Recollections of a Marine

As the son of a Marine who served on Guadalcanal in 1942, I had an unusual childhood. The memories all came flooding back to me as the HBO program, The Pacific, which aired once again over this Memorial Day weekend.

Every scene in the ten-hour series I had already heard about around campfires, at veteran’s reunions, or in officers clubs around the world. At five, I learned how to open a coconut by tapping around the three eyes with a bayonet. At ten, I could shinny up a palm tree with a belt wrapped around my ankles.

I learned that you can shoot down a Japanese zero fighter by leading with four hand widths and aiming high. A tank can be disabled by ramming a log into its tracks. There was the survival training; practicing how to find water in the desert, setting a snare trap to catch small animals to eat, and starting a fire with only flint and steel. All the sniper training was fun, but was fortunately never put to use.

I can still thrill the kids by hitting a quarter taped to a tree 50 feet away with a Winchester lever action 30-30. We outfitted ourselves with surplus WWII equipment from the “Supply Sergeant” for camping trips, which you could buy for a couple dollars. Now, you only find these things in museums. We ate left over C-rations.

Perhaps it was dad’s explanation of how to make highly alcoholic hooch out of canned peaches that led to my degree in biochemistry. In the end, I had my own Marine career as a pilot in Desert Storm. There you learn the true meaning of “gung ho.” At 61, I stay in boot camp shape. This week, I am hiking 100 miles in in the High Sierras over 8,000 feet in eight days. I am carrying a 60-pound pack, and living on only 500 calories a day entirely composed of fruit and nuts. I love every minute of it.

Watching the series, I was reminded how feeble and meaningless my profession is, toiling away all year just to create a spreadsheet full of numbers, and how the men of seven decades ago were made of sterner stuff. Buying a dip on a bad day just doesn’t equate to “take out that machine gun.” How times have changed.

You can buy the Hugh Ambrose book the series was based at Amazon on by clicking here.

The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose