Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Brother Jerry: Part 1.

He was 17 years older then me. His given name was Martin. Most people in our family called him Jerry, I have no idea why. When I was growing up he called me Leroy. A couple of years ago I went to Helena, Montana; where he had lived, to visit him in the VA hospital there, shortly before he died. We talked and laughed and told each other stories of our time in the service that we had never told anyone. He is one of the reasons I joined the Army. I miss him every day.

And what he told me then are some stories that must be told here.

When my brothers Jim, Jerry and Tim were growing up in Shelbyville, Indiana there was a family down the street whose son went to the Naval Academy. Let’s call him Joe Smith. Joe was several years older then my brothers. Joe had become a Naval Aviator, a lifer, and had moved up through the ranks. Now I'm sure Joe was a good officer and pilot. His mom on the other hand was what we would today call "a piece of work." She was always turning in my brothers to my dad for, well just being boys. A regular Gladys Kravitz . Naturally my brothers came to hate Joe, as his mom was always comparing them to her son. "My son is a Naval Aviator. He went to the Naval Academy. He never did anything wrong growing up, unlike you horrible boys. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

Of course periodically Joe would take leave and come home to see his mom. My brothers would hide when they would see Joe come home.  As they knew that soon he and his mom would be coming through the neighborhood, like Christ come to cleanse the Temple.

In early 1967 Jerry volunteered to join the Marines and was promptly shipped out to USMC Recruit Depot, San Diego.  At some point early in their training the Drill Sergeants marched them into a classroom and gave them a big pile of forms to fill out. Somewhere in that stack was a form that probably on page 6 had a question that read “Do you know or are you related to anyone famous?” Now this was well before Watergate, so no one knew who G. Gordon was. But Jerry remembered that Mrs. Smith paraded Joe in that fancy Navy dress uniform with all those ribbons and medals up and down the street every time he came home. He was now a either a Commander or maybe even Captain, anyway Jerry dutifully scrawled in “CDR or CAPT Joe Smith, US Navy, Carrier Air Group #”, with a huge smirk on his face. That would fix the SOB and his busy-body mom. How dare a high and mighty Officer and Naval Aviator be known by and possibly even related to a lowly Marine private. Soon the Drill Sergeants were yelling again and Jerry promptly forgot about the form and his smartass answer.

Over the next several weeks Jerry and 230+ of his new best friends underwent some of the toughest training in the military, mainly because their Drill Sergeants knew that they were sending these boys to Vietnam, and they wanted to give them every tool, teach them every trick and give everything they knew about how to survive over there.

At the end of their training, 228 of the 230 graduating Marines were on orders to go to straight to Vietnam. One private was given orders for Embassy Duty and my brother Jerry was ordered to Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Jerry said that he was so surprised at his good luck that he never got a chance to ask that other guy who it was that he knew that got him out of going to Vietnam

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