I Knew It Was My Chance

“A few good men,” were sought by the Marine Corps when I decided to join in 1979. I knew it would be tough. I expected to be disciplined, even beaten – like in the movies, where young men trained for Vietnam. And ultimately, I knew it was my chance to serve my country, further my education, and see the world. I needed to score twice as many points in my entry exam as the vast majority of future Marines. Why? Because of my gender.

In 1979 I was an 18-year old daughter of a conservative, traditional Hispanic family in the Midwest. Voted “most lady-like” by the faculty of my high school, I surprised everyone who knew me. But the surprise was on me when I took classes on makeup, etiquette, and poise during the all-female Marine Corps boot camp training.

“Recruits!” bellowed a short, dynamic female drill sergeant. “You WILL learn to conduct yourselves like Women Marines.” She warned, “In the past, we’ve had a few misguided recruits try to commit suicide by drinking detergent. Don’t bother. You’ll only belch bubbles and get a stomach ache.”

Sixty-two female Marine recruits in Parris Island, South Carolina awakened to the crashing sounds of wooden bats beating hard against a large aluminum garbage can at 0330. And at dusk we carefully slipped our worn out bodies into our perfectly made Marine Corps bunks and fell asleep after singing the Lord’s prayer.

There were history classes, exercise sessions, drill marches. In the end, Parris Island’s top brass was invited to a tea party held by my female platoon. This occasion was the event which was to prove we WM’s (Women Marine’s) were ready to graduate and embark into the male-dominated world of the U.S.M.C., most likely in administrative positions.

We became confident and strong – both mentally and physically. Two months later, fifty-one of us graduated.

Fast-forward 20 years: a marriage, and two teenaged children later. The skills I learned while in the Marines served me well as a secretary in fast-paced offices. They served me well in managing a household. But little did I know I was yet to make the best use of my Marine Corps skills.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said a counselor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, in San Antonio, Texas. “Do not despair if you fail a test, or a class, or the entire program.” The counselor showed a videotape of friends and family of medical students who had committed suicide due to academic pressure. “Of 480 applicants for this program, only 79 were accepted. What matters most is not whether you get A’s B’s or C’s. What matters MOST, is that two years from now, you will have the letters, R.N., after your name.”

Of the 79 students who started a bachelor’s nursing class with me in the Fall of 1998, only 45 graduated. For me and other male military veteran classmates, the two years of nursing school were much more difficult than boot camp. But that Marine Corps discipline helped me get through nursing school.

I joined the Marine Corps to serve my country and see the world. Today, as a traveling nurse, I serve my patients and see the country. In 1979, the United States Marine Corps needed a few good men. Today, I believe the nursing profession could use a few good Marines.

Happy birthday and Semper Fi!

Ms Lillian G. RN

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!


  • Dave Verneman

    I must agree! I was at Parris Island for the summer of 1973. I would NEVER refer to a Drill Instructor as ‘drill sgt’! That is an army term and is appalling to Marines! Semper Fi.

  • Jimmy L Thomas

    I went thru boot camp SD January 1954. my biggest thrill or memerory is I shook hands with General Chesty Puller at Marine Corps Air Base in Hawaii in 158. Semper Fi brother Marines Male & Female

  • Jan (Toby) L.

    Wow, your story reflects mine on so many levels. I graduated bootcamp in 1977. Retired in 1996 and earned a BSN in 1997 and have been in nursing ever since. Memories flashed back of that same morning, trashcan lids in hand, lol! Make-up classes, the mandatory girdles and even the afternoon tea we put on. Our utilities were the navy blue or black slacks and blue shirts. I recall one incident after being fitted with ‘BC’ glasses; as I walked out the office, I walked by a mirrored window and caught a glimpse of myself. I had a fit of laughter which resulted in my platoon and myself dropping and giving the proverbial “40”. And to think those glasses are considered fashionable today. Semper Fi!

  • Vic

    Ms. Lillian, your story is one of perseverance! Every day I have the opportunity to mold young boys and girls. As a high school math teacher students tell me their dreams of what they want to do and be in life. Often I hear them say, “I don’t know if I will make it.” I tell my students that most of the battle is believing in yourself that you can do it. If you believe you can make it through medical school and are willing to give it your all, you can. If you doubt yourself, you will most likely fail. Furthermore I tell them remember F.A.I.L. really means “First Attempt In Learning” (The author of this quote in unknown to me; my wife found it somewhere years ago.). Obviously failure was not an option for you and you believed in yourself. You made it! Semper Fi to you and my entire Marine Corps family.

  • Gene DeAtley

    Outstanding Marine. Well written and presented.

Leave a comment