Marine against his will by thadeusz
My name is Peter. When I was in high school, I was a good learner, a straight As student ! I was also good at sports : running and swimming were my favorites. Many of my friends were members of the Marine Corps Junior ROTC unit we had in our school. They kept telling me I should join too and I kept refusing. I did not that much dislike the crisp uniforms they had to wear one day a week, nor the discipline of their group. I did not even dislike, but never said so, the exercises they had to do when training for the inspections. But I simply hated the idea of having to wear short hair. At that time, I was very proud of my huge blond mane, my long hairs reaching below my shoulders. I was 16 and already in grade 11 : nothing was going to stop me going to college and become the best of the bests hairy students in chemistry, my favorite domain.
Unluckily, that year, a little bit after Christmas, both my parents died suddenly in a car accident. I was still a minor and I was entrusted to the good care of my only uncle, an old man who envied and disliked my parents. He kept telling me that it was good that "these two animals” had died. I really did not feel like him : I was very fond of my parents. Luckily, John, one of my schoolmate and a Sergeant in the school MCJROTC program, invited me (with his parents' permission) to stay at his place till I graduated. That's where I finished my high school studies. During that period, I had discovered that my beloved parents had placed some money aside for my college studies. My dream was thus intact, except that it would be slightly less comfortable and that I would have to work besides being only a student in order to have enough money to live comfortably. But that did not appear too difficult since the most important thing had occurred : I got an acceptance letter from my first choice college ! And I was going to start there at the age of 17.
I studied very hard during these four years and learned a lot (and I cooked I don't remember how many hamburgers "for a living”). Life was good to me again. My girlfriend, when I was a freshman, tried to convince me to cut a little bit of my wonderful hair : I broke up with her and kept my mane as it was since I had entered high school. It was long but it did not really handicap me for the manipulations I had to do in the lab. In one word, the mane remained but the girlfriend went away. I got my diploma "summa cum laude” and for the first time in years, in fact since my parents' untimely death, I could take some free time for me doing nothing else than relax.
Indeed, I had three things in front of me : first an acceptance letter in MIT graduate program, one of the best Doctoral program on the East Coast; second a four year scholarship to cover the cost of these studies; third about 3 months free time and enough money to make a "big” trip to Europe. So, I took my passport (I had asked for one a few months ago) and left for France. After a little bit less than 3 months, I came back ready to start a new life: that of a doctoral student in Cambridge, MA !
Immediately after landing, when my turn came for the passport control, something strange happened. The controllers started to discuss my case, then they called other people by phone. Finally they told me that there was "a little problem” and that I should wait in a small adjoining room. They also apologized for the delay, which should have made me suspicious: controllers never apologize when they let you unduly wait ! After more or less two hours, two MPs arrived in the room. They grabbed me, handcuffed me without any explanation and forced me to follow them to a jeep marked MP. I kept asking "What's happening”, louder and louder, and they kept answering "Shut up” or "You know”. Finally, the jeep left with one MP and me in the back (this MP was really holding me all the time) and the other MP driving. In the mean time, my bag with all my little travel belongings had been lost somewhere. The MPs obviously kept my passport and other documents concerning me, but I don't know where nor what these documents were. The jeep finally arrived in a part of the airport which seemed to be the military part. I was taken out of the jeep and brought to a cell. I told them that there must be a mistake: I was, as of now, an MIT graduate student (which was technically not correct yet, but would be in a matter of hours) and not a soldier, so they should leave me free. They simply did not listen, searched me and took away all I had (as they probably must do with any prisoner) : wallet, watch, belt, the laces of my new Nikes, etc. Finally they took off the handcuffs, gave me water to drink and told me that the whole process had taken such a lot of time "because of my resistance” that it was past eating time : there was nothing left to feed me, and the kitchen was closed ! They added that I would have something to eat very early the next morning, very early because the final trip was to start immediately after. The MPs then left the cell and they closed the heavy door which made a clear "Bang" and locked the door from the outside. I really did not understand what was happening, I was tired of the trip so I decided that it would be better to sleep and discuss with "more educated people” the next day. There was a plank along a wall : I chose to lay down exactly there, and believe it or not, I slept very well.
The next morning, two other MPs -resembling very much the first ones- came into the cell. They gave me a metallic dish with two pieces of dry bread, and a metallic beaker full of hot coffee without any sugar or cream. In these days I loved lots of sugar in my coffee and lots of butter and jam on my bread. The two MPs told me that I had exactly 5 minutes to eat and drink, and they did not seem to be of the joking kind. So I hurried, gulped nearly what I could of the very hot coffee and swallowed at once the bread. Anyway I was really very hungry and thirsty. After the 5 minutes were over (I guessed since I had been deprived of my watch) one of the MPs took the dish and the beaker away, and both started then to shackle me, hands and feet in chains and all that joined to a special belt they placed on my waist. They also attached a little bag to this belt. They told me that the bag contained all the things the previous MPs had taken the day before, except my "order of transfer” which would be given to the NCO I would be entrusted to. It was rather uncomfortable, but I realized that I better obey and discuss later. The MPs made walk, as well as I could with the shackles, to a military plane and brought me on board of it without another word. They then entrusted me to the guard of a US Marine, who appeared to be a sergeant.
I was thus seated in the plane, shackled, wondering where the plane was taking me, and why it was taking me there, and whether I would be in time in MIT : a delay could entail the loss of the scholarship. The plane started to fly and the sergeant told me with a severe look : "So, after all, at last you start your final trip and stop dodging.”
"Where are we going to ? Where do you take me ?” I asked
"To the Camp” was the reply "but you must know”
I started to shout that I was not a soldier, that I never wanted to be one : I only wanted to be what I was, a graduate student.
The sergeant looked at me and said "On my papers here, it says that you are a deserter or AWOL or something like that : you promised to join the Corps and failed to appear in due time at the MEPS. They say you are nearly 3 months late but looking at your hair I doubt if that is true, you probably needed more time to grow all that.”
I couldn't resist saying "All my life”
The sergeant replied "Well, everything is going to be in order now. They are going to make a real marine of you.”
I wanted to shout "I don't want to be a marine and never wanted” when suddenly something popped to my mind. A short time after my parents died, the recruiter taking care of our school came to my uncle's house and tried to console me. He said that he realized that I was alone now and had no hopes of further studies, that he knew I was a good student and a good sportsman, that he also had one possibility to help me to start college on government money, etc. He kept talking about that and also kept coming to me: it was a form of harassment but, considering my relation with my uncle, I had nobody with whom I could discuss this, nobody that would help me getting rid of this recruiter. I told this guy that I did not want to join the military but he kept coming with the same story, not knowing that my parents had provided for a good insurance which left me with enough money. Eventually, I asked him what I should do to get rid of him and he told me that, in order to enable him to get credit for the time he spent on "my sad case”, he simply asked me to take some tests (he said that it was a legal obligation). I did so and signed a piece of paper confirming (at least I believed so) that I had simply taken the tests for fun. Then the recruiter put on this paper my uncle's address, went with me to visit my uncle who also had to sign since I was a minor. And that was it. The recruiter had told me then that I would never more hear from him. Apparently, that was not the case.
I had never received any letter sent by this recruiter or any other document sent by the Marines, but that could be due to the fact that I had left my uncle's home, and that we were not in good terms: my uncle did not bother to mention mail coming for me at his place, and I did not mention my new address to the recruiting office! This could be the starting point of this bizarre situation which placed me shackled in a plane flying towards something which was most likely a Marine Corps Camp. It takes a certain time to tell this part of the story, but it came to like lightening as if it had happened yesterday. It gave me a vague idea of what might happen next and I did not like it at all, but this seemed so absurd to me that I rejected the idea immediately assuming all this was only a huge mistake. And so, I calmed down, assuming that in this camp there would at least be an officer with whom I could discuss and clarify the situation.
When the plane had landed, the sergeant helped me to stand up and to go down the plane, which was not easy because of the shackles. Two new MPs, two corporals, were waiting for me. The sergeant simply said : "That's the missing guy. Here are the papers I got about him. Now you take care of him.” and he left without saying anything to me.
The two corporals took me to a large and ugly looking building, where we entered in a small office. A third MP, a sergeant, was waiting there. He simply said : "Take these shackles away and take him to the barber. Get him rid of this ridiculous bag of hair. Bring him back to me after that”. I protested saying that I was not a soldier, never wanted to be one and certainly not a Marine. I also said that he had no authority upon me and that he was messing with my constitutional rights: my long hair was a an expression of my ideas and as thus protected by the 1st Amendment. I also required to see an officer before any further step was taken. The sergeant barked "Here, a scummy low level recruit like you, does not ‘request', you obey the orders and if told to speak, you answer.” And suddenly, changing his mind, he added "Take him away with his shackles.” The two MPs put me again on a jeep, as the day before, and took me to the barber. There were several chairs, but at that moment of the day, there was only one old barber. The MPs pushed me to one of the chairs and, to make sure I would not move and try to hinder the barber, they tied both my arms to the chair. They told the barber "It's for a well deserved induction cut”.
The barber came near me and seemed quite pleased "It is not often that I have the possibility to sculpt such a useless mass of hair into a decent hair cut”. A last time I tried to protest, but one of the MPs told me to remain quiet or he would gag me, and I assumed him able to do so. The barber caped me, took several pairs of clippers and started to attack my mane. He went slowly, as if he really liked to sculpt something in it ! I could hear and feel the clippers passing, and passing again, touching my skin and every time letting flocks of blond hair fall on the cape or on the floor. I could not see what he was doing because he had turned me away from the mirror and because with his strong hands, he kept pushing my head down. But I could perfectly see my hair falling on the cape and on the floor, and falling again. I could imagine the barber plowing the clippers through my hair and defining new streets in this old mane of mine, and then the streets became lanes and even avenues till he suddenly said : "It is done, young marine, you have now a decent induction cut”. He made me turn and look in the mirror and I saw what I then considered to be a horror: my head completely shaven, without a single trace of blond hair left. Since my hair was really blond, even what the barber had left was not visible.
The MPs brought me back to their sergeant, neither of them had smiled or exchanged a kind word with me since the very beginning. The sergeant explained that I was now to receive my first uniform: I had to put it on immediately in order to appear in front of the "officer in charge of the brig”. Once again I claimed that I was not a soldier, etc (but I was no longer so sure of that) and that I wanted to see the officer first, still clad as the civilian I was and wanted to remain. The sergeant did not go through any effort to discuss with me and told his two corporals : "Unshackle him.” I started feeling better. "Undress him, completely. We are going to put him where he belongs: in isolation, and in the nude.” I realized that I had to accept something and replied that I was now willing to put on the BDU they were handing me, with all the rest of the uniform. In a few minutes, say seconds, I was dressed like a Marine in green utility uniform with a utility cover on my head and black new uncomfortable boots, without any of the numerous insignia my tormentors were wearing. I felt comfortable, except for the new boots, especially without shackles, but not very elegant and certainly not dressed the way I wanted. I looked at them, in what I now know to be their service uniform. They were dressed like my MCJROTC were, back during high school times, and observed with pleasure that we were still differently dressed. I tried to smiled but I should have known better, and none of them smiled back. The sergeant told me "Now you are going to be presented to an officer”. He commended "March” but obviously I did not know that order and made no effort to try to understand what was expected from me. We walked to the next office and he introduced me to his officer, a young 2nd Lt : "This is our new Marine, Sir". The sergeant gave all my papers to the Lt who did not even look at me and said : "The AWOL guy?”. "Yes Sir” replied the sergeant. "Well he is in uniform now, and looks fairly decent” observed the officer. "Sir, If I may add something” started the sergeant, waiting till the Lt made an authorization sign "this Marine is a rebel : it was necessary to arrest him and he rebelled, he rebelled for the haircut and also before accepting to put on his uniform, Sir” and the sergeant stopped speaking. "In that case, you know the rule, 5 days isolation. I see in his file that there is no medical file. Bring him first, handcuffed, to the medical and then immediately to his cell”. I understood that the MPs were not more than prison guards and that Lt was a prison guard in chief ! So there was no point trying to discuss with him, which placed me in a delicate situation. My guards, saluted the Lt (which I purposely avoided to do), handcuffed me, took me to see a doc who very rapidly decided that I was "good for the service”. The MPs brought me then back to the sad building where I had seen the Lt. I learned that this was the camp brig. My guards pushed me into an isolation cell with, as only objects, the elements of uniform allowed in a prison cell. That was it : I was serving time for being late, that I understood, but late to an appointment I had not made and about which I had not been able to give or ask for any explanation.
Once in "my” cell, I did the only thing that seemed reasonable : try as a scientist to evaluate the situation. I sat on the plank that would serve me as bed and without thinking, I took of my cap and put it in my pocket as a real Marine would have done. I first tried to evaluate what was left of my hair : I let my hand search desperately all over my head for a tiny piece of hair, but after a certain time, despite all the scratching, I had to conclude that I was completely shaven and that, as I suspected, my nice mane was completely gone. I started then to evaluate the situation and realized that I was really alone: since my parents' death and my rupture with my uncle, I had lived more or less alone, without people wondering what I was doing. I had no girlfriend for the time being, so there was really nobody who would be waiting for a phone call or a letter. And I had no means to reach the outside world before they let me out of this cell. I was stuck in this dreadful cell, in this stupid uniform. Then came a light: one person was waiting for me ! The professor who had accepted me as a student would wonder why I did not come. He would try to know what had happened: new grad students forgetting to come and losing their scholarship was something very rare, considering the difficulty one had to earn a place and a scholarship! But I thought "He better reacts fast: if things kept going as slowly as they seemed they were, I will never be in time in MIT". This meant the loss of my scholarship. This idea made me furious. I started to shout and call for help, to hit frantically the metal door in order to make somebody come. I kept doing all that during a certain time, shouting "Emergency” and banging on the door. And nobody came! After a certain time, I assume it was around noon but I have no certitude since I had been deprived of my watch, an MP, a guard, unlocked the door and silently gave me a metal bowl with some food, a piece of bread and a metal beaker full of water. He looked at me and made me sign showing I had to eat and drink immediately, which I did: the two slices of bread I had received before taking the plane were very far now and I was a hungry 21-year old. As soon as I had eaten and drunk, the guard left without a word, but with the bowl and the beaker and locked the door. I had tried to speak to him and to explain him how urgent it was for me to call my professor, but he did not listen and left me alone again with my thoughts. I really became furious, but there was nothing I could do. So I calmed down and started to think about my research project, even if it appeared now slightly in danger: at least it occupied my mind. This went on for five days: I had been placed in solitary and in solitary I was, with the only apparition three times a day of a guard with some food. The only events that marked the time was the moment the electric lamp went on in the morning and the moment it went out in the evening.
At the end of the five days, a single guard (they probably believed that I had made apparent good progresses as far as discipline was concerned) came to fetch me and bring me in front of the same 2nd Lt as the first day. I tried to explain my scholarship problem to this officer, but he did not let me speak and simple asked : "Did you simmer down now ? Are you ready to obey my orders ?”.
I replied in a way which was really improper and impolite for anybody wearing the uniform I was forced to wear for the time being, but after all I was not in the military. I remember shouting that I was not a soldier, but a graduate student and that I had to warn urgently my professor if I did not want to lose my scholarship, that I wanted the Lt to respect my constitutional freedoms. The Lt's reaction was immediate : "He is not ready for service yet, bring him back to isolation for 5 more days”. And the guard took me energetically by the shoulder, so that I could not even try to escape my fate, and pushed me back in "my” cell. Once there, I realized that there was nothing I could do as long as I was not able to speak with a higher ranking and "less stupid” (according to me) officer. So this time, the cell served its purpose: I simmered completely down and decided to accept what was awaiting me until I could speak with what I considered as "real” officer.
I had thought that they would come and get me immediately on the evening of the 5th day (in fact the 10th day in my case!) to present me then to a superior officer. But they knew better and they let me simmer down one more night. The next morning, the guard came, gave me my food but for the first time was really speaking ! He told me to get washed and shaved and to follow him. He lead me again to the same 2nd Lt who asked me again : "Are you ready now to obey orders ?” and this time I answered "Yes, Sir” but I did not salute the officer! In fact, I was hoping I would be sent to a place where I could communicate with the outside world. The Lt started to tell me a story, one I should have guessed would be his story, but also one I did not want to think of during my 5 plus 5 days isolation. "You were supposed to arrive here voluntarily at the end of May. You did not come, but we found you at the end of August coming calmly back from another country, without any authorization. That makes you at least technically AWOL. For that, you deserve to be punished. I also noticed that you did not salute me when you entered my office: you probably need to be re-educated.” I tried to tell him that, not being a soldier, I had never been "educated” the way he meant it, but as soon as I opened my mouth, he shouted "Still rebellious ? Do you want 5 more days in isolation ?” I replied with energy "No, Sir”, knowing that it was what he expected and he continued his speech. "I don't want to punish you too harshly in order to avoid to handicap your starting Marine career. So I only give you 90 days military prison for being AWOL, immediately followed by 90 days re-education. GO NOW !” The last words had been barked by a furious Lt. So the guard took me back to the brig, arranged for me to have the necessary sets of special uniforms for my stay in prison and finally showed me in a big room where other guys in the same uniform were serving some time. All these guys, real Marines, but Marines in prison, wanted to know my story: the first time I told it, they did not believe it and made fun of me. So I decided to keep as quiet as possible until my "time” was over and I could openly speak with a responsible officer. I thus spent 90 quiet days in prison, which was not too hard despite the work we had to do and the contemptuous way the guards looked upon us and spoke to us. I was there with a bunch of Marines who had done something bad, but not too serious, like taking a few extra days leave without permission or being drunk during a guard. I discovered that the 2nd Lt had indeed made me a favor: normally AWOL cases were sent to a more serious and more severe prison. During these 90 days, I rapidly learned the "basic” movements and words I had to use to simplify my life during these 90 + 90 days: my fellow prisoners taught me how to salute, how to march, how to speak to a superior, etc. In other words, they taught me how to behave as if I were a real Marine, making thus my life bearable and without too many punishments for "unwanted behavior”. Apparently in my case, the Marine Corps had forgotten that normally everything should start in Boot Camp, even for a fellow like me! When my first 90 days were done, I received another set of uniforms, normal uniforms now, and I was sent to another part of the camp where unruly Marines, lacking discipline, were sent to train hard and so doing be re-educated. The guys there also wanted to know my story but being prepared now, I told them as little as possible. These 90 days were far more unpleasant than the previous ones: we had as "educator” a Staff Sergeant who really believed that the only way to educate us, was to break us first. When I realized that, I chose the "slope of least gradient”, the approach angle which would be easiest to climb: I tried to guess exactly what the SSgt would be expecting from me and I did it in a submissive way. In any case, there was nothing else I could do for the time being. This way, I ended my re-education (without having had any prior education !) with the congratulations of the SSgt who ended up saying that my behavior was "Marine like" that he did not understand why I had been sent to re-education ! This did not make me feel happy since I was now fully aware that it was far too late for my scholarship. Thus, I was no longer nervous: I simply hoped that as soon as this "circus", as I mentally called it, would be finished and as soon as I would be free again, I could have another go at this scholarship, but for next year.
Finally, my time there was over. My day had come : I would be free in a few minutes. I could not imagine that they would keep me any longer. After reveille, I was told to go to "administration” where I should present myself to an officer "in charge of straightening up your file”. They seemed to have more confidences in me now: they let me go all alone. I did what I was told to do, without regret. I want to stress here that during these days in the brig and in re-education, the guards and sergeants were not especially kind with me: they were not there to be "kind”. But although they used unkind words, although they made me do push ups and other physical exercises as punishments for what they considered as non acceptable behavior, they never hit me or brutalized me in any other way.
On my way to see this officer "in charge of my file”, I felt exceptionally well. I was under the impression that finally I would meet someone who would listen to my story. I was soon to discover that this was not exactly the case. When I entered the designated office, I could see that the officer, a Captain, was reading my file. He left me standing in front of his desk and did not give me the opportunity to explain my case. He immediately started, saying that this file was an embarrassment for the Marine Corps and that they could not accept that. In fact, in the file there was an enlistment promise signed by me and my uncle, as I had guessed in the plane bringing me to this Camp, but also a letter in which I purportedly asked for a four year delay in order to go to college and get ROTC credits. There was also an acceptance letter for these 4 years delay ! The problem was that a close examination showed that the letter asking for delay was not signed by me, but probably by the recruiter, or by my uncle or anybody else ! There were also letters reminding me of my appointment at MEPS, asking me why I had not shown up in due time, etc. All these letters had been sent to me at the only address they had : my uncle's address, and since I had no contact any more with him I had never received these letters. The Captain then said that this recruiter had been commended for the good quality of his recruiting duty activity and was no longer in the Corps. "So”, he told me, "you must realize that the Corps will never accept to admit that some recruits, and you are one of them, were cheated into signing an enlistment promise. The Corps will not admit that false promises were made: there is nothing to prove it. Nor will the Corps admit that some of these documents are fakes. Thus, you have two options. Either you accept the consequences of your initial signature and you enlist now in the Marine Corps, and I promise you that the Corps is going to do everything that is possible to eliminate the negative effects on your Marine career of your recent stay in the brig and in re-education; or you refuse to enlist and the Corps is going to prosecute you for breaking your promise: you will be tried and, since you are now on military ground and in uniform since about six months, you will be judged by a military Judge who will certainly sentence you, probably to 6 months in military prison, you will maybe stay less in prison but you will have to serve some time. After that you will get a dishonorable discharge from the Corps. It might seem a light sentence, but it will remain forever: you will have a police record. The choice is yours but you must make it now.”
"Sir,” I replied, starting purposely in the most official way, "What is going to happen with my graduate studies in chemistry ?”
"There will be no problem. If you enlist I promise you that one day you will go to grad school. In fact, we need people like you in the Corps.”
I thought for a few moments (the Captain did not give me more time) and I signed an enlisted contract of 5+3 with the promise that one of my jobs would be "to work in a Marine Corps lab”. In fact, I had taken some time while in re-ed to examine the situation and I knew, as a scientist, that it was possible the Marine Corps would behave like that. I knew the dangers for the career of my dreams, of having a police record: I wanted to become University professor and had to have an impeccable record for that. I was thus, in a way, prepared and ready to accept the Captain's offer. After giving my signature, knowing clearly this time what I was doing, I took the oath in the hands of the Captain. The Captain told me that I could leave his office: I was free for the day, as long as I stayed in the Camp. The Captain also told me to which barrack I should go to find my room. I appreciated his frankness and his way of being helpful with a complex situation, so I did what a real Marine was supposed to do in such a situation: I saluted him, turned perfectly on my heel and left the room. That was my first Marine salute: I did not like what was going to become of me, in fact I hated it, but my philosophy has always been "If you do something, do it as well as you can” and that holds for what I am forced to do. I must say that before going to "my barrack” and report there to the officer of the day, I used my last minutes of full freedom searching for the Camp bar hoping to find there a serious drink (I only found beer). I was trying to calm my rage, knowing that all solutions would have been bad and that the solution the Captain imposed was the least bad of all of them. The next day, I was told to change into my old civvies and I was shipped to Boot Camp.
Before I left the Camp, I had had time enough to call my professor and tell him my story. He said that he was very sorry for me, but that he could not do anything for me at the time being. He also said that he was convinced that by enlisting I had done the best for my distant future. He offered me the possibility to remain in touch with him "if my military occupations would leave me the time and the will to do so”. I thanked him, and that was it for my academic career! When asked to give the name of a person close to me "just in case”, I gave the name of John, the ex-sergeant of the MCJROTC unit of my school, the friend who had offered me a place where to sleep when I had problems with my uncle.
Boot Camp appears difficult to many recruits. It is also said that it is somehow painful, at least mentally. For me it was easy: I was in fact wearing the Marine uniform since about 6 months (a period which does not figure on my military record, following my agreement with the Captain). The shouting and harassing of the Drill Instructors was nothing compared to the behavior of the guards while I was in prison or the behavior of the SSgt and his team while I was in re-education. So, I survived. I received a few letters of my friend John who did not understand how I ended up being a Marine, I replied, but I decided not to tell him the whole story: it was too long and too demoralizing. During Boot Camp too, I decided to do my best: it has always been my philosophy and I decided that I should do everything to end up PFC. I finished Boot Camp as Lance Cpl and when that result was announced to me, at first I could not believe it. I must confess that, despite my bad opinion of the Marine Corps, I was very proud to be THE LCpl of my promotion, I considered this as an achievement. When family day came, I felt very bad: all my comrades had their relatives with them and I was alone. Suddenly John appeared and told me he came to spend the day with me. He looked at me, bewildered, not understanding how the unruly guy with long hair and wishing to do research could have been transformed into an (apparent) disciplined US Marine, with nearly no hair and only military ambitions. My friend was working in an insurance office and seemed to have lost all his ambitions. His hair was long now and disordered: he did not look well. John asked me what had convinced me to enlist in the USMC and I told him the whole story of the lost scholarship and the cheating recruiter. He confessed that, as MCJROTC Sergeant he had been pursued by this recruiter but that his parents had stopped all that by threatening to call the police. So the recruiter came back to my friend and told him he would no longer harass him, provided he suggested another potential candidate for the Corps. Convinced that I would never accept, John gave my name. He then apologized and said that he was really to blame. I told him that it was too late to blame anybody, and that there was no point crying over spilled milk. But now, I new where all that had started. John left as late as permitted but could not be present when each of us, the recruits, received our emblems. After that, I did not see John for a very long period of time and I was really not sad about it. During the emblem ceremony, I must confess that I was moved: the program is well organized, since ages, and it is meant to achieve the transformation of the group of civilians coming from everywhere, into a block of brother in arms, all US Marines. I must admit that, although I still disliked the uniform and the status which were mine now, and would be for 5 more years, this ceremony made a great impression on me. I certainly do not regret it, nor the part I had to play during the ceremony.
After Boot Camp I was assigned to the Camp where I had already been, in "a previous life” since my life as US Marine starts officially in Boot Camp. In my permanent Camp, after a short time, I was assigned to work in a lab, as promised. I did a starting Marine job : sweep the floor, clean everything, wash the pots and pans used for experiments. I also had to prepare coffee. On top of all this, I had to train with my comrades in order to become a good "fighting Marine", which I never was. I did not have to do all that during a long time: the officer in charge of the lab (in fact a group of research labs) called me in his office. He was in civvies, but I knew he was a Major and expected to be treated like one. When I entered, he had in his hands a small file with the letters MIT on it. The wonderful letters ! The Major told me: "Apparently you studied Chemistry in College. Are you ready to answer now a few questions or do you need to refresh your memory ?”
"Sir, I am ready and confident, Sir”
The Major started to ask me several questions about chemistry, more and more questions, difficult questions and common sense questions, he went faster and faster. He finally said "I have a copy of the file you prepared for your MIT application, and a letter of appreciation of your professor. It is not too bad for a LCpl of the USMC. You may go”. I saluted and went as ordered.
The next day, when I arrived in the lab, I was instructed to work with a researcher, a very fresh 2nd Lt whom I will call here "Arthur". I was also told that I was exempted of all military chores and exercises, except cleaning my room and the lab, and that I had only to work with Lt Arthur, my new chief. "Arthur" told me that he had taken NROTC credits during college and that he had been recruited then on the basis of a paper he wrote for his chemistry course, but that he was certain he was as good as "the chiefs" thought he was. He asked me about my story, which I told him, and he said he would help me to progress. The Major had arranged things so that I had a little place at a little desk near Arthur's desk. The Major gave me books and papers to read, and, most precious, time to read them and do research with "Arthur" and the others in the lab. Unavoidably, "Arthur" who was the youngest officer of the lab, and me worked together, read together, made experiments together and could not avoid becoming friends. But he was 2nd Lt and I was a low LCpl: we could not really show that we were friends and I had to respect the distance imposed by our difference in ranks. He kept calling me "Peter" and I had to reply "Sir". I hated this military life which hindered my normal way of studying and interacting with another. Especially since I wanted to help "Arthur" who clearly needed it: he was very good at doing things he had been told to do, but very slow at creating new solutions or at inventing new experiments. Despite this small problem, my life went on, rather pleasant, uneventful. It was in fact the life of a student, but without the agitation which is always present on campus. I accomplished all my duties, but I had to do it in uniform and, being only a LCpl, performing according to specific military rules which I considered then (and still consider) as ridicule, but which are the "skeleton”, the basic structure of every real army.
I was very rapidly promoted to Cpl, as rapidly as the regulations make it possible and once again, I was really pleased with it: I was starting to get used to the fact that I was a Marine. The next day the Major, officer in charge of lab, called me in his office. He first congratulated me and then asked "Did you ever think about a whole career in the Corps ?”
"Sir, you know that I would like, as soon as my contract is over, to go to the university and study as graduate student, Sir”
"What do you believe you are doing with that slow 2nd Lt of yours ? He reads the books with you, he makes experiments with you, but I choose all that ! You are a much better and more innovative researcher."
He then added "Do you know what a direct order is ?"
"Sir, yes, Sir”
"Well, you have a direct order coming from the Colonel, to prepare and go tomorrow to Officer Candidate School. We need you to be an officer in order to send you immediately to grad school. Sign here your new contract and get ready.”
"Sir, do I have the permission to think about the implications ? Sir”
"You are NOT stupid, that I know. So you must realize that we want you here working on specific projects for the military. You are able to do it, but you must be an officer to do so in order to outrank that idiot who is serving as your mentor for the time being. Sign and go ! It is an order”
I was not that stupid or blind: I had realized that some projects were very "touchy” and the Major's speech sounded like they wanted to place me somehow at the head of research for these projects. I signed, went to OCS and came out a 2nd Lt. I went back to the lab and kept working there. I went often to MIT and discussed often with my professor: the research I did was in constant progress. I got promoted several times. When the Major retired, I got his job as head of the lab. "Arthur" had a much slower career. He was never angry and accepted as normal the fact that his once LCpl student had become his chief. But as soon as we were both officers, we were at least able to go and have a drink together. "Arthur" has now left the Corps and lives far away but we remained friends and exchange Season greetings and news about our children.
I can say now that I have finally, in a strange way, reached my aim. I am at the head of a new research lab, as officer of the Marine Corps. I believe that my research is good and sound. But I do not have a Doctorate: in order to get that you must publish a Thesis, and my research cannot be published. In my private life, I have been blessed with a wife and two sons. The eldest one wants already to become a Marine "like daddy”, but he does not want to go through college, he wants to enlist as soon as he graduates from high school. But he is only 13. The second one does not like the military at all "daddy excepted” and hopes to study History in college. I am still an officer of the USMC and I still dislike some of the stupid regulations, but I like my life. I could go in civvies to the lab, and sometimes I do, but I have grown used to wearing BDU and my men respect me because they know I have earned, starting at Boot Camp, every badge on that uniform.
Recently, we had the 20th reunion of our high school group. I went there with my wife and I met John, still with long hair and not confident at all. We spoke a little bit and he asked me if I was still in the USMC (I was in civvies), and I said "Yes”. Then he asked if I had been promoted after all this time, and I said "Yes”. Then he asked what was my present rank and function, and I told him my rank and my function of head of a new lab, which I did not name. "So, after all this time, you succeeded ! You did it”
"Yes, John, but in a military way, which is not exactly what I dreamed of. And what happened to you ?”
"Nothing, I am still doing the same job and I am tired of it”
"Did you ask for a promotion"
"Yes, and they don't want to give it to me because I am not convincing enough for the public, at least that's what they say."
So I took him in front of a mirror and came next to him : he could see two men, one with short hair and looking confident, the other with long, disheveled hair, without any composure. I don't believe that the hair makes the man, that's good for USMC doctrine, but I believe that well ordered hair gives an impression of confidence and is thus good for a boss ready to give (or refuse) a promotion. I told that to John and convinced him to come with me to the hotel barber. We both got a haircut : I got my usual High N Tight while he was waiting. Then I told the barber to give John a neat induction cut. After that, he looked much changed, possibly to the better. I must confess that I do not know whether he got a promotion or a better job, but I owed him my free induction cut and thus my presence in the Corps, and my present position. I knew I should do the same for him. I told him that he was now ready to convince his boss that he deserved better. But was he really ? After all, if needed, I could find for him a job as lab cleaner in the Corps.