August 31, 2009
Reflections and Recollections:
AKA: “The Making of a Marine.”
Ever since I saw “The Sands of Iwo Jima” I wanted nothing more in life than to be a United States Marine. I had grown up in the “John Wayne Era of Hollywood” and relished every moment. The men who defeated the treacherous “Sloped-eyed” Japanese and Nazi war criminals were my heroes. And, growing up Catholic, in the nineteen fifties, under the Credo: “For God Family and Country” was the way, the truth and the life. Cardinal Spellman, our spiritual leader, was fiercely anti-communist and openly supportive our nation’s efforts to counter communist aggression around the world.
The Domino Theory was widely held to be an absolute truth by many in mainstream America at that time. And, the torch of liberty had just been passed to a new generation of Americans. Senator John F. Kennedy, a WW11 Navy Veteran and an Irish Catholic from Boston, Massachusetts had been elected President of the United States. Being a member of a devout Irish Catholic family, it was a time to celebrate our heritage. The Irish American communities were bursting with pride over Mr. Kennedy’s election.
The Brothers at Bishop Reilly High School were in seventh heaven knowing that a fellow Roman Catholic was sitting in the oval office. The times they were a-changing and the Irish in America were moving on up. Then, in October of 1962, with the world on the brink of nuclear war, we found ourselves, on our knees, cranking out endless decades of the Holy Rosary. Soviet missiles in Cuba presented a clear and present danger to our national security. Talk of mutually assured destruction was a somber reminder that earthly life was never meant to be permanent. The confessional lines were long bros’.
During the crisis, my buddy Johnnie Z came up with a little musical ditty that we all sang on the bus. “Oh, we’ll all go together when we go and the World will be an incandescent glow. We’ll see Peter, Paul and Moses playing ring around the roses and we’ll all go together when we go. They’ll be launching ICBM’s when we go, They’ll be launching ICBM’s when we go. We’ll be talking with Sweet Jesus when we go. “Ye-ha!”…
For the first time, I gave serious thought to the possibility that my neighborhood could actually be vaporized by Soviet nukes. When the crisis passed, it was time to party hearty and breathe a sigh of relief! My friends managed to get hold of a couple of cases of ice-cold beer. In truth, the Bishop Reilly Spartans were in the mood to celebrate their good fortune. It was a great feeling just to know that we would not be “Nuked Until We Glowed” by long-range Soviet bombers. Our parents were so relieved that none of them seemed to take notice of our celebratory alcoholic binge drinking escapade.
The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, again, sent shock waves throughout the nation. It was widely rumored that Soviet agents might be responsible for the unspeakable atrocity. And, the talk of war was, again, back on the front burner. The prayer vigils at our school definitely cranked up a notch or two bros’. The times were uncertain and the call to: “Bear any burden, pay any price, defend any friend and oppose any foe in the cause of freedom” weighed in heavily on our minds and hearts.
By 1966, it seemed that everyone in America was talking about the Domino Theory and the escalating hostilities in far off Vietnam. Following graduation, my trusted companion and classmate, Johnnie Z and I joined the United States Marine Corps. We enlisted with the solemn promise that we would be a part of the new “Marine Corps Buddy System.” Our recruiter had all but guaranteed that we would be joined at the hip while on Parris Island. We were to eat, drink, bunk, train and visit with the Catholic Chaplin together.
Side by side, Johnnie Z and I, who had been together since our grammar school days at Saint Luke’s School, would fulfill our childhood dream of becoming United States Marines, together. In truth, Johnnie and I barely uttered a word to each other during our entire stay on the Island. Z was on one end of the squad-bay and I was down at the other. In truth, “East is East and West is West” bros’. Oh, the Lies our recruiter told us!
One fateful night, a fellow recruit asked to speak to our Senior Drill Instructor about the “Buddy System.” I just knew in my heart that the “Shit” was about to hit the fan! After emphatically stating that he had joined the Marine Corps on the “Buddy System,” the sorry-ass recruit wanted to know why he was not sleeping with his buddy? Marine S/Sgt. John Enfinger then asked the hapless recruit: “ And, just who is your buddy, private?” When the private identified his school chum, the poor bastard was also hauled up to the front of the squad-bay. The guy was literally shaking like a leaf, bros’!
Our Senior DI verbally chastised the two of them and then demanded to see a marriage license. When neither recruit could produce one, the enraged Drill Instructor ordered them to get into the same bunk and hug each other. Marine S/Sgt. John Enfinger then commenced to beat the living shit out of them. The barbaric action affectively ended any further discourse about the much touted “USMC Buddy System Program.” As I lay in my rack that night, I silently gave thanks to “Who Art.” I was so relieved that my buddy, Johnnie Z, had not been the one to ask the question. Still, at that moment in time, I could have shot every DI on Parris Island without experiencing one iota of Catholic guilt!
In truth, I had signed myself into an insane asylum. And, I was not, at all, certain I could survive the nightmarish rigors and sheer terror that was Parris Island. Having come through the Catholic School System, proved to be both a blessing and a curse for me. As a left-handed pupil, I was singled out for some serious re-education challenges. Left-handed pupils were considered to be under some sort of “Evil, Satanic Influence.” Thus, I was often slapped around, forced to my knees and made to put the pencil in my right hand. So, I had vowed, early on, that I would never allow the nuns to break me.
My Catholic School trials and tribulations were but a precursor to the stress and rigors of the disciplines I experienced in the Corps. I often thought about shouting out to my Drill Instructor that I knew nuns who could do his job even better than he did. Not wanting to subject myself to, yet, another senseless and vindictive ass-kicking, however, I managed to remain silent. The USMC didn’t have much use for left-handed pupils either. So, thank you, Sister Dorothy Ann, OP and S/Sgt. John Enfinger, USMC, for preparing my sorry-ass to face the rigors and stress of mortal combat in Vietnam.
L/Cpl. Thomas A. Holloran
Hotel Company 2/1,USMC.
RVN: Class of 1967-68.