Twentynine Palms -- I turned sixty May of last year. I’m still young, probably one of the youngest in the 60 category.
I was born in San Francisco, [Calif.,] but that is not my hometown. I spent a majority of my childhood in Pleasant Hill, Calif.
Growing up, my dad was a longshoreman who worked on the docks. Mom wasn’t doing too well; I could tell she was kind of sickly. We lived in a couple of other places before we moved to New York.
We lived in Albany, N.Y., for a while before moving upstate to live with my grandfather. About eight months later my mother lost her life to cancer. I was 9 years old at the time.
After mom passed away, I moved back to California to be with my father. He got married so we could have a family atmosphere.
After about two years, the marriage didn’t work out and dad put me up for adoption.
I lived with my new parents and their son, Jody, from the 5th grade until my sophomore year of high school. We had a 155-acre ranch that we worked on for four years before we moved.
They were strict, which was good. Nothing was ever handed to you, you had to earn everything. When we got home from school we would have to do our chores, cut firewood, plant the garden, milk the cows, and then do our homework.
When we went hunting they taught Jody and I how to skin and clean; never to waste anything because there were always other animals that could use it. It helped me develop my moral compass.
Half-way through high school, I moved in with one of my three half-brothers, Sid, and his wife. We were nineteen years apart and he was around 35 at the time.
After I graduated high school I went on to junior college. I decided it wasn’t for me and went on to work for the city of Pleasant Hill.
A really good friend of mine, named Mark Holmes, said he was joining the Marine Corps and he told me about the buddy program. At the time I was working maintenance for the city and I didn’t want to do that my whole life. I was twenty years old when I went down to MCRD San Diego and stepped on those yellow footprints.
I think what really saved me in the long run was the Marine Corps. The family concept is really something. I fell in love with my wife, Debbie, while I was in the Marine Corps and so many of our friends have been in the Corps. Joining in helped me mature a lot and the drill field helped my wife and I get closer.
The other night there was a special on 60 minutes. The host asked the viewer who the first person was to show them unconditional love. I looked over at my wife, Debbie, and I thought ‘wow.’ She was the very first. That’s why I think our kids turned out the way they did. That’s the only type of love my wife and I have ever had.
I was a sergeant when I went to the drill field. At the time I intended to get out of the Marine Corps because I wanted to be a truck driver like my brother. But it turned out the drill field was where I really decided to make the Corps a career.
I wanted to relive basic training on the other side and take that with me to society if I decided to get out. Because all we’re really doing is educating and maturing young kids to be self-thinkers, self-starters and have the initiative to be better.
It was the camaraderie on the drill field and the sense of doing something good that really appealed to me. As a drill instructor, you get these young raw recruits coming in, some of whom have no idea of where they want to go.
As a senior drill instructor, when you get to graduate your first platoon, it’s emotional because you’re standing there watching the platoons come down and you’re thinking “I gave these kids 105 days of my life, now I’ve got to do it again. Look how far they’ve come.”
I think being a drill instructor helped me a great deal to mature and understand where I wanted to go in life. As a Marine, I was blessed to have a wife who was very supportive, who was willing to uproot anytime and go. And so we grew together.
My last duty station was in Twentynine Palms, Calif., at the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School in June of 2001. I retired on August 31 of that same year and I was fortunate enough to get selected for civil service.
Civil service has been fantastic. I started here as a housing director and after three years, Debbie and I sold the house and I applied for a job in Novato, Calif. We stayed there for three years but we realized we weren’t happy.
We missed our family, people we grew up with in the Marine Corps and people we could share stories with. So we moved back here.
We chose to move back here because it’s a good community. The people are respectful, and the Marines are here. I’m still a Marine but the reason I have a job in civil service is because of these Marines and their families.
I did my 26 years with the Marine Corps, I’ll do my 21 years with civil service by the time I retire. It’s good to come full circle and to complete this chapter.