The US Marine Corps
The US Marine Corp’s birthday is November 10, 1775. Sabatino’s Restaurant on Balboa Island hosts a buffet for Marines who have served our country. The Sabatino family has felt the loss of several sons serving in the Marines. This luncheon is to honor them and us.
I served from 1965 to 1969. I was a Sergeant and an aviation ordnance technician in Viet Nam. Early on in my training I was told I was “too immature” to be a pilot. I often held this like a failure on my part.
There was approx. 150 Marines at Sabatino’s this year. After socializing and reminiscing with old pals there is a Celebratory Ceremony. During this ceremony a man was honored for donating a substantial sum of money for a monument honoring his outfit in Viet Nam. My friend recognized him from years ago.
She said, “That’s Steve. I have known him for years. I didn’t even know he was in the Marines. I often wondered what happened to his damaged hand”
She caught his attention and he came over.
“Hi”, he said, “Long time no see. What brings you here?”
“I’m here with my friend, Jim, Viet Nam Marine also”
“Wow”, he says, ‘Where did you serve and when?”
I answered, “1966, 67 and 68. Chu Lai during Tet”
“Me too”, he says, “That’s where I got shot up. I would love to talk to the helicopter pilot that picked me up”
My friend says, “Steve, I never know how you got injured. You look good.”
Steve says, “Yeah, we don’t talk much about all that.”
I say, “I know a helicopter pilot sitting across the room right now. Come with me Steve and we’ll meet a new, maybe an old friend”
I take Steve to meet Colonel Gary Albin, 13,000 hours in helicopters, 3 tours in Viet Nam. I introduce Steve and he tells his story.
Steve says, “There are two things an injured Marine likes to hear. One is from the corpsman bandaging up the wounds when he says,
“Lt, you’re going to make it”.
“The second is the sound of the helicopter blades whooshing and slapping as the bird settles down. I want to thank you for my life”
Colonel Gary says, “Well, here at my table are 6 other helicopter pilots. How many of you flew in Viet Nam?”
They all raised their hands.
“Who was at Chu Lai or Phu Bai?”
Two of them responded.
Steve says, “Thank you for my life”
And they begin talking about the old times.
During all this the meal had started. The Marines have a tradition whereby officers always eat last. So with my introducing Steve I wound up at the back of the chow line with the Senior Officers. Two men, both prior service Colonel’s and pilots and I begin a lively discussion about the Marine Corps and armament and Viet Nam. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole interchange. When we finally get our meal I turn to my friend and say,
“I have never socialized or even been friendly with officers and pilots. I was always too self conscious or felt “less than” or ashamed that I did not fly.”
My friend then says, “Jim, if you had not done what you did then they could not have done their job at all.”
For the first time in my 72 years I got what being a team member is all about. I was responsible for the guns and armaments on those airplanes working. My work was absolutely critical to them and to the troops on the ground. I was equally as important as anyone on the team. My self-centered self-consciousness finally disappeared and I am now a fully appreciated part of the Marine Team.
We are never too old to learn something new. Maybe now I would have the maturity to be a pilot.
Although I was very, very good at my job as part of the team.
I am proud to have served our country.
Sergeant Jim Dohn USMC 1965 to 1969