came out of nowhere. My teeth were chattering and my body was shivering so badly, my joints seemed like they were coming undone. It was time to go over that bridge while I could still function. My adrenaline was in high gear and I needed to generate some heat or die. I was running along the bridge on the sidewalk when all of a sudden headlights appeared. I went over those steel rails with my feet still on the sidewalk and hung on for dear life. I wanted to be sure whomever it was didn’t see me so I waited and made well sure they were long gone before I jumped back over and started running again. I remember doing this twice, but it could have been more as I was going into shock, shaking all over, losing control. I am not sure how much more pain I could take. I was looking forward to going back in the water because it was cold, damn cold, fucking cold.
When I reached the other side of the bridge, I saw two Marines wearing ponchos and helmets, holding M-14’s and smoking cigarettes on the median strip between the two roads. They were not together, but far apart and not very vigilant either, looking tired and bored. I was trying very hard to keep my teeth from chattering, I stayed down low and kept moving down towards the water along the sloping landscape. I got out of their line of sight when they were not facing in my direction. I was crawling a short distance to a fence with a marshy swamp on the other side. I looked around and tried my best to get my bearings but I could not feel my body. I ﬁnally found a place that I could get my back under the fence and pushing it high enough to squeeze through. I was ﬁnally in this stinky swamp water and happy about it. It was much warmer than that damn current that almost drowned my ass and I got in as deep as I could, seeking any type of relief. I was not sure if this was going to help my condition, I had absolutely no feeling other than extreme pain and misery. I did consider going back to those Marines but I thought that my escape might not count as far as getting off the island without being caught. So I took my time, wading in the mud, along the fence line. I was somewhat rested and staying warmer, but make no mistake, it was cold and I was miserable.
I went about a hundred yards when I saw another place where I could get through the fence and not be seen by those guards. I was ﬁnally on the main road and running along barefoot, just to get some heat back in my body when a sign appeared. Welcome to Buford, South Carolina. This was the ofﬁcial greeting sign that veriﬁed that you had made it off of Parris Island. Success at last! But I am freezing and I thought I was going to die.
I came to a trailer park with all kinds of clothes hanging on clotheslines. I had to get some clothes, I was desperate and started heading in that direction. As I got nearer, a few dogs started barking and that was it. I woke up all of a sudden. I had seen that movie, Deliverance, years ago and I didn’t need any of that shit. I got out of there as fast as I could before I really got into trouble. That was the wake up call my cold ass needed and it was time to get caught again. I had not been having very good luck at getting caught all night it didn’t look any more promising now, as no one was around. I was desperately hoping my bad luck would change before I died of exposure. I started running back toward Parris Island but my body was shutting down. I was hoping to catch a ride but at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning there is not much trafﬁc. Besides, who would pick up a naked bald guy with bright red shorts any time? Certainly not a female and probably not a male ofﬁcer would take the chance. Do you think a General would stop and say “Get in soldier.” I doubt it, unless it was Mad Dog Mattis who was not even a Marine at that time.
When you're hurting and miserable, the time just seems to stay in low gear. This seemed to be the longest time in my life. Finally, a vehicle was approaching, a military Jeep, just in time. I was hoping it would be a regular enlisted type of guy behind the wheel. I was sure it would not be a woman or brass, who would not be up that early. I started thumbing. Standing there shaking like a leaf with my bald head and my red PT shorts. I must have been a sight for whoever this poor soul is.
The Jeep stopped and this Sergeant looked at me and then looked straight ahead as if I were not really there. Then, he looked my way again and said “What the hell are you doing here?” I knew that I was going to be asked this question, so rather than tell him this long story that I am telling all of you, that he probably wouldn’t have believed anyway, I told him this. “I went to town last night, I got drunk and someone stole my clothes.” He could see that I was in critical condition. I knew that I was on the verge of death because I felt some warm air on both sides of my neck now and then. This sensation started under the bridge, where I cheated the Reaper who was stalking my ass all the way to Buford. He knew it was just a matter of time, it’s like he was checking now and again to see if I was done. That guy saved my life just by stopping and giving me a ride. He knew I was dying from exposure. He told me to get in and that I was in some deep shit. He gave me his jacket and he turned up the heat after I asked him to.
He offered me a smoke and a light which is some sort of a tradition when a Marine is about to face the fan. Because the shit surely was gonna go ﬂying in my world. No better for one last smoke while cranking off a few rounds before the Reaper shows up to claim his property. This guy couldn’t believe that I was real. He said that he had to take me to the Brig, I was more than cooperative, although I thought that sick bay would have been more appropriate. Sick bay. Where my friend should have been if he was alive, that is. It didn’t take long to arrive at the Brig and those guys couldn’t believe where this E-5 picked me up. They covered me with blankets and got me something hot to drink and something to eat, like a sandwich. They were not sure if I should go to sick bay, but it was either too early or too late. Anyway, I was warming up just ﬁne, they did what they could do and booked me a cell for the rest of the morning. It was about 4AM so I would not be there long since I was about to get my long awaited hearing that I wanted so damn bad.
The hearing was immediate. That morning, all three of us who had left at midnight that previous night were reunited and I was the lead guy as usual. Lt. Jeffrey was in charge and the ﬁrst thing he said to me was “How would you like to go back home today with a Discharge?” I could tell, that if those circumstances were different, that I would have been gone and out within the hour. But I told Lt. Jeffrey that I had volunteered to go to Vietnam and this wasn’t about that and my Oath was good and honorable. He said “Then what is this all about, then?” I told him that I wanted to know if my good friend, Henry Garceau, who I signed up with on the buddy plan was still alive after SSGT White cold-cocked him upside the right side of his head with the butt of an M-14 while standing at attention during inspection. Hank went down like a rock with blood spewing from his ear like a rainbow shot out of a water pistol. It was awful, everyone was in shock. Hank never got up and was dragged away as the whole platoon stood there in shock. No one said or did anything about it, but everyone witnessed the incident. No one has seen Hank since and he is not in sick bay, nor the squad bay. So, there’s a reason he’s been missing for three days and I want to know the truth.
Well, I probably never said everything that I wrote in that last sentence, but the mood changed dramatically. A search party was ordered together with an investigation as now their problem was a little more complicated. I was told I had to serve time in a correctional Platoon for two weeks for breaking the rules. The rules??? Breaking the rules for no reason is one thing. But when you’re backing up your fellow Marine at all costs, risking your life like the Marine Corps trains you as the right thing to do, with no excuses...I was not happy with this outcome. Do as we say, not as we do. Especially not against the Corps. I was pissed about the way I was being penalized with an infraction that was going to be on my record. I didn’t know this at the time. I kind of surprised everyone like I caught them with their trousers down. I did’t go through the chain of command, so now I was offered an easy way out, which I refused. I wanted to serve my country in the Vietnam war. This did not make any sense to me, and now, not only was this incident going on my record, but I would have to keep silent. My silence was necessary to help the Corps cover up this incident, that they didn’t want anyone to ﬁnd out about, at my expense. Well, that is exactly what they did. I was penalized for doing what they preach, because they screwed up. I didn’t intend to embarrass anyone, I was concerned for my friend and I damn near died trying to get to the bottom of this.
Little did I know, this would haunt me for the rest of my life. At one point, I learned that this SSGT White had previously been under investigation for abuse, prostitution, gambling and much more. These allegations were not proven until I held him accountable. It still was not personal. He should have apologized for the mishap and told his Platoon what Hank’s condition was. I would have been good with that. I had not been in his platoon that long to have witnessed any of the other allegations, but I was not surprised by them.
All three of us ended up at CCP for those next two weeks. This shit made regular platoon training look like a cake walk. Moving hills of sand with two steel buckets at a time, all day long, was not training, it was slavery.
During this time, there was a hell of a heat wave going on. Where was that when I was freezing to death under the bridge? I was not sure if this penalty was to get us to leave or just bide time until the new platoons formed. My friend Hank was found in private quarters someplace. Being tended for his injuries without any knowledge or authorization from sick bay. That surely raised some questions as to why he was hidden like that.
After those two weeks, the three of us were split up into different Battalions. I never saw those two guys ever again since that day. I looked for their names on the Moving Vietnam War Memorial and was glad they were not on it. So where did they go and where are they today? I wanted to thank them for their support and loyalty as well as their friendship. What they did gave me the greatest respect for my Hispanic Brothers, that to this day, I cherish very much.
I was later assigned to another ﬁrst Battalion Platoon 178 and reported to SSGT Akie, who called me into his ofﬁce right away. He told me that I was assigned to his platoon and he was not happy about it. He said I was trouble and he didn’t want me. He said he had a problem and that problem was me and he didn’t have a choice about it. He asked me if I wanted to graduate. I said “Yes, Sir!” He said “I’ll make you a deal.” Can you believe this? A Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps wants to make a deal with an eighteen year old punk kid, still wet behind the ears. Well, this is the deal. You have to give me your word of honor and to promise you will never tell your story of how you got off this island, or how to do anything close to that or I will have you out of here so fast you won’t even remember you were here at all. I told him that I would never repeat the story and gave him my word and shook hands. I never repeated this incident for ﬁfty years. Besides, who would believe such a cock and bull story like this? I lived it and I still cannot believe it myself looking back. But believe me, it is true and all too real.
Eight weeks later, he called me into his ofﬁce again. He said I was a special guy because after all of this, I was still here. The fact that I kept my word, the fact that I excelled at everything they threw at me made him want to promote me to PFC but he could not because the rules wouldn’t allow it. Again with the rules. Even though I had a damn good reason for my actions. I had to give my word and participate in the cover-up if I wanted to graduate and have the chance of serving my country. SSGT Akie went on to tell me that “Not many Marines would have done what I did, to risk it all to save your friend, but you did it. You did it with disregard for your own safety and to get answers. That alone deserves some respect.” He knew what my MOS was, 0331
M-60 Machine Gunner. We shook hands, he wished me luck and I never saw my drill instructor again.
About ﬁve years later, my old buddy Hank showed up at my parent’s home. The ﬁrst thing he says to me is “I can’t believe you did that.” I told him that I didn’t know what else to do and what was I gonna tell your folks? We never talked anything about Parris Island or Vietnam. He served with the 3/5 if my memory remembered what he told me, and that was all. He had a problem with drugs and after he got cleaned up and moved to Melbourne, Florida. I did go see him for a week or so about thirty-ﬁve years ago. I heard that Hank had died about ten years ago.
I wrote this not to discredit the Marine Corps. They made my life much harder than it needed to be, but I still have respect for the organization for making me a better person than I would have been; if I had been sent home. That, I feared. In that short time in the Marines, I was taught not to quit and that is what probably saved my life under the bridge. That experience was as hard and as miserable so much more than I made it sound. My training gave me the will to survive, the motivation to go on and ﬁnish the job. I was naked, clinging to steel rails in cold weather, to the point I could barely feel my numbing extremities.
I also wanted to clear the air, for the record. When someone screws up constantly, they are called a Shitbird. I was portrayed as one of those Shitbirds during my short, two year enlistment, but I was deﬁnitely not one of them. My record should have been as clean as snow. Young Marines, with no rank have no say. They are easily manipulated and screwed over because those above them can stack the deck. One infraction easily leads to another and another just trying to get your head above water. Once you have a label, you are a target. Actually, the Corps fears you. They fear you will instill some of your badass on the rest of the platoon and what the result may be of an uprising. Nip everything in the bud and make an example where you can. Shut the witnesses up and carry on.
This was my ﬁrst story and the hardest to write. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me or my opinions. As long as I can live with what I see in the mirror, I am good, not better. I always considered myself a Patriot who tried to do the best he could. I know that I was a good soldier, but not a very good Marine. I was too much of a thinker, which is not a good thing because those giving orders only want to hear one thing “Yes, Sir!”, no questions asked. I had more problems in Vietnam and those stories will come. They will give you a perspective on the truth about that war. Some of you might not agree with me. If you walked in my jungle boots at the same time and place that I did, your opinion might differ than mine. But I will respect any grunt’s point of view if he was there.I was more than lucky at Parris Island.
I thank God and my spiritual advisors like my Guardian Angel. They kept me from harms way and allowed me to focus on being motivated way beyond what I needed to do. I have great respect for all Marines and other service organization of men and women. We all tried to do our part regardless of the job given us. Bullets and mines cannot tell the difference. We only knew one color in the bush and that was green. As a member of the big Green Machine, God bless all of you and your families. God bless America.
Edgar A. Goulet (sp00n)