Captain Dye's Blog
Friday, 24 April 2009
No Boot Camp for Barry Jones
My buddy Barry Jones is a very special Marine. Not that I don't consider all Marines to be special per se, but Barry is the only one I've met personally that claims the title without benefit of boot camp. I've had some of my unlettered brethren tell me it's impossible but I regularly refer them to the history of the Corps during the Korean War or provide a lecture that runs something like this.
The United States Marine Corps was fighting for its very existence in the demobilization and drawdown period following World War II under extreme pressure from sister services who wanted the Corps' bodies and budget. Adding to the threat of extinction were certain axe-wielding members of Congress and a short, feisty guy from Missouri in the White House who believed the Marines were irrelevant for the atomic age ushered in by the war-ending strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The heated arguments became moot when North Korea invaded its neighbors to the south in June 1950 and President Truman ordered U.S. troops into the fray. None of America's standing military outfits - all at low post-war strengths and mostly enjoying hedonistic garrison lifestyles, especially in the Far East -were ready for a combat call-up on short, unexpected notice.
The Army sobered up some soldiers on occupation duty in Japan and dispatched them to the Korean peninsula where the North Koreans had forced the rag-tag Republic of Korea (ROK) forces into an ever-tightening noose around the southern port city of Pusan. The soldiers did the best they could to establish what became known as the infamous Pusan Perimeter, barely keeping the raging enemy hordes at bay. They needed help and they needed it in a hurry. General Douglas MacArthur, El Supremo in the post-war Far East and de facto warlord for the Korean situation, was a fan of Marines based on his experience with them in the Pacific campaigns of WW II. He demanded a Marine Brigade be sent on the double to shore up the sagging defenses at Pusan and begin a planned northward push to recapture the South Korean capitol at Seoul. The Corps promptly began a mad scramble at posts and stations everywhere to find enough Marines to populate the brigade, realizing that it was now or never if they intended to pull the fat out of the fire and stay in business.
Now back to my buddy Barry Jones who had graduated from high school around this time in his home state of Pennsylvania. He found gainful employment a little hard to come by what with all the returning WW II vets re-claiming their jobs and thought he might do something to delay starvation by joining the Marine Corps Reserve unit in his hometown. So, there he was in the summer of 1950, trying to learn which end of the rifle launches the bullet, and waiting for his turn to head for boot camp where he would be transformed into a Real Marine through the tender ministrations of Drill Instructors at Parris Island. And then - as they taught me to say in OCS - the defecation hit the oscillation.
Wearing a set of recycled dungarees and wondering what he'd done to deserve this, Barry was packed up and shipped off to Camp Pendleton with his fellow reservists as part of a Corps-wide mobilization. They arrived in southern California to find a cobbled together fire brigade of dazed Marines stuffing gear and people into ships bound for the Far East. Barry felt certain he'd be offered a course of solid instruction by veterans but the situation was chaotic at Camp Pendleton with press gangs of NCOs descending on all commands to shanghai Marines and turn them into riflemen regardless of their specialties. Barry says he mostly just ran around trying to avoid working parties and sneaking into combat training events on the off chance he might learn something useful before he had to board one of those ships and head for Korea.
When the situation at Pusan stabilized somewhat after the arrival of the Marine Brigade and some very hard fighting through the humid Korean summer, the turbulence on the Camp Pendleton end of the replacement pipeline stabilized a bit and Private Jones thought maybe they'd ship him down the road to San Diego for his boot camp experience. The Corps had no time to waste on basics for guys like Barry who were already in place and under arms. MacArthur was hard at work planning a counter-offensive and a very risky amphibious assault to re-take Seoul through the port of Inchon. Barry was pushed and pummeled through an advanced infantry course under the tutelage of recalled WW II combat vets and became a light machine gunner. Before he had a chance to put very many rounds through his M1919A4 .30 caliber weapon across the ranges of Camp Pendleton, he was assigned to a replacement company and boarded a ship for the trip to Korea.
The chilly winds of winter were beginning to blow down from Manchuria across Korea when Barry arrived and was assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, Seventh Marines. His unit was headed north across the 38th parallel as part of MacArthur's ambitious push to build on his success at Inchon and the recapture of Seoul. Not that anyone bothered to tell Barry about it, but the plan was to push all the way to the Yalu River, taking the North Korean capitol at Pyongyang and ending the Korean "Police Action" in an allied victory. The battered and bruised veterans of Fox Company were happy to get replacements but a little dubious about guys who joined their ranks without having been to boot camp, the common denominator among all enlisted Marines. Barry Jones, boy machinegunner, was going to have to prove himself.
There were more than enough opportunities to do that on the march north with the 1st Marine Division headed for the Chosin Reservoir and a brutal, record-setting winter roaring into Korea. Barry fought all the way through that campaign, including the astounding stand made by his company on Fox Hill which guarded the road between Yudam-ni and Koto-ri and kept it open during the infamous withdrawal from the Chosin under intense pressure to communist Chinese forces that had entered the war a few weeks earlier. He endured some of the most horrendous battlefield conditions in military history during the Chosin campaign and took part in some of the most brutal combat ever experienced by American Marines. Barry Jones came out of that fight a bona fide member of the elite Chosen Few, bloody but unbowed with severe frost-bite in his fingers and toes.
Despite the hardships and heavy casualties, Barry Jones and most of the 1st Marine Division survived the Chosin Reservoir campaign and I thank my lucky stars for that. Korea vets, many of them Chosin survivors, taught me the little things about combat that kept me alive in Vietnam. That's the legacy of the Corps and it's one of the things that forges the tight connection between me and my friend Barry Jones.
Barry left the Corps physically after Korea but the Marine spirit is always with him and it's obvious to everyone he meets. It was partially that spirit that kept him alive and made him a successful detective during a long career with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. And it's that spirit that reassures me Barry will survive and prosper after the heart surgery he's just endured. He's a tough guy, true friend, hardened warrior and a fine Marine. But he still hasn't been to boot camp.

Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 4:33 PM in Category:General News
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