Monday February 17, 2020
Nov-10-2009 01:39TweetFollow @OregonNews
Visit From the Ghosts of Marine Corps Birthdays Past (VIDEO)Tim King Salem-News.com
Stories from an inescapable lifetime connection to the Marines, a message from beyond, and several Marine related videos, happy 234th birthday Marine Corps!
(SALEM, Ore.) - As the U.S. Marine Corps observes and celebrates the day it was founded, in Tun Tavern, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 10th 1775, I can't help but reflect on what a hard road it has been for the men and women who wear the eagle, globe and anchor for a living.
My love/hate relationship with the Marine Corps began in the early 80's when I joined "open contract" for three years. This open contract thing is how a lot of good Marines end up in the infantry. Fortunately or so it seemed at the time, I'd be working in a Marine Air Wing with fighter jets, on the flightline.
After 13 weeks of basic training or "boot camp", I was given orders to report to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County, California, where I would receive on the job training as a tactical aircraft refueler.
I had to laugh at the time. I tell people I joined the Marines so I wouldn't end up pumping gas for a living, then spent my enlistment refueling fighter jets.
It is a pleasure and a curse being a former Marine and an Internet reporter. I am compelled to follow Marine related issues and it is personal, but I know that can't be the reason for everything I do.
Still, the personal connection is a hard one to beat, and we Marine veterans are a tight knit community. As a reporter, I've done many stories with Marines and about Marines. The video reports I have filed over the years are available to watch at the bottom of the story.
Currently embattled on numerous fronts, Marines fight the enemy in combat, then return to fight their own government for compensation. And that's not to mention the fact that the Marine Corps can eat its own for lunch.
The Marines who return home from places like Kandahar and Fallujah, Khe Sahn, the Chosin Reservoir, Iwo Jima and Belleau Wood, are damaged in many cases. The demands placed on them in a 24/7 combat environment are pressing.
Tough or not, Marines are just people, and the list of hazards that threaten Marines beyond the roadside bomb and the the sniper's bullet is long and not even totally defined.
In the most basic sense, Marines are people who choose to challenge their physical and mental realities. It is a dare of sorts, do you have what it takes?
Sometimes it is circumstantial, maybe the Army recruiter was out to lunch, and the Marine in dress blues, who in all likelihood is a serious salesman, ushers the prospective military member into his den of motivational posters and pens intended for you to sign your life away with.
Marines have their own ways of doing things. We learned to lace our boots a certain way, eat a certain way, the haircut with the trimmed sidewalls is unmistakable, the salute is distinct, and everything a Marine accomplishes is generally done in longer shifts and learned during more extensive training periods, than most could imagine.
In basic training, we had to qualify with the M-16 a1 rifle at the 500 meter line, when the weapon's maximum effective range is 463 meters. I always thought that was a good example of what makes the Marines different.
Marines take their jobs seriously, and all Marines can be instantly placed in an infantry role, regardless of their job or rank or gender or anything else. If a person wears the Marine uniform, then you can assume that they are physically fit. Running seven or more miles in formation is not unheard of, my squadron did it several times a week.
The Drunken Officer's Ball
By 1995 I was long gone from the Marine Corps, working as a Photojournalist/Reporter for KYMA (NBC) in Yuma, Arizona. Our news staff was invited to the Officer's Ball November 10th, 1995, at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. It was a lavish affair and we in rented tuxes and our ladies in beautiful dresses mingled with fighter pilots and commanders, Marines, RAF pilots, others from France, etc. All wore their very best, it was a memorable and first rate setting to honor the Corps.
We had people in our party who will remain nameless, but one was the daughter of a famous Hollywood Producer/Director. She was the friend of a reporter who was from Beverly Hills.
The woman in question quickly became intoxicated, and then her attention was caught by the sparkle of pilot's wings, general's stars and combat medals. They became the focus of her attention. She began touching, heck pawing them, asking what they meant and represented, in a drunken stupor. She asked questions like, "what was this one for big guy?"
It was ugly and ended up being no laughing matter, when our station had to write an official letter of apology to the Marine Corps!
EA6b Prowler Crash in Arizona
I've covered Marines at war, but I've never been around anything as tragic as the results of an EA6b Prowler crash on the Barry Goldwater Range in Arizona in 1996. Four Marine officers were flying the low level electronic warfare and weapon jamming attack jet, when something went wrong at a very low altitude. Marines at the scene who had to recover the remains of these fallen aviators, said they appear to have been in the process of ejecting when the plane went in.
This is one of several Marine Corps plane crashes that I covered during my two years at the Yuma NBC. The Navy lost FA-18 fighters every now and then at nearby El Centro, but the Marines lost things like Harriers and CH-46 helicopters.
One day the base's fighter weapons school had students in the air flying F/A-18 Hornets, opposing two of the "aggressor" planes; Marine Reserve pilots in Air Force F-5 Tigers flying in the MiG simulator role. These two fighters crashed into each other head on.
Incredibly, one pilot flew his damaged jet fighter back and landed it, with no canopy! The other ejected, and his plane flew off into the Mexican desert, never to be seen again, in spite of several attempts to locate it.
On my first day on the flightline at El Toro in 1981, I watched an F-4 Phantom lift off the deck, only to have one of its two landing gear wheels fall back to earth. The pilots landed that plane on a wheel and a landing gear strut, and walked away from it without a scratch. It was an amazing fireworks show. I wouldn't have wanted to be the ground crewman in charge.
A couple of years later I was on a Combined Arms Exercise at 29 Palms, California on night operations, when two CH-46 Sea Knights with troops aboard, experienced engine failure and crashed. Our fuel was immediately suspect, but cleared upon analysis. I never knew why both of those birds went down within minutes of each other. The Marines aboard were injured, but none died.
Iraq and Afghanistan
I saw Marines in Afghanistan while covering the war there who had the fifty yard stare, synonymous with Vietnam and Korea and WWII, where fatigue and excessive combat generates a certain look, seen only in combat forces at war.
I spent most of my time around the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, seeing Marines along the way. I visited the Pesh Valley and spent time at a forward operating base called Camp Joyce, named for a Marine named Kevin Joyce who was killed there in prior operations earlier in the war.
In Iraq I saw a 19-year old female Marine man a .50 caliber machine gun in the turret of a HUMVEE, and I met a Navy doctor serving with the Marines in al Anbar, who was getting several Iraqi children into Israel for heart surgery.
I flew in the new Marine tilt rotor plane, the V-22 Osprey, and other Marine aircraft like the C-130 Hercules transport plane, and Marine helicopters like the CH-53e and the famous CH-46.
One serious threat to the combat veteran Marine is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The problems this disorder potentially represents, are potentially life shattering. One of the videos below details our plans to produce an hour long educational documentary about PTSD that is vitally needed.
During my years at El Toro, I saw some pretty poor examples of environmental stewardship. Perhaps everyone was unaware of the damage we were committing with our above ground fuel systems, always spilling jet fuel onto the ground where it was absorbed by the soil. As it turns out, that may be the least of the problems.
I learned in early 2008 that the old base, closed since 1999, is a serious environmental contamination zone, and Marines and even their kids are dying from cancer over it. Cancers of several types, liver failure and lower stomach disorders are some of the more common illnesses
Of course that isn't why they closed the base, that would be all too responsible.
El Toro was closed because Irvine and Lennar Homes wanted to turn the place into a park and housing subdivision, and somehow they are still thinking that they can get away with it. There was a plan on the table to turn the Marine bsae into an airport, which would have barred residential construction there.
The airport idea was defeated and the developers won.
The only thing they may not have seen coming, was the information we could make available through the Internet.
Salem-News.com has been relentless in this subject area for almost two years, with help coming from people like Salem-News.com writer Dr. Phil Leveque, a Physician, Pharmacologist and Forensic Toxicologist, and Bob O'Dowd, who along with Salem-News.com consultant John Uldrich, is a former El Toro Marine.
This information set my current course and along with the other former El Toro Marines, and doctors and scientists, we have worked hard to bring the ugly facts about the base forward.
El Toro is heavily contaminated with the chemical degreaser TCE (trichloroethylene) and PCE, (perchloroethylene) as well as perchlorate and according to witness account, enriched U-235 uranium.
Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, an active base, has the same problems.
The Ghosts Speak
The Ghosts of Marine Birthdays Past had a few words to share with the people leading today's Marine Corps. It was particularly addressed toward the upper echelon of Marines who truly call the shots. The words from the spirits were as follows:
We know you, we are watching you, we walked in the same footsteps