Tough Old Birds

I was in VMGR-252 in Cherry Point from ’63-’64 and the term for going north on weekend liberty was “swooping”. I heard of guys going as far as Chicago on a week-end swoop. Typically we had a car load, 3 in the front, and 3 in the rear splitting cost and driving. South Jersey boys got off at exit three on the Jersey Turnpike and picked up at the same place on Sunday. It was pedal to the metal from North Carolina all the way, except at the Virginia border where they had a speed trap. We got caught once and split the fine. Justice of the peace had court in a gas station bay out in the boonies. It was all worth it back then. “Cherryless Point” was out in the boonies and North Carolina was a “dry” state. The only bar was a 3.2 beer joint across from the main gate called the “Rendezvous” in a strip mall with a pawn shop and not much else. New Bern, the nearest town, didn’t have much more to offer, except a motel where one might find a lady of the night. With ten thousand Marines just down the road you can see how this was a cash cow for the region, but it was mostly too crowded on payday.

There was a place where one might partake of a real adult beverage, albeit served in plastic cups, and that was the VFW out the gate and down the road, out in the woods. You had to be a member or invited by a member to get in. Luckily, Jack Guilesspie one of our squadron mates, was a member and had a bunch of us out there from time to time. Jack was an E-4 with 19 ½ years in the Corps. Saw action in WWII and Korea. Had six purple hearts, and various other medals including a Navy Cross. Had a battlefield commission in Korea and got all the way to Captain, but returned to enlisted in the stand down after Korea. He went downhill from there until he was an E-4 when I knew him. So, if you weren’t going on a swoop this week-end you were either going to the “Vous” (Rendezvous) or the “V” (the VFW) with Jack.

There was another old character at the ‘V’ they called “Gravel Voice” who was a retired Gunny and had a gravelly voice (hence the nickname). These Old Corps guys were tough. Anyway, the night of the incident at the “V”, I was on a swoop to Jersey and heard about it when I got back. Way I heard it from Jack is that he and Gravel Voice were having a drink at the bar in the “V” when a Staff Sergeant in uniform, walked in the door, walked over to the bar, pulled out a .357 and shot Gravel Voice. First shot hit him in the shoulder, second shot passed through his wrist and into his thigh as he was falling. His wife got down and held his head up while stuffing paper towels in the shoulder wound. The shooter walked over, pointed the pistol at Gravel Voice and said “Is the F##ker dead yet”. Mrs. GV said yeah, look at him. Then the shooter walked out into the parking lot, cranked off a couple rounds in the air and blew out his brains with the last one. Apparently he was under the impression that Gravel Voice was doing the wild thing with his wife while he was on cruise which was probably true. Anyway, a couple weeks later at the “Vous”, here comes old Gravel Voice through the door with his arm in a sling and the Mrs. right behind. Course we bought him a pitcher and listened to him rail about the SOB who shot him. They were tough old birds in the Old Corps.

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

27 comments


  • Harry

    I remember giving a guy from Michigan a ride one time.He was going on leave.I dropped him off at the New Stanton exit Pa turnpike Harry


  • Bob Lake Lcpl 1957-1963

    I was stationed at Marine Barracks Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Va in the late 50s.The northern limit for weekend liberty was Camden NJ.I’m from New York City area,other guys in our car were from Conneticut and the Boston area.Except for the normal travel adventures IE speed traps in all the states between Virginia and Mass.,high speed blow outs,occasional sleeping at the wheel and missed connections all went off rather well.It’s amazing what a car full of PFCs and Cpls will do to get home ,A major snow storm hit the Northeast that stranded everyone of the Camden NJ liberty hounds way out of bounds and with no chance of getting back to the base by “O dark 30″ Monday morning.The calls began to come in from”Camden”? from us stranded Marines.There so many overdue the we went on running guard until we returned to regular guard numbers.However, no one seemed to question why of all places Camden NJ was such a hot liberty town.Next liberty weekend sure enough we signed out to go to, you guessed it ,Camden NJ.God I miss those days when I was young and in the Marine Corps.


  • Ken VanHooser

    Swooped a number of times from the “Circle” at Lejeune in 1969. Was with 2nd Anglico and when not on a Med Cruise, Jump School or Gitmo we Swooped to Detroit. From Courthouse Bay to the “Circle” and wait for a car to pull up that had Michigan plates. Bullet Proof times of our life’s.


  • John Tepedino

    Did the “Swope” thing every weekend we could from Beaufort air base, back in 69-70. Best time from SC to NYC was I think 10 hours, had speeding tickets from every state, anything south of the mason Dixon line you either had to pay,or stay in jail. Virginia from what I remember had a court house set up rite off 95, I think it was on the north bound side, with a driveway from 95 to courthouse, drive in ,cop escorted,plead guilty, pay the fine and get back to 85-90 mph. Used to drop off and pick up at the Port Authority bar in NYC. Remember on clear nites with full moon,would turn off head lites while going through either Manning SC, or by south of the boarder, I’m sure 95 was not completed all the way,all this to keep from being caught by local cops, it worked a few times, then got caught.Did some crazy shit back then,but then again after coming back from nam, this kind of behavior seemed normal. Better than the CO who got busted for taking fighter jet home to Aroziona for the weekend.


  • Dennis Wieder

    I was with MWSG-27 in 69-70 and when I returned from Nam with MCCRTG-20 swooping was a way of life. Remember the drive racing hurricane Agnes up the coast beating it to Pa. And the aftermath of I95 on the way back down that Sunday. Those were the days 39 cent a gallon gas


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