A Ghost From the Past

El Toro Pistol Range
MCAS El Toro Pistol Range

The pistol range was about a half mile from the range office.  Sometimes I would check-in and walk to work rather than drive my car on the gravel road.  One afternoon I was alone, and a military sedan drove up.  A Master Gunnery Sergeant got out of the car and and approached me.  I immediately recognized him . . . A ghost from the past.  Bradbury was my recruiter in San Jose.   He was wearing a distinguished marksman pistol badge (rare) and asked me for a tour of the facility.  I showed him around, hoping he wouldn’t remember me.

I had been disrespectful to him on my first visit to the recruiting office.  He asked me if I was interested in joining the Marines and I answered sarcastically, “Yeah I could use a vacation.”  In the process of getting my initial contact information, he commented that he was a PFC on Red Beach, Okinawa the day I was born.  I remember looking at the ribbons on his chest and shrugging.  The old guy never flinched; he was good at his job and played me well.  I was off to boot camp in just a few days.

Marine Corps history classes were held twice a week in boot camp.  Vintage black and white footage of various battles with narration were shown.  One day we were watching the Red Beach landing on Okinawa, and I became so flushed with embarrassment that I started sweating.  My drill instructor noticed and took me outside for fresh air.  He thought I was queasy about the dead Marines being washed up in the surf.  After confiding on how poorly I had treated my recruiter, he said I should go back and make it right.  I did go back, but Bradbury had been transferred.  I explained to the new recruiter what I had done and he laughed, “Happens all the time.”

Bradbury did remember me.  When the tour of the pistol range was over, he smiled and asked, “How has the vacation been?”  I was mortified and tried to explain . . . he just waved me off.  Then came the surprise, “I’m the new First Sergeant of the range detachment.  I want you to introduce me to everyone.”  We drove to the range office and started the introductions.  Lieutenant Tarry (our executive officer) managed to take his feet off the desk before I introduced Bradbury as our new First Sergeant.  I’d never seen the Lieutenant stand at attention.  It was refreshing.

Soon after, Bradbury initiated familiarization (FAM) firing on the pistol range.  Staff grade officers would fire different weapons, the new M-16, M-60 machine gun, etc.  It was an effective way for them to experience firing the weapons used by the troops they would later lead.  He personally oversaw the program and was backed by the Chief of Staff.  Bradbury entrusted me with the demonstration of each weapon.  It was no dog and pony show . . . live fire from different positions with pop-up targets.  After the demo, the officers would get their turn to fire.  Finally, PFC Acardo (range armorer) would end the session with a quick breakdown of the weapon, then he would clean it, put it back together and present it for inspection.  It was good stuff and gave us a feeling of accomplishment.

Next edition:  Charlie

M-60 machine gun
FAM firing the M-60 machine gun

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