Service Reflection: Retired Marine recalls how FBI gave him push to enlist

Service Reflection: Retired Marine recalls how FBI gave him push to enlist

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Editor’s note: The following Service Reflections is one of many recorded on TogetherWeServed.com, a secure online community with a membership of over 2 million active-duty and veteran members. This story may contain language which may not be suitable for young children.

MSgt. Charles Hull
Status: USMC Retired
Service Years: 1963-1991

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Marine Corps?

As far back as I could remember, serving in the military was considered to be patriotic and the rite of passage for an adult male. That's what you do before the pursuit of anything else in life," (the famous quotation of the day) but successful role models of this type were few and far between in my neighborhood.

The WWII and Korea Vets I saw were unimpressive and spoke mostly of their negative experiences. Still, I wanted that military experience, hoping one day to join, vowing to do better than they did. Meanwhile I continued to grapple with the fact that I lived in Chicago with handicapped family members on a low income, in an unstable, at risk environment, with limited educational opportunities.

I saw my future as being a simple thing, clearly defined: graduate high school, get a job, contribute to the welfare of my family and hope for the best, and if lucky, serve sometime in the military.

The photo suggests my thoughts and feelings at that time. In a word, TRAPPED !

I had the need to maintain the respect, pride, and confidence of my family. The fact that I mattered in their lives, and this BIG one, if I got into trouble I had nobody to call kept me out of trouble.

Senior high school year, the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force recruiters put on a dog and pony show. The Marine Master Sergeant in dress blues steals it. I'm very impressed, but filed it away, had other things to do. At 18 and a high school grad, registering for the draft should have been my next move, but that too got filed away, because I needed what I thought was a "real job." Two months later my draft status became an issue. All applications, had this requirement to verify, before they would consider anyone for hire, especially from those of us coming out of high school in the late 50's and 60's.

Showing compassion and concern for me, the somewhat underprivileged teen grad, and setting aside my draft status, (they in fact broke the law) Montgomery Ward hired me. I happily worked there starting at $1.25 an hour for the next 2 1/2 years. Not a care or concern in the world. It had been left up to me to go register with Selective Service. I put that aside as well, consequences be damned! I was on the way to fulfilling my dreams.

In early '63 a letter came, then a knock on the door with two pissed off gentlemen standing there holding FBI badges and some papers. My family now in shock, neighbors gather around, somebody is about to be arrested. They gave me one week to go down and register. I was there the next day before they opened, first in line, and from there directly over to the Armed Forces Induction Station. Physically I was classed 1A. Told to pick a branch of service and go see the recruiter before the sun sets.

Got blessed into the Marines! Hated leaving my job and the first credit card I ever had, but at this point I actually felt relieved, and so was my family, a bit more than I thought they should be. No more excuses. I was going to be a Marine, and serve my country, which was something no one in my immediate family had ever done.

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took.

About two months later I was at MCRD, San Diego standing on the yellow footprints trying not to get hit by some Cpl. who seemed to have an extreme dislike for people of color. Whatever I felt and thought about him at that time, I knew I could not risk failure by doing something stupid. My I.Q. doubled that day. An invaluable lesson was learned. I made mental note that if we ever met sometime in the future there would be an immediate misunderstanding or so I thought. But things just got worse. Every DI, troop handler or what not, was doing this same thing to all of us "boots." We had descended into hell: Incarcerated in a place where we were insulted, and at times physically motivated to do things we never thought we could do.

We were taught a true meaning and understanding of right from left and to recite from memory names, ranks, and a series of numbers. I came out of there with the best physical shape and coordination than I had ever had in my life. I was bullet proof!

Next stop was ITR at Onofre, Camp Pendleton. Hell for the first few days, but I could see the end of the tunnel now. This was what the Corps was all about, explosions, barbed wire, shots being fired over head, climbing Mt Mother f----g, sweating your ass off, being pissed at a non -existent enemy, and taking combat town that they were still building on. Then it was home on leave with orders to report to the 3/5.

"Celebrity Status" is the best description I can give for my time on leave.The reception being a 1000 times better than the sendoff a few months ago, in spite of the fact that nobody saw me off to the Corps, or greeted me at the airport coming home, and nobody was there for my graduation from boot camp, or even the high school graduation a few years before. I had changed a lot, no longer seeing this environment and lifestyle as my future, felt out of place, and was ready to get back to the Corps halfway through the 30 day leave period. I had found my place in the world, or so I thought, but seeing them again, just prior to departure for Vietnam, was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do in life. Thinking, "What if I don't make it back?"

Reported in to Lima 3/5 in '64, finally the real Marine Corps, grunt heaven, all that I imagined it would be from boot camp through ITR, and right out of a WWII movie: Starches, brass, spit shines, hikes, the rifle range at Camp Matthews, surf indoctrination where we were going out on Amtracs, told to get out and link up, swim or wade back to shore together. Liberty cards, open squad bays, rifles within reach, combat vet SNCOS and Officers running things and we had status and responsibility!

Then comes my first time aboard any ship (USS Talladega APA 208): An unforgettable experience that would earn us all the recognition of being "salts." We had our first "wet net" training as a unit doing two drills over a four day period and managed to catch a case of clap and crabs from a unit that occupied the ship before us. They had been afloat for 13 months. "Short arm" inspections, the needle, disinfectant and field days went on forever and a sore ass was the order of the day!

We trained together as a unit for more than a year all in preparation for that 13 month pump to Okinawa. Get that swagger stick, sewed on name tags for utilities, and for true recognition as being "salty."

Along comes 'Nam, the arrival and conditions are recounted subsequent to this section, but overall, in the very short time after my arrival, cut off from all those that mattered nurtured and help to formulate my life. It hit me like a stone, your ass is now grass, and the VC got the lawn mowers. I declare myself dead, but did my time, having been alive the day before, finish my enlistment as a sergeant and return home to Chicago thankful that my life had been spared. None of that experience was recounted to my family. I was too busy trying to forget and I felt that nobody really cared.

Six months later my family asked very politely and with deep regret that I move out of the house. They explained that the Government financial support they had been receiving was being reduced by the exact amount that I was contributing to the household and further, this had been going on all the while I worked after turning 18. BAM!!! Shock!!! Deep emotional pain!!! Psycho damage!!!! Maybe I should have been killed. Blind rage!!! Time to grow up now!! This was the preface and prelude for my decision to re-enlist. Never saw it coming.

In the next five years the wheels gradually came off the cart. Starting with a failed, long term relationship, leading to an immediate marriage on the rebound, (1968) a son (born 1971), a lawsuit, (from prior relationship w/ child birth) seeing riots, a city on fire, martial law being declared, and having five different jobs.

PTSD was unknown, un-named, and unrecognized, in the inner city at that time. The victims often misdiagnosed and untreated. Still I knew something was wrong with my well being, and the basic answer I had was get away from that environment, get a divorce and RE=ENLIST.!!!

The decision was made and I resigned from my job approximately one week before I left for California (1972). In the recruiters office a day after my arrival I said "I'm back to stay." The SSgt. said "Fine, sign here and you start over as a PFC once the CMC approves your request." That took all of the next day to happen. It was one of the best things could have done with my life!

The next best thing was meeting and marrying Janet in 1976, my wife of 36 years, who supported me through all this craziness.

When I re-enlisted, a service path was not discussed, I was just glad to be back on active duty, willing to take anything they threw at me, including another tour in Vietnam.

I was assigned to Schools Battalion, Camp Del Mar, Camp Pendleton for duty with the mail room as a postal clerk. Here I was able to get re-oriented to this "new Corps" equipment and lifestyle. Gone was the open squad bays, civilian cooks were now in the mess halls. We sat at tables, and ate off plates, dorm style, and co-ed barracks. Unbelievable!

Me now a PFC retread, 29 years old, had to learn to listen to that 19 year old Lance Cpl. that was fresh out of cash sales, because he knew a lot more than I did. That took some effort, but it paid off because I made Sergeant meritoriously and then Staff Sgt. within 5 years.

Training requirements now had mandatory MCI courses, and discussions about human relations, values attitudes, and beliefs with a whole lot of emphasis on curtailing substance abuse problems.

There were quite a few retreads of equal or higher rank at Schools Bn, but the Camp Sgt.Maj. thought I was a perfect candidate to attend a laundry list of courses related to those subjects and the die was cast. CMC had ordered each command to get it done. Eternal gratitude is owed to that Sgt. Maj. for having the insight to steer me in the direction of what was to become a very rewarding career pattern that allowed me to give something back to the Corps.

If you participated in combat, peacekeeping or humanitarian operations, please describe those which were the most significant to you and, if life-changing, in what way.

The beach landing at Danang and operation Mallard stand out as being the most significant: The beach landing was my intro to Vietnam and I consider it to be my doctorate degree for all the wet net training I've ever had, and operation Mallard as being my true test: Courage under fire!

THE LANDING 17-18 NOV '65, sat off the coast aboard ship, on deck that evening after chow, watching the explosions, tracers, and other sounds of war officers and platoon Sgts order us below deck said we would only get about four hours sleep. The gunny gives us a pep talk and other words of encouragement. We sort gear and assemble our packs, staff and officers meet lights out, few if any of us are able to sleep minutes past Reveille, I'm already dressed, get my #2 done (may be the last), rinse hands and face, line up for chow call to debark stations start immediately, landing craft lowered, slam down the lukewarm SOS and potatoes, get below on my gear assemble, and head up to the debark station.

It's dusk before dawn, slight chill in the air, and poor visibility. "NEXT FOUR!" is yelled out in the midst of all the other activity around me. We four get on the net somewhat in sync and start our decent, concentrating on the placement of our hands and feet trying not to step on the Marines underneath us or get stepped on by the Marines above, the landing craft going erratically up and down, from 15 to 50 feet beneath you in an instant and we all bang off the side of the ship accordingly. Hold on, don't look down, listen for the command that will free you from the net. An M-14 falls into the ocean lost forever. A Marine gets trapped between the ship and the landing craft, severely injured. We are ordered to hold our positions until they retrieve him.

This delay adds to the fatigue and exhaustion we already have from the weight of our field transport pack and weapons, DON'T LOOK DOWN !! They give the word, we start down again to be suddenly met by the landing craft on the way up. Forced to let go, we crash onto the deck, slip on the puke, swear, struggle, recover and take the position of the Marines that held the net for us, a Marine freezes on the net two marines near him talk him down. Nobody laughs or jokes all is silent except for commands and the engine exhaust.

The looks on our faces and in our eyes told the story," This was the real deal!"

Now loaded, we circle around in groups of four: Port, starboard, fore, and aft of the ship now in full daylight, for an eternity. Inhaling fumes, nausea, gagging and puking, some of us seasick and unable to stand. Finally we head in for the landing. "KEEP YOUR HEADS DOWN, SNIPERS HAVE BEEN SIGHTED!"

We arrive, the ramp drops, we step off in four feet of water, some go under, like me, but recover and wade ashore. Vietnamese kids and their mothers greet us and try to sell us sodas!!

Many of us proceed to share our mixed emotions and utter numerous expletives toward anyone within sight or hearing. Officers and SNCO's start calling for formations, companies are assembled. General Walt greets us with the chilling fact that some of us will die leaving each of us with our own thoughts looking left and right, front and rear. Who would be the first to get it?

OPERATION MALLARD...16 JAN '66.
It was the first major operation we had since arriving in country. I got with Jim Pancerella, Bob Burns, and Ron Shepard who were on the dike with me that night and they helped me recall certain details of this operation that had long since faded from memory.

Our unit received an order to move out and link up with the 7th Marines. Before we went out, Jim and I had a brief, somewhat heated conversation about why we even had to go out that night. Mission basically unknown, pitch black, warning issued, stay on the dikes to avoid the Pungi sticks that had been planted in the rice paddies. In the midst of that heated conversation, Jim said, "Somebody is going to die" or words to that effect. At this time that was the last thing I needed to hear. Gear check, sound proof, and we moved out. I was numb with fear but my "auto pilot" training took over and I focused on what I felt was necessary to stay alive.

Movement along the dike settled into some type of an "S" formation, visibility poor, I relied on the squishing sound from the Marine's movement in front of me in order to keep up. Jim and I with the M-60, were located somewhere behind the first squad, with the Lieutenant, radioman and grenadier, a M-79 launcher, I think.

First came one shot, some shouting, another couple shots then chaos. I slipped down into the rice paddy, body half submerged, looking over my rifle barrel. Jim managed to fire the M-60 a short burst before it jammed. The Lieutenant shouts "gun up." Irritated by the fact that Jim was trying to clear the jam, the other M-60 our left flank, fires a series of short bursts. I'm pissed with Jim for all of two seconds. Two rounds smack into the dike on my left side, clearly intended to take out myself or Jim. I piss myself, warm sensation spreading rapidly in my groin area, and get a little further down in the rice paddy, muzzle flashes coming from different directions, enemy not visible. I don't recall what happens next or what Jim was doing, but a cease fire was called, command and direction given, wounded attended to, medevac called in, and we held our position in the rice paddy throughout that night.

WIA / KIA are a matter of record that I need not recount at this time except to say all of us who were there shared this experience. An experience that none of us who survived, will ever forget.

Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which one was your least favorite?

I had some serious doubts when I first reported in to K-Bay Hawaii on an accompanied tour having just finished a 12 month tour on Okinawa and now told I was going out on a six month float in the next two weeks. My household effects had not yet arrived and I had no designated living quarters!! We had been married for just a few months and this proved to be the perfect place to celebrate our honeymoon: Townhouse on the beach in the SNCO section, the BBQ's, the eventual WestPAC tour aboard the Tarawa. The disco dancing! It just didn't get any better than this. I rate being stationed there at the top of my list.

Also gave me an opportunity to work in my original 03 grunt MOS, but as a platoon Sgt. Something I had not done in 10 years and was an added boost to my career.

From your entire service, including combat, describe the personal memories which have impacted you most?

Winning the Geico Award with a trip to D.C./ HQMC and meeting the Commandant of the Marine Corps Alfred M. Gray, Jr. then having lunch with Marine Corps Sgt.Maj. David W. Sommers.

It was very interesting to watch three-star generals saying "sir" and Colonels bringing and serving cups of coffee. I took mine but my wife doesn't drink coffee. I told her she should at least pretend. This picture was taken in the Commandants office by one of his staff photographers. It was unbelievable !

His comment and signature on this picture appears in my profile section.

If you received any medals for valor or awards for significant achievement, please describe how these were earned.

The Combat Action Ribbon: it's a validation of the job I was trained to do and the sacrifice I was willing to make for those who deserve to have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

Lt. Craig Creamer, Golf Co BLT 2/3 was my platoon commander and I was a struggling Staff Sergeant still making an adjustment to this "new Corps." I had not been with a grunt company in over 10 years and he was my mentor and I learned a lot and he basically saved my career. One of the best officers I've ever had the pleasure to serve with.

Through TWS, I plan to contact him and personally make that statement directly to him. Definitely to be added to my list of brothers.

Can you recount a particular incident from your service which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?

Picture this, Okinawa, Camp Courtney, a Gunny coming in from the ville, walking up the hill to the barracks, maxed out, walks off the road into bush, collides with a tree. We find him there, nose buried against the tree, arms and legs still pumping. LOL right now.

What profession did you follow after your military service and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?

Went directly to work at a plumbing parts warehouse but tested and hired on with the San Diego County Probation Dept. Gave that up because of distances to travel, accommodations, and the work schedule. I continued working at the warehouse for the next 19 and 1/2 years. Full retirement was Feb 2010. Work now consists of lawn and garden and trying to keep the best looking landscape on the block.

First couple years of our retirement we spent a lot of time (a waste) planning our cruises, taking short trips to Vegas etc. We learned it was best just to do whatever we want whenever we want, and take each day as it comes. Feels good not to be on lock down and be able to look in a mirror without it cracking!!

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career?

The education I received and working as a counselor in a military environment pretty much supported what I've always felt, and that is to not take anyone or anything for granted or exploit the weakness of another person for your own benefit.

In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.

TWS has absolutely been the best source I've ever had to reconnect and bond with my service and many of those I have served with over 40 years ago. I recently met with Donald Ahrens who I had not seen or heard from in over 46 years prior to joining TWS.

I find TWS very beneficial, with a definite therapeutic quality for many of us who may have unresolved issues. I highly recommend and encourage all former and current military service members to take advantage of it.

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