It was late when we pulled out of the bus station in Columbia, South Carolina. The air was thick, hot, and muggy that summer night in May 1981 when we boarded that Grey Hound Bus. There were maybe twenty of us in total; all just sitting quietly as we gazed out the windows counting the mile posts as they passed on by. In those final hours of our youth, I think we were all wondering about our decision that brought us to this point in our lives and, perhaps more importantly, where this new path would take us.
According to the military we were all able bodied young spry men fully capable to enter into the service. Actually, we were just kids, 18 years at best, and still wet behind the ears as we embarked on what would become a life altering journey. A journey that would begin when we reached our destination on that remote island located near Beaufort.
There is only one road in and out of Parris Island, South Carolina and in the middle of the night it is both endlessly long and eerily lonely. For Recruits like me, the first introduction to the Marine Corps was coming face to face with a towering figure of a man who was barking out orders to exit the bus in a fashion and speed not humanly possible.
“Fall in. Fall in maggots, fall in on the yellow footprints maggots,” was all I heard in my dazed and confused state of mind as I tried to find a set of the yellow footprints painted on the pavement outside the Marine Corps Recruit Reception Barracks. While standing there and trying to be invisible so as to evade becoming a target of a swarm of Drill Instructors, I glanced up and read the sign above the famous doors which read, “Through these portals pass the world’s finest fighting men: United States Marines.”
Since 1915, U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island has been turning young men and women into Marines through a unique method of transformation – the systematic dismantling of the individual and, in turn, the building up of a team minded lean mean fighting machine.
During the three long months at Boot Camp, the challenges were great, disappointments even greater, and sometimes in the middle of the darkest of nights, I dreamed of somehow swimming off that island. This thought was readily swayed by the very real threat of alligators lurking in the swampy waters surrounding the island.
It was real and it was difficult. For unknown reasons, one late night my bunkmate committed suicide which was without a doubt a tragedy and very disturbing. Our platoon even had the proverbial worrywart who urinated in his boxer shorts every morning while we all stood “online.” Evidently, the anticipation of being verbally thrashed each morning was too much for his bladder and we all heard it flow. Yes, we all fought back our own personal daemons and fears but in the end, after months of trials and tribulations, we graduated as United States Marines. I was the 1st Squad Leader of 1st Recruit Battalion, Platoon 1036 and graduating that August day in 1981 was the first greatest day in my life.
Since graduating, I served two tours on active duty as a U.S. Marine and, to this day, I continue to serve proudly as a Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves.
Through the years, yes, I have met some challenging people. But overall, I have had the honor to serve with exceptional people all of whom share common experiences unique only to the military. I have found that my fellow service men and women are bonded together through shared sacrifices and experiences.
Who are we? We are United States military veterans and in the Leavenworth, Kansas area it’s pretty easy to know someone who is a veteran. Many families have parents who are serving or who have served. Others have children who are currently serving on active duty and yet others, as in my case, have both a parent and a child serving at the same time.
In fact my own daughter, Julie Shearman, is a U.S. Army Second Lieutenant and serving as a Combat Engineering Officer in Texas and fulfilling her dream of service to her country. She is now a veteran. I could not be more proud!
My father served in the U.S. Navy and I have two brothers who served and who both retired after serving over thirty years each. They are both veterans.
My uncle, Robert McCartney, served in the U.S. Army and survived horrific combat in Korea was a veteran. He never really spoke about his Army time or the combat he witnessed because his undeniable and famous sense of humor would not allow it.
However, I think his military time made an impression on him as he always was impeccably dressed. His shoes were always shined, creases in his shirts, and he always wore a hat – a fedora he wore no matter the time of year.
From my perspective, the way my Uncle Bob conducted his life made an indelible impression on me. You see, my father died when I was five years old one cold winter day and, for me, Uncle Bob filled that void in my life and was a father figure to me.
Sadly, I must report that as I write this very column, he passed away. Robert McCartney (1933 to 2020) was another veteran I had the honor to know and love.
My neighbors are all veterans. Larry Honsinger (Colonel, US Army retired), a long time Leavenworth resident, is a veteran who served as an ace helicopter pilot in Vietnam and who well earned his Purple Hearts for injuries sustained while flying extremely dangerous missions throughout Vietnam. Major John Reichley (U.S. Army retired) is this year’s Veteran’s Day Grand Marshall in Leavenworth, Kansas and Richard Clapsaddle retired from the U.S. Air Force, just to name a few.
My decision to join the Marines in 1981 was undoubtedly the best decision in my life and I would think the same holds true for many veterans. I, like many, have no problem remembering and cherishing our shared experiences of boot camp, long deployments and blessed reunions, promotions and celebrations, the laughter and the tears, the comradery, and unfortunately the loss of fallen warriors.
On this Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2020, thank a veteran for his or her service and you just might find they will be thanking you for the distinct honor and privilege they had serving in the United States military.
Being that I am a Marine, I have to wish all my all my fellow Marines a Happy Marine Corps Birthday this day! Oorah!
Semper Fidelis and Semper Paratus,
Viper One Six – Out
USCG Chief Petty Officer Shearman issuing the Oath of Office to Julie A. Shearman as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army May 2019.