Making Waves

Making Waves

My enlistment date was March 6, 1958. 11 months later I was still a buck-ass private. After boot camp and ITR the Corps, in its infinite wisdom had decided that I would be sent to electronics school at Treasure Island and then down to MCRD San Diego to the radio repair school. I was neither well suited nor inspired by the prospect, having just dropped out of high school to become a Marine grunt. One of my boot camp platoon mates was an Army Korean war vet with combat experience in tanks, which he had asked for. The Corps made him a cook. But I digress. At Treasure Island I struggled with the class work – electronic theory and application – but I hung on while other guys flunked out. As soon as a guy was dropped from the program he would be reassigned and shipped out. However, before departing for his new duty station he would be given his PFC stripe if his record was clean. Meanwhile, I was told that if I improved my grades I, too, would be raised to the exalted level of E-2. I continued to struggle, but I finally passed the course and was reassigned to MCRD for the next phase – but without that stripe. I continued to struggle with the course and continued to be told that if I magically improved my grade that stripe was out there waiting for me. That caveat had become like a boil on my butt and I was getting pretty p-ssed off watching dropouts getting promoted ahead of me. Then, one day, before the Gunny-instructor started class he made a routine, required, announcement. He said the Inspector General was coming to the base and that any Marine had the right to request to speak to him about anything and wasn’t required to divulge the subject. With hardly a pause he started to go on with the day’s instruction when he noticed I had raised my hand. “What do you need, Private Barber?” He wasn’t used to being interrupted. When I told him I was requesting permission to speak to the I.G. his mouth dropped and every head in the room turned to me. “What for?” he asked but I answered that he had just said I didn’t have to divulge the reason. “Well, maybe I could help without you bothering the I.G.” I told him I didn’t think so because it had been a problem for a while. Class was a little strained that day but then an organized effort was launched to find out what my gripe was. I think every noncom in the school approached me before I was called in to see the Top Sergeant. I explained that I was a little upset that the Corps didn’t see the irony in refusing to give me my stripe because of low grades while passing them out to every man that flunked out. At the next day’s morning formation before class I was called front and center and promoted to PFC. It still makes me smile to think of the sh-t storm that I had stirred up. When I got to class that morning though, the Gunny just looked at me, grinned, shook his head and started class.
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