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The Camp Pendleton Brig 1968-69

Submitted by Daniel Rawstern

       I joined the Marine Corps to be working on jets in 1965 for boot camp at San Diego, Edson Range, ITR Camp Pendleton, 1965-66 NAS Memphis Tenn. Aviation Jet metalsmith school, 1966 2nd MAW Cherry Pt. N.C., 1966-1968 1st Maw Danang So. Vietnam,1968 3rd MAW ElToro, Cal. All is normal up to this Point. Then we have a large spread in the Life Magazine on the atrosities of the Marine Corps Brig at Camp Penleton, Cal. If you were in the corps at this time you knew that most of the guys in the brig for U.A. or A.W.O.L. or whatever were there because they didn't want to go to vietnam and the guys guarding them had already been there and lost there friends. So they didn't put up with anything from the men in the cells  in fact they beat the tar out of them for anything and they got reported for this. So the powers that were in the marine corps at the time decided that something had to be done. So if you were in the marine air wing, had been overseas, were e-4s and had a year to go or less of your enlistment  you were put in the camp  pendleton brig as chasers and overall runners of the place. The brig was to have a capacity of 350 prisoners. At one point while I was there we had over 1500 prisoners under lock and key. 2 of us got assigned to hard labor 350 prisoners which meant we marched them for a couple hours every day. After we got there our biggest question was why are we here, to which the captain conducting the meetings, said if you read you enlistment papers you would find that you can be a basic rifleman at any point while in the marines. But he said if you don't like it here you can reinlist for two years and get your pick of duty stations, which caught about 15 of us 384  airwingers, while the rest figured we already had our choice and were yanked out of it to be a basic rifleman, no thanks,  we'll do our tour and go back to civilization. It was a very interesting time I wouldn't  trade for anything. I was walking across the compound one afternoon when a colored gentleman in a Navy grey bus yelled to me and said "sir do you have a hole here for wrongdoers?"  I said no we do not have a hole for wrongdoer's here. What are you here for. To which he answered "Icame back from overseas to find my wife in bed with a stranger, so I killed them both and then went over SanFran. and chained myself to a priest.  I said "you probably won't be here very long and then will go to Portsmouth N.H. where they do have a hole for wrongdoers". He said "great that's what I'm looking for". Well he finally got to our area causing a lot of problems along the way. I was going across that same compound as the first time and he was back on that bus and he said " Thank you sir I'm going to Portsmouth" I said "good luck to you".  At one point we swore there was a sadistic officer somewhere trying to do something to us chasers. We got most of our prisoners off Navy Grey buses dropping them off for us to prosecute. One week we got a bus load in and they happen to be all white deep south boys, georgia, alabama,  louisiana, etc. The next week we got another bus load in and they were all black deep south boys. We had some times keeping them all separated from each other. I was about to go home on christmas leave 1968 when one of the white boys approached me and said they were going to have a todo that coming weekend. I said hold it, don't say anything more for I won't be here and I would have to report him if he said anything more. He said that's okay he understood and said no more. I reported our cinversation so our guys would know what to expect that weekend. After I got back from leave I learned what happened. Somehow the white boys got out of there compound and came over into the black boys hut and tried to distroy them. One of our own guards got up into the rafters and tried to take out one of the biggest black boys with a 2x4. But he just shook his head and looked around for who had hit him several times. and about this time a metal bunk end came flying up into the rafters where the guard was at and decided he'd better get down and out of there before he actually fell among the blacks in there area and knowing he wouldn't come out in very good shape. The last event was a black man chasing a white prisoner with a bunk end and putting the white man in the hospital. For several weeks after the event we were on pins and needles waiting for the next incident. Of course to help things along the next compound kept yelling over that the white man had died. For which the captain would come over the loud speaker saying that he had not died but was recovering nicely.  One more thing back at the start of being here and asking the captain why we were here and getting our answer. We decided that if we were bad enough at doing our job they would send us back to where we had come from. They hadn"t had an escape from the brig in a lot of years. So we had 15 escapes the first week but then the captain came over the loud speaker for all to hear that the next prisoner escapeing that got killed by an airwing man, 2 of them in towers with machine guns, the airwing man got to go back to the airwing. Needless to say that was the end of the escapes and our plans were foiled again. So everything settled down. Then some of the guys got wind of a staff carrying arms inside the compound. We didn't want to get him in trouble so we confronted him and asked if he was and he said he was. We said what are you going to do if anything happens, shoot 5 of them and then one for  yourself, before they rip you apart? No reply. But a week or so later he was in the  mess hall when they started a riot and all the gates came crashing down and he got caught inside with hundreds of prisoners. He never drew his gun but he lost it totally and they sent him to the psych ward. Hopefully he's been out for years by now and doing okay.  About  february 1969 I got to go to San Diego State for transition to civilian life school and then back to the brig to become a sargeant E-5 and then checked out of the corps          Thanks a million Marine Corps  Sgt. Dan Rawstern

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