By Ken Zebal
In the early 1960s, 2nd Tank Bn had a well-established fire watch program at the tank park. Generally speaking, two lower-ranking Marines from the flames platoon and each gun company were posted at the tank park inside their respective tool sheds from about 1800 to 0600. I was a PFC at the time and was assigned fire watch for Charlie Company along with Pat Rogers. Pat and I went to boot camp at Parris Island together (Aug-Nov '63) and then to ITR at Camp Geiger (Nov-Dec '63) before reporting into Co "C", 2TkBn (Dec '63) and then going on boot leave. This was my first fire watch and may also have been Pat's. We were nominated by our Platoon Sergeant, S/Sgt "Gunny" Jandrozits, and then hand-selected by the Company Gunny, GySgt Sam Fullerton whose sea bag read like a WWII war novel. After everyone else went on liberty call Pat and I were briefed by the Company Gunny, went to Mess Hall 207 across the street and were issued mid-rats. In those days it was a brown paper sack filled with a sandwich, hard-boiled egg, apple, container of milk and a napkin all lovingly prepared by one of the cooks.
Along with the other fire watches we reported to the Battalion CP and the Officer of the Day. The OD that day was a WWII and Korea vintage Master Sergeant in Winter Service Alphas. The fire watches were in utilities, green wool shirts, field jackets, gloves and had mid-rats. We received our instructions from the OD and took that short 15 minute walk to the tank park. After getting settled in and looking around we lit the kerosene stove and hung out with nothing else to do for the next 11 hours and 30 minutes. Oh there was the occasional snapping of an M-103 torsion bar but other than that it was quiet. Pat may have had a portable radio so we could listen to WCBS and KDKA, but I don't recall us being quite that salty yet. Every now and again we would take turns walking around the tank ramp just to get some fresh air but it was really boring. About 2200 or so the OD (MSgt what's-his-name) came to check post. Pat and I popped to attention and reported "Charlie Company all secure with nothing unusual to report." The MSgt comes up to me and asks if I knew my 10th General Order, I responded (to salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased). So then he asked why I didn't salute him since he was the OD. Well that was easy, I said because you're enlisted. I thought it was a trick question. He seemed a bit put off by my response so we went through a brief question and answer session with him asking the questions and me providing seemingly unsatisfactory answers. In the meantime, Pat was edging towards the hatch, tank ramp and safety. It didn't take long for the OD to leave and for me and Pat to review the situation. Pat kept saying "if you would have just saluted him, he would have gone away happy." After morning formation the next day, I got to meet the 1st Sgt and for some unknown reason he seemed a bit grumpy. I attributed it to him being old but really did admire his herringbone utilities – what we used to call dungarees. Being a PFC with about 6 months in the Corps I admired everything salty. He jumped right to business without even asking how I was doing and whether or not I liked the Martine Corps, or what he could do to make my enlistment a more pleasant experience. He also really didn't seem all that interested in my perspective of things – maybe he had other things on his mind. However, he did seem fixated on the rank structure and my position at the bottom which he kept mentioning over and over. All in all I guess that didn't go as well as it could have. About a week later I was once again nominated and hand-selected, but this time it was for 30 days of mess duty, clearly a sign that my fledgling career was progressing.
Note: From time to time I will reprint a story from the USMC Tanker Association newsletter.