An Adventurous Summer
best friend Steve and I were still under careful surveillance
from last summer's episode, when we enlisted in the Marine
Corps at the age of thirteen. It had happened while Dad
was still in Korea, before the armistice was signed. We
had prepared the plan very carefully. We wrote parental
consent letters for each other that informed the Marine
Corps that we were seventeen years old and had permission
to join the Corps. We thought we were very clever when
we went to Hartford to enlist. It was far enough away
so we didn't expect to meet anyone we knew. The recruiting
sergeant in his dress blues and ribbons looked exactly
the way we hoped to look, rugged, brave and confident.
He probably didn't disillusion us about the demands of
military life in order to make his quota. He looked us
over very carefully.
boys look awfully young."
I was quick to reassure him.
seventeen years old, sir, and we want to enlist."
We were both 5' 10", about 160 pounds and muscular
from tennis and working out. We convinced him we were
mature enough to fill out the appropriate forms and sign
on the dotted line. He looked at them for so long that
we thought he would throw them in the waste basket, but
he finally relented.
your right hands."
He wasn't amused when Steve made a joke.
this an intelligence test?"
The sergeant glared at Steve. "This is serious business,
kid. Do you want me to swear you into the United States
Marine Corps, or are you wasting my time?"
sir. We're ready."
He promptly swore us in. It was a scary moment. Steve
was as tense as I was.
back here in three days at 8:00 AM. Then you'll go by
bus to Parris Island for basic training. Do you boys know
where Parris Island is?"
It's in France," I said.
kid. It's in Buford, South Carolina. I sure hope you boys
don't turn out to be clowns, or you'll learn about the
Marines the hard way."
not clowns, sir," I said sincerely. "We're just
I hope I'm not making a mistake. If you mess up my Corps,
I'll find you, tear your heads off and feed them to my
dog. Now get out of here."
We were very disappointed that he didn't issue uniforms
to us on the spot. It was probably for the best. We never
could have resisted the temptation to wear them to the
club. That would have resulted in immediate discovery
of our enlistment and its rapid cancellation by Mother.
We didn't tell anybody our secret, not even Vern, our
chauffer, who we confided in. Steve begged me to let him
tell Jenny Carlton, a fourteen year old girl from the
club who played the 14 and under circuit. She was the
target of Steve's newly unleashed sex drive. He thought
his enlistment would impress her enough to make her more
receptive to his growing urges.
Steve made eloquent speeches to me about the need for
sex before going off to war. "If I could just tell
her, I know she'd cooperate." But I wouldn't give
in. His desperate plea the night before we left was brilliant.
He added a heart rending touch of pathos when he asked
would you feel if my pecker got shot off and I never had
a chance to use it?"
feel that we'd need a special ceremony to put your pecker
He begged pitifully. "Have a heart, please."
I was implacable and he went to bed swearing never to
talk to me again. His resolution lasted until we got up
extra early in the morning to go to Hartford.
Dahlia, our live-in maid, had been watching us suspiciously
for the last few days. She was alerted by our unusual
secrecy, which generally preceded our getting into some
sort of trouble. She couldn't determine what we were up
to, because we carefully followed our normal daily routine.
When we said good-bye in the morning I got careless when
I got to the door. "We'll write to you."
She pounced immediately. "What do you mean, write
to me? Where are you going?"
meant we'd write if we were invited to play the regionals
right. We're going to register for the tournament."
Dahlia was her usual courteous self. "When did you
boys learn how to write? Remember, your Mother expects
you to be hosts at dinner while Mr. Pierce is in Korea,
so don't disappear."
I may have felt a twinge of guilt at our deceit, but if
I did it was gone by the time the door closed behind us
and we were on our way.
We took the bus to Hartford, whispering together about
what it would be like to be a Marine. Dad had joined the
Corps the day after Pearl Harbor. He had risen to the
rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the time the war ended.
His descriptions of beachhead assaults on Pacific islands
thrilled us. We didn't pay attention when he talked about
the waste, brutality and death. His medals and souvenirs
were a source of great pride and he gave them to both
of us. He warmly included Steve for the sake of his father,
who had been killed in action in North Africa and awarded
posthumous decorations. Steve was very proud of the father
he never knew. Dad respected that. He believed in loyalty.
Dad felt different about Korea than he did about World
War II. He questioned whether it was a vital interest
and if we should have military obligations there.
at the end result, if our troops are attacked, we have
When he was called back to service he went willingly,
once again ready to do his duty for Corps and country.
He was quickly shipped to Japan and assigned to command
a battalion of mostly green recruits. He tried to convince
his superiors that the men needed training, but the battalion
was immediately deployed to Korea and sent right into
combat. We didn't see him for two years. When he finally
came home on leave he wouldn't talk about the war at all.
He had lost a lot of weight and behaved like a stranger
in his own house. He was always polite, but he seemed
very far away. Mother cried a lot. Dahlia was also concerned.
you know what your problem is, Mr. Pierce? You're too
tense. You need to see a baseball game. How about you
and I go next week?"
Dahlia. Maybe some other time."
We didn't understand how his experiences in combat had
changed him. But we knew we could help him if we joined
the Corps and were allowed to serve in his command.
The bus got to Hartford and we got off and waited in front
of the recruiting station with a group of townies and
local farmers' sons, who were there to enlist. They were
passing around beer and cigarettes and insisted we join
them. It didn't take much beer to get us high. By the
time the Sergeant arrived we had been accepted by our
brothers in arms. He checked our names off on a list,
shepherded us onto the bus and fondly bid us farewell.
We were a happy part of this friendly fraternity of warriors,
setting off on a great adventure. We didn't hear a friend
of Dad's from the club call us as we got on the bus. He
had noticed us from his car as he drove by, but before
he could park and reach us, the bus pulled out. The bus
stopped every few hours to pick up new recruits from stations
along the way. They joined the dice game, the drinking
and the shouting out the window at women young and old,
with enthusiasm that lasted until the bus pulled into
An angry Sergeant in an olive green uniform got on the
bus and informed us that only trash hollered at decent
people. One recruit told the Sergeant that he didn't consider
himself trash. The Sergeant grabbed him by the hair and
knocked his head against the window.
tell you if I want your opinion, dickless. Now grab your
things, girls, get off the bus and line up."
There were no further objections to his orders. We jumped
up, rushed out and got into line.
The Sergeant looked us over scornfully. "You are
worthless yellow bellied sapsuckers who I should shoot
right now, before the Marine Corps wastes any more money
on your training."
He suddenly darted forward, pulled someone out of the
line by his shirt and bent closer until he was eyeball
to eyeball with the frightened boy.
are you looking at, sheepshanks?"
wasn't looking at nothin."
The Sergeant screamed furiously at him, making us jump.
"Do you think I'm nothing?"
not what I meant."
The Sergeant slapped him on the side of the head. "Don't
lie to me, shit-for-brains, or I'll tear your liver out
with my bare hands and eat it raw."
Other Sergeants walked up and yelled at us to straighten
the line. They started shoving us into place, while describing
our general worthlessness. I got my first hint that we
might have made a terrible mistake. The Sergeant introduced
am Gunnery Sergeant Dempsey. I will be your drill Sergeant
for the next three months. It is my misfortune that my
beloved Corps assigned such useless material to me. But
I will make Marines of you. If you survive basic training,
you will never forget me. You arrived so late that the
supply depot is closed. You'll be issued your gear in
We marched to our barracks without eating, because the
mess hall was closed. We went to sleep on our bunks without
a mattress or bedding. The ping of bedsprings, the moans
and complaints of our fellow warriors, then their farts
and snores kept us awake for the rest of the night. Sergeant
Dempsey turned the lights on at 4:00 AM with an energetic
up, girls. It's time to be Marines."
We jumped off our bunks and hoped he wouldn't notice us.
We already hated his clean, alert presence. After thirty
minutes of calisthenics we marched to the mess hall, still
in civilian clothes. We were served strips of slithery
fat disguised as bacon, watery green eggs, stale toast
and coffee that was strong enough to dissolve our teeth.
Most of the recruits ate ravenously. Some of us didn't
eat anything once we tasted it. Sergeant Dempsey instructed
us in proper mess hall procedure.
time, you will eat everything you are served, because
the Corps doesn't waste food. If you don't like the cuisine,
Then we marched to the barber shop where they shaved us
bald in less than a minute. We double-timed to the supply
depot, where we were issued olive green uniforms, shoes,
hats, socks, belts, packs, canteens, shelter halfs, entrenching
tools, mattresses, pillows, blankets, sheets and rifles.
Our gear grew into a huge pile that we carried back to
the barracks at double time. Anyone who dropped something
received immediate attention from the Sergeants. We made
our bunks, put on our uniforms and stood at attention
while the Sergeants discussed our shortcomings. We had
a lot of them. We marched out to the drill field and were
encouraged to step in unison by the drill instructors,
who smacked us with the little sticks they carried. They
hurt. We tried our best to march together. The romance
of the Marine Corps was rapidly fading. When we reached
the mess hall at lunch time I was ravenously hungry. But
I wasn't eager to eat something with gravy on it that
may or may not have been meat. Sergeant Dempsey's glare
encouraged me to clean my plate.
A Captain strode into the mess hall and called Sergeant
Dempsey. Their conference went on for a while. We watched
them nervously, wondering what new suffering they had
in store for us, though we were glad to relax for a few
extra minutes. We got very interested when Sergeant Dempsey
yelled: "No shit" and started laughing. Then
he walked towards us. The Captain wasn't amused and followed
him to our table. Sergeant Dempsey ordered Steve and me
to stand at attention. We jumped up and stood as straight
as we could. "This is Captain Kramer. He wants to
talk to you." The Captain looked us up and down,
then shook his head in disgust. "Come with me."
We followed him to his office where he told us to wait
outside. We sat down on a wooden bench, trying to figure
out what he wanted with us. We eavesdropped on one side
of a telephone conversation that seemed to be mostly apologies,
until we heard the Captain mention our names. "I
assure you, Mrs. Pierce, both Randall and Steve are safe
and will be returned home immediately." We had been
discovered. He made arrangements for us to be driven home.
Then he turned us over to Sergeant Dempsey, who took us
back to the barracks. He tried not to smile.
you kids really only thirteen years old?"
They knew who we were, so there was no reason to deny
right, gunny, but we're closer to fourteen," I said.
He thought that was very funny. Sergeant Dempsey told
us that he enlisted when he was fifteen, but he never
heard of thirteen year olds fooling the recruiter. He
seemed proud of us and patiently supervised the return
of our military gear. Then he escorted us to a car that
would take us home. The last thing he did was give us
back the garrison caps that we had been issued.
these as souvenirs. They're called pisscutters."
Then he saluted us. We proudly saluted back.
we'll meet when you're a little older. I'll be happy to
give you another chance to be Marines."
We got into the car and drove off and that was the end
of our brief military career. The trip home took sixteen
hours, but it was mostly a blur, as we anticipated the
punishment to come. Our adult pose and adventurous attitude
was gone. The driver, a Lance Corporal who didn't know
what our situation was, tried to make conversation, but
gave it up after our sullen yes or no's. We stopped twice
to eat and each time we ordered steak dinners and ice
cream sundaes. Lance Corporal Jensen canceled our orders
and changed them to the hamburger special.
Marine corps can't afford to feed you boys steaks. And
I'm sure not paying for your meals out of my pocket."
on, corp, we're starving," I urged.
Steve agreed. "Yeah. How can you eat that gray crap
they served at the mess hall?"
Marine can eat anything. I remember in my first tour of
duty in Korea, we were trapped on a hill for six days.
When we ran out of rations we ate the dead Chinese."
We cracked up with laughter. Steve let him know we didn't
you haven't been in the Corps long enough to have been
I got a brilliant idea and started questioning him.
wouldn't be trying to kid us, would you? Tell us the truth.
How long have you been in?"
He looked embarrassed. "Six months."
a real vet, Corp. How old are you?"
Then I asked the key question. "Did they tell you
anything about us?"
really. I've got a transfer order with your names on it.
I'm supposed to deliver you and get a signature from Mrs.
you don't know who we are?"
I said authoritatively. "We're officer candidates
and we went to Parris Island for orientation. Now we're
being reassigned to Officers Candidate School. We're authorized
to revise your orders and assign you to us, until we report
Steve looked at me in amazement, obviously impressed with
my attempt to recruit a car and driver for our personal
Lance Corporal Jensen was bewildered. "What are you
said we'll revise your orders."
He said nervously. "You can't do that."
I can. As an officer candidate I outrank you."
don't know anything about officer candidates. My orders
are to deliver you to Connecticut and get a signed receipt
from Mrs. Pierce."
only if Colonel Pierce, our commanding officer, is out."
told me anything about Colonel Pierce."
even the Marine Corps fouls up sometimes."
may be, but I've got my orders."
wouldn't want to get on the bad side of Colonel Pierce."
so tough that the dead ChiComs stand up and salute when
he goes by. He eats Lance Corporals for breakfast."
sounds like a real character. I tell you what I'll do.
Next time we stop, I'll call Sergeant Dempsey and ask
him what I should do."
I said reassuringly. "That won't be necessary. I'll
take full responsibility for the change in orders."
"If you want me to do anything different I gotta
get permission from Sergeant Dempsey. He's a lot tougher
than some Colonel I never heard of."
For a moment I actually considered letting him try to
call Sergeant Dempsey. Then I remembered how he treated
the recruits he thought were dumb and I decided that the
Corporal wasn't that bad a guy and didn't deserve to be
mind. We'll take care of things once we get there."
He was relieved. "That's fine with me."
Corporal Jensen refused to take us to the Smithsonian
Institute in Washington, D.C. and he wouldn't let us try
to pick up girls while in an official military vehicle.
When we got to New York City he declined our invitation
to go to a Broadway show, even though we offered to pay
for his ticket. His usefulness and entertainment value
were rapidly diminishing and we had run out of conversation.
After what had become an endless drive we finally reached
our door. We were as eager to see the last of him as he
was pleased to get rid of us. Mother signed some release
papers for him and he was gone. We followed her into the
house, prepared for the storm.
made you boys do such a hair-brained stunt?"
wanted to help Dad."
right, Mrs. Pierce."
you telling me that you ran away to join the Marines so
you could help your father?"
the craziest thing I ever heard. You're only thirteen
were worried about him, Mother."
talked about him all the time, Mrs. Pierce."
didn't you discuss it with me?"
I answered truthfully. "We knew you'd say no."
Mother glared at us. "So you snuck off, without considering
how anyone else might feel? We were sick with worry, terrified
that you might have been kidnapped, or lost in the woods.
I was just about to call Steve's mother, then the police,
when Mr. Kensworth called. He told me that he saw you
boys in Hartford, at a Marine recruiting station. He was
curious about what you were doing there and went in and
asked the Sergeant about you. As soon as he found out
that you had enlisted he called me. I got on the phone
to Marine district headquarters and it took a while, but
I tracked you down and demanded that they send you home
immediately. They were very upset when they found out
how old you were and promised immediate action. Do you
have any idea how you embarrassed us, especially your
didn't think about that," I said.
or you wouldn't have done anything that stupid."
wanted to help him fight the Chinese, Mrs. Pierce."
didn't want him to get killed."
don't know whether to kiss you, or smack you silly. You
are both confined to the house until further notice. I
will write to your father and let him know what you did
and let him decide your punishment."
could take weeks to hear from him," I protested.
you'll consider that next time, before you do something
I made one last try. "Can we play tennis?"
Now go to your rooms."
Dahlia escorted us upstairs, shaking her head in disgust.
"I should have known you two were up to something
crazy. It's time to get your heads examined."
were just trying to help Dad."
time what will you do, join the space cadets?"
funny," I said bitterly.
Mr. Pierce was here he'd tan your hides. I'm tempted to
do it for him. Good night."
We spent a tense week until we heard from Dad. Dahlia
talked to us as if we were retarded. Lorna teased us about
our bald heads. She brought her friend Reenie to the house
to see why Marines were called 'jar heads.' Mother ignored
us completely. One of Dad's officers stopped by when he
was on leave to pay his respects to Mother. He told us
that word of our enlistment had spread through the Corps
and everyone admired us for enlisting. Dad was also impressed,
but he knew that 13 year old kids didn't belong in the
Marines. He sent us instructions to place ourselves under
house arrest for two weeks and write an explanation of
The two weeks crawled by slowly and we spent a lot of
time in my room, reading and discussing the war. We wrote
an explanation and Mother sent it to Dad. He accepted
our story and told Mother that we shouldn't get any further
punishment. When our confinement was over we went to the
club, where we were greeted like heroes, except by Andy
and his friends. Our garrison caps, which we wore while
playing, were considered stylish and the girls thought
our bald heads were sexy. Our reputation as daredevils
was firmly established. Jenny Carlton rewarded Steve with
her favors, so his military exploits were not in vain.
I envied his boldness with girls. By the time that summer
ended people had pretty much forgotten about our attempt
to join the Marines. We never did.
Dad finally came back from the war in Korea. He had been
promoted to full colonel and had commanded a regiment.
If he wasn't in the reserves he probably would have been
a general. He wasn't as easy going as he used to be. When
he talked to us he was bitter about how many Americans
fought and died in a far away Asian land without defeating
sacrificed our soldiers for a stalemate that didn't resolve
anything. We should have allowed General MacArthur to
win the war. I understand the bigger political picture,
but I'm afraid that we're weakening ourselves for the
future and we'll just have to fight again, under less
favorable circumstances. When Japan attacked America in
World War II and won many victories, this was a sign to
Asians that western superiority was crumbling. After the
war, Asian countries got rid of their English, French
and Dutch colonial masters and ruled themselves. Then
fight another Asian war, but without winning. This can
only encourage other Asian countries to confront us, as
soon as they feel strong enough."
He wouldn't tell us anything about his combat experiences
and got angry when we persisted with questions about amphibious
assaults and human wave charges by the Chinese. "I
don't want to talk about Korea."
We reluctantly stopped pestering him.
After Dad had been home for a few months he began to seem
more like the man we remembered. He spent a bit of time
with us playing tennis and sailing. He had instructed
his office that he wouldn't be back for a while. He was
a senior partner in a stock brokerage firm founded by
his grandfather. Dad owned a controlling interest in the
firm and could pretty much do what he wanted. He mostly
puttered around the house, worked on training his beloved
labrador retrievers, and rode his horse. He watched the
television hearings of Senator McCarthy versus the army
every day. He explained the issues and made them seem
very clear to us.
McCarthy scares people by accusing them of being communists.
Then he has them investigated and exposed by the F.B.I.
and they get fired from their jobs. Everyone has been
worried since the Russians got the Hydrogen bomb. When
Secretary of State Dulles announced the doctrine of massive
retaliation there was a lot of preparation for civil defense.
That really scared people. We've learned that communism
is our enemy. Senator McCarthy uses it as a threat to
gain power, but he may have gone too far this time and
the public knows that. The military is vital to the defense
of our nation. When Senator McCarthy attacks the army,
public sentiment will turn against him. We'll see that
the people who approve of him now will condemn him. It's
lucky for him that he didn't pick on the Marines. We'd
finish him off a lot faster than the army."
Brainwashing, devised by the communists to disaffect our
soldiers, had been in the news and fascinated us. Stories
of American prisoners betraying their country shocked
everyone. A few of them even refused to come home after
the armistice. We couldn't understand how anyone would
want to remain in Korea with the rice eaters. When Dad
wouldn't discuss how it worked, we attempted to invent
our own methods to control people's minds. We tried different
things on any willing volunteers. Our favorite technique
was repeating a word over and over, in a soothing voice.
It was difficult to evaluate our progress, but we were
hopeful. Operation mind-control ended one afternoon when
Dahlia overheard us in the cabana, trying to hypnotize
two girls from the club into letting us touch their breasts
whenever they heard us say the word "pike."
She chased us out and threatened to turn us in.
let all the concerned parents know about your unauthorized
experiments, if they should ever be repeated. Can you
guess what they'll do to you?"
We were compelled to dismantle our laboratory just as
it was becoming promising. This may have dramatically
influenced the course of our lives, because from then
on we tended to try persuasion, rather than coercion in
pursuit of our goals. One consolation was that Dad gave
us a test in small boat handling, which we passed with
flying colors. He granted formal permission for us to
use the sailboat without adult supervision and informed
the boys are mature enough to be trusted with the boat.
I have confidence in them."
Mother was not happy about the decision, but accepted
his judgment. Lorna suddenly became very friendly to us.
We didn't mind that it started when she learned we had
permission to use the boat. She asked if she and her best
friend Reenie could sail with us. Steve thought they were
looking good. He reminded me that it would be educational
to make out with 16 year old girls. We took them with
us a few times and it was fun, now that they didn't treat
us like kids anymore. Steve tried his best, but he didn't
get anywhere with Lorna, who just wanted to be friends.
I was too shy to try anything with Reenie.
We had a wonderful time for the rest of the summer, which
would have been perfect, except for the Polio scare. The
son of one of the groundskeepers at the club caught the
dreaded disease that was terrifying America. Parents stampeded
with their children to their doctors for check-ups. Some
of the members desperately tried to get the recently developed
Salk vaccine for their children. There were some ugly
scenes at the local doctors' offices, when panicky parents
demanded inoculations for their children and were told
there was a limited supply. There was even a riot at the
hospital when someone found out that friends and relatives
of the staff were getting preferential treatment, while
patients were being turned away. Andy Klassen's father
punched his doctor when he told him that he had run out
of the vaccine and Andy would have to wait a day or two
for the new stock to arrive. The club was a ghost town.
Most other community activities ground to a halt. A lot
of people confined their relationships to the telephone.
Fortunately, no one else in the area got sick and people
gradually resumed their social lives. By the time school
started again the epidemic was only a bad memory.
2006 by Gary Beck