Home Veterans Life After Bootcamp in the Vietnam Era: Part Three

Life After Bootcamp in the Vietnam Era: Part Three


One of them lit up, what I came to know, as a joint. I didn’t know at the time though. I had thought it was a homemade cigarette. It smelled different too. They turned up the music on the tape deck, and passed the joint between them. The music was so loud the speakers cracked while listening. We were driving down the road and they were choking and laughing and I did not understand why. When we made it to town, I left them and went to a movie.

The next day I talked to John, he was the man that I went to engineer school with, about the day before. I was wondering what was so good about smoking joints. He told me that it was like drinking booze only with no hangover. I knew that it was illegal and I didn’t want to get in trouble. I told him that their secret was cool with me, just don’t involve me anymore. These kind of people were in plenty, as Marines come from all walks of life.

I learned a lot about people and the different ways of life that they came from. There were a lot of fellow Marines that smoked pot and many that drank alcohol. Some were still scared to even be in the Marine Corps. For a few, this was their first time away from home. They were pretty lost when it came to exploring the life outside the barracks.

Most of the pot smokers hung out together, some of the drinkers went to the enlisted club or to town in groups. Others who didn’t partake in the adventures of these vices usually stayed behind and wrote letters and read books. There wasn’t much else to do if you did not have a car to explore places outside the base. There were buses to take you to and from town.

The town outside of base was Jacksonville, NC. It was a small town filled with bars, x rated theaters, and massage parlors. It was just the kind of town for young men to explore. Looking back I would say that I saw only what I wanted to see. And I’m sure that was the same for all young men; especially the ones that were out on their own for the first time in their lives. Having gone back to Jacksonville years later, I can say it’s a totally different town then from my past.

It was getting close to the holidays and the way it worked for our company was that half of us got to choose to go home for Thanksgiving and the other half got to go for Christmas. I chose Christmas, it was my most favorite time of the year. I flew in to Ft. Wayne for the Christmas holiday. I was to be there for two weeks. No one knew that I was coming. It was to be a surprise. I was in full uniform and had a good flight. I even hit on a flight attendant and she sat with me a while; I felt so happy to be a Marine.

On my way to the cab, there were a few people standing around outside. Suddenly one of the girls ran up to me and spit in my face, grabbed at my cover and scratched the bill. She called me a baby killer, a murderer. The others started to come at me and a cab pulled up quickly to my rescue. “Where to?” asked the cabby. I gave him my address. He told me that he was an ex-marine. I was taught that once a Marine always a Marine. He told me that I should try and forget about what had happened at the airport. He said that kind of stuff was happening more often. It’s just not something you would see in a small city like Ft. Wayne.

I rang the doorbell and my mother answered with a big hug and a kiss. She was so surprised. The first words that came from my father were, “Where’s your leave papers?” I showed him. “Where’s your return ticket?” I showed him. I thought to myself, he hasn’t changed, what a jerk. My sister Cathy came to me and gave me a big hug. My little brother, Eric, came from his bedroom. What the hell? His hair was long, I mean long! I discovered that since I had left, my dad took it a little easier on my brother, letting him get away with a lot of crap.

My father always demanded that we boys have short hair; after all we weren’t hippies. It didn’t take very long for me to want to return to base. Eventually I changed into street clothes and wanted to go work on my car that was near completion before I left for boot camp. I looked in the back yard, no car. No car! “Where in the hell is my car?” I exclaimed. “I sold it.” said my father. “I sold it to the next door neighbor” he said. “You know it only took him a little while to fix it.” “All he had to do was reconnect the brake lines.”

I asked him for the money and he said that he only got $50.00 for it and he took the family out to eat. I asked him where my tools were and he said that he was keeping them to pay for the rent of my car sitting in his yard. Now I vividly remembered why I had left to begin with and returned back to base a few days early. Saddened by my father selling my car, just because I have the same name as he, and him basically ripping me off, I decided to concentrate on my career as a Marine.

I excelled in demolitions and was asked to attend a school in Norfolk, W. Virginia. The school was called Atomic Demolitions Munitions. This required a secret clearance. The F.B.I. would have to go back into my life seven years for a security check so I could be cleared to attend the course. What a shock it was for my parents, teachers, neighbors, friends and former employers. Needless to say I don’t think that a boy from a small town in Indiana and only 19 could have done much to not be rewarded with the pleasure of attending this school.

I learned a lot about explosives and the type that I learned about the most, thankfully was one that I never had to deploy. There was a lot of practice on the procedures of deploying this type of explosive. I was part of a team when I returned to Camp Lejeune. As a result of doing well, I became the Commanding Officer’s driver. I drove a jeep wherever he needed me to drive. I also was a chaser. A chaser escorts prisoners from the brig to court and back as well as taking the prisoner to the PX for toiletries. This wasn’t a bad job to have, except it got a little boring.

Soon I was assigned another job. This job would be tied to the base USO and recreation departments. I had an office with a desk with a type writer. What do you know my first job as a pen pusher? This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I joined. I thought I would be like John Wayne. I really wanted to fight for my country. I believed in peace and I wanted to bring it to all people that wanted it.

***Read the next article in the series***

Ed Heinkel Author and US MarineAbout the Author: Ed Heinkel signed up for the Marines in 1971 because his father hated Marines, as he was a sailor. He went to Boot Camp in San Diego (Hollywood Marine) and spent most of his time at Camp Lejeune. Ed trained at Norfolk, VA for Atomic Demolitions Munitions and caught a float in Okinawa, Japan. He rotated back a year later and was stationed with Forest Troops and traveled to Vieques, PR for the last 6 months. Ed was discharged honorably after four years, married his sweetheart, and has been together with her for over 38 years. He’s a salesman by trade, but writes whenever he gets a chance. His first booked was published in December, Climbing To The Top!

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  1. This was a very good recount of what life was like as a young Marine , Ed’s experiences pretty much mirrored my own except for the demolition part . Went to ITR at Camp Geiger next to Camp Lejuene , school was at Montford Point just outside Jacksonville N.C. I was a chaser and ended up in Okinawa , lot’s of good memories about all the great people I met along the way .

  2. Semper Fi Ed. I was by Mos’s, a Teletype Radio Operator, Msg. Centerman and was attached to Seventh Engr. Bn, First Marine Division, Rein. I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California in 1965 the First Marine Division mounted out for Viet Nam. North of Danang. After 10.5 Months I went home to Idaho and attended College. Married, 2 terrific Kids (Boy and Girl). I could identify with the treatment we received coming home. “Baby Killer” was common comment, along with did I do drugs? How many did I kill and the rest of the Bull Shit that stupid civilians asked. I made some lifelong friends with whom I still visit on the internet and have traveled to see. We have lost many friends that I was stationed with over the years. Each and everyone of us to this day are proud of being Marines. I have never had any finer friends. The few I grew up with are not close. I call them acquantices, my close friends are Veterans from similar backgrounds. Army, Navy, Marines and a few Air Force. Those closest I served with. I still get a lump in my throat when Pledging Allegiance and saying goodbye to those who are waiting to see me in the hereafter. When I meet a young Soldier, Sailor, Marine I shake their hand and thank them for their service and sacrifice. Cpl. Robert G. Welch


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