Camp Pendleton was a good duty station for us. My first assignment was Chief Cook at the same Battalion mess hall where I ate as a Private in ITR during 1964. I supervised the “starboard watch” of cooks. We worked day on and day off, with every other weekend off.
That summer Jenny and I went on a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, and we visited Charlie * (my Best Man at our wedding) in Idaho. On our return, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It seemed strange to me that the war in Vietnam was dragging on, and we were planting a flag on the lunar surface.
Later we visited Sumo and his Japanese wife at their apartment in Anaheim. It was a short visit, and Sumo gave me an update about his remaining time on Hill 65. There was no news concerning Reb . . . he was still waiting for his orders when Sumo left. Fernando enjoyed R&R with his parents in Hawaii, and a new Mess Sergeant had moved into the cooks’ hooch. This visit was a bit awkward because Sumo’s wife spoke very little English.
In the fall I signed up for classes at Saddleback Jr. College. I took bonehead English and PoliSci 100. Jenny and I would sometimes stay up late debating issues regarding current political events. Oddly, President Nixon acquired “La Casa de Pacifica,” (The Western White House) in San Clemente. I often rode my 10-speed bike to the “guard shack” on Avenida Del Presidente where I waved to the sentry.
Jenny became pregnant in September, and we started preparing for our first baby. Our bedroom was small but had enough room for a crib.
In November I baked a large cake in our Battalion mess hall for the Marine Corps birthday. It was a double layer sheet cake, similar to the one that had been delivered to us on Hill 65. Somehow this cake got special recognition, and I was transferred to the Regimental mess hall at Camp Horno as Chief Baker assigned to a corner of the galley known as the bakery. With two mess men, I worked from 0400 until lunch was served (I was usually home by 1300). It didn’t take long before I became an expert at making Cream Puffs, Eclairs, Boston Cream Pies and of course, “Rainbow Jello.”
Our daughter, Claudia Lyn, was born on June 9, 1970, at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange (the same hospital where Jenny was born). We were a happy family.
In August I was ordered to report to the Chief of Staff at base headquarters. When I asked what it was about, no reason was given. My big ego assumed that I may be needed as a PMI ** because of my secondary MOS as a rifle instructor.
This was a brief (non-interview) situation. The new Commanding General (Major General Bower) was looking for an Administrative Steward, and I cut off any discussion before it started. “I AM NOT A STEWARD!” The new Aide de Camp ordered me back to ITR saying, “You are wasting our time.” On the drive back to Camp Horno, I had a deja-vu moment when Lieutenant Martin called me an idiot and sent me to Thuong Duc *** in Vietnam. Flashing lights appeared in my rear-view mirror so I pulled over to the shoulder and received a speeding ticket. It was a bad day!
The remainder of my time at Camp Pendleton was pleasant, and I was honorably discharged in April of 1971. I was proud of my 7 years of service in the Marine Corps.
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Regarding the Marines (characters) in this blog: Private Gaskins, Doc Furman, Sergeant Leggins (Leggs), Captain Cavagnol, Top Culverhouse, Fernando and Reb were never heard from again. It was a result of how we were deployed from Staging Battalion. We went to Vietnam as a group and were immediately split up into different units. We came back separately. Few people exchanged addresses. Although we were brothers, it was a superficial relationship. We all just wanted to move on and put Vietnam behind us. It didn’t work out so well . . . the war experience clung to us, and there was no one to talk with who could understand it.
Ten years later (1979) I was working as General Manager of Casey’s Bar and Grill in Westwood (near UCLA). It was a Friday Night Happy Hour, and I went outside to get a breath of fresh air. Coming toward me was a man, walking with a cane and limping. As he approached I said, “Wilson?” **** He looked at me and answered, “Ptomaine?” He had just had his annual medical evaluation at the VA Hospital a few blocks away.
We had dinner together and talked for hours. We spilled our guts, cried and consoled each other. His new hobby was the racetrack in Inglewood, and he was having good luck betting on the horses. My new hobby was Astronomy, and I was inventing a telescope to locate objects in the sky. We enjoyed a good visit.
The following night our bar entertainment played a set of Beatles tunes in a non-stop medley. At the break I asked the drummer, “Why was ‘Back in the USSR’ in the set? It isn’t a Beatles song.” He corrected me . . . “Yes, it is from the White Album.”
On the way home that night I heard the same song again, and I realized that Armed Forces Radio must have censored it from their playlist. It wasn’t appropriate for us so I wondered what else I had missed?
* See previous blog, “Charlie” November 1967
** See previous blog, “My Military Background Part III” Fall 1967
*** See previous blog, “Troop Surge” June 12, 1968
**** See previous blog, “India Company Returns” April 30, 1968