This story was originally published in SGT GRIT’S NEWSLETTER, the magazine, Vol. 2, No. 2. February, 2004. ($1.50). A Publication FOR Marines and BY Marines. Page 28…on THE MARINES page. This “edition” has been modified and adjusted.
It was summer, 1969. I had just spent the previous five summers as a camp counselor at a Boys’ Club summer camp, Camp Norris, in the San Bernardino Mountains, 100 miles east of my hometown. And now I was expecting to fight in Vietnam, but instead got stationed at MCRD, San Diego, only 140 miles south of my “home of record” of Pasadena, California.
All the current events were just incredible: the Woodstock Concert in New York, assassinations, riots, Charlie Manson’s cult murders, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, Senator Ted Kennedy’s “mishap” at Chappaquiddick “Car Wash,” the city of San Diego celebrating its 200th Anniversary in and around the city the entire year, and…listening to Wolfman Jack howling to the oldies. The Wolfman was playing our…or my…favorite oldies, besides the current top tunes. A few of these tunes were Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells, Dizzy by Tommy Roe, and Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond, to name just a few. (Was that on AM Radio XERB, the Mighty 690?)
All of this was going on while other Marines were fighting in Vietnam, including Sergeant Grit!
This particular story takes place in the barracks of H&S Battalion at the west end of the parade deck. All Marines, whether they smoke or not, carry either matches or a lighter…a Zippo lighter, usually. This is because lights are out at 10:00 PM, and anyone returning to the barracks after lights out needs to open their wall lockers…locked with combination locks. Dim light works just fine in this case.
On this “specific” night I came in after lights out. I carried matches. I may have been to a Padres baseball game, or gotten a bite to eat at the Out of Sight Restaurant in downtown San Diego. Or I may have merely gotten a cold beer at That Place Across The Street From The Sports Arena…across the street from the sports arena.
In the dark squad bay, my usual custom was to strike a match, open one of my lockers, and grab my small issued penlight. I would then unlock my other locker, hang up my civvies, then hit the rack. But just before hitting the rack, I would walk to the open second-story window and toss my burnt match out…onto the concrete deck below…and let some other Marine police it in the morning.
On this night things were a little different. As I walked to the window to launch my cold match, I kicked something on the floor. It was glass. Instantly my foot got drenched. I was wearing tennis shoes, or something like them. That “something” was a twelve-inch diameter glass fishbowl!
I had a top rack in our cube, and Corporal Craig F. Miller’s rack was below mine. Cpl. Miller hopped out of his rack the second I turned my light onto the scene on the floor. He asked me what I had done. I didn’t know. I beheld about a dozen goldfish of various colors flopping around on the floor, gasping for….water. Craig had his flashlight on also. For the length of time I knew Cpl. Miller, I didn’t know he loved goldfish. He kept a fishbowl of them in his wall locker by day and brought them out at night for “fresh air.” However, he didn’t keep them in a safe location at night.
I helped him clean up the glass, and found a cup somewhere, and put the fish in it…with water. I then hit the rack, thinking this was the end of the incident. It wasn’t.
As an aside, Craig’s initials were C.F. Miller. Some other Marines had already nicknamed him Crazy F….n Miller, which he didn’t seem to mind.
In the morning I had to leave early for my job at the other end of the parade deck, and thus skip the morning muster. While using the head that morning, I noticed a board over one of the toilets, and assumed there was a plumbing problem.
When the work day was over, and back in the barracks, I asked Crazy about his fish. He told me that he put them into the only survivable place he could find – the toilet. I asked if that’s why he put the board over the bowl. It wasn’t he who covered the bowl, but Sergeant Potter, in charge of the barracks at the time. Sgt. Potter came into the barracks sometime later and saw the fish…enjoying the bowl. He apparently was determined to find out who was keeping fish in the squad bay.
At the morning muster, of which I did not attend, he demanded to know who had the fish. No one answered. Afterwards, Crazy quickly dashed back up to the head and flushed all the evidence. Sgt. Potter didn’t have a case. This is a TRUE STORY.
David T. Nyerges
Sergeant, USMC 1968 – 1970