You Did What!?

I came home from college on Christmas break in 1965. My Dad met me at the door, and was really glad to see me. I immediately announced to him that I had joined the Marine Corps. His beaming face turned to surprise and disbelief. “You did what !?… I thought you were smart!?”, he growled.

You see, my Dad landed with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal as a Pharmacists Mate (Hospital Corpsman). He lost his left arm while in the service. As a result of his island experiences, Spam and Pineapples were not ever allowed in our house. Aroma, the scientists tell us, is a very strong memory stimulus.

“Why aren’t you going to finish college?”, he implored.
“Dad, I am going to finish college.”, I told him.

It was important to him that all his kids graduated college. (He never went to college.)

I had a full ride football scholarship and did OK my first semester. He couldn’t understand why I would throw that away. I then explained the PLC (Platoon Leaders Class) program to him. Whereby, I could finish school and go to OCS/PLC during the summer. This soothed him but not completely. But enough. I could see he was very proud, but was, also, fearful. He new what Marines did… up front and personal. He never said it, but what he participated in during WWII, was, in his mind, to keep his children from ever having to participate in that horror show called war.

When my Dad died, before we buried him (He was cremated at his request) I happened to be at the Regional Marine Recruiting Office on business. I had a thought. I cornered a Gunnery Sergeant and inquired as to the possibility of having a Hospital Corpsman PO1C and a Sergeant E4 to present the VA flag to my Mother, at the grave ceremony we had coming up that week.

He said, “The burial ceremony detail was a volunteer detail from the nearby reserve base. I will give you a number to call but don’t get your hopes up.”, He added.

I told him about my Dad’s service on Guadalcanal. The Gunny stopped writing the number, tore the memo paper from the pad, wadded it up and smartly deposited it into file 13.

He stood erect, looked me dead square and said, “It will be an honor and a privilege to send your Dad off.” He stated, “I will handle this personally. You tell me when and where, and I will see that you have a fire team, a 21 gun salute, pall bearers and a flag folders with the appropriate presentation to your Mother.”

I told him, “no… no, we don’t need all that. There will be more of you than us there.”

Long story – short.

At the grave site.

The Hospital Corpsman, PO1C and Sgt E4 showed up on time. In their dress blues. Presented the flag to my Mom with the proper presentation speech. The Corpsman was shaking as he held the flag that was, also, in my Mother’s hands. His eyes welling and red. Taps was played on a Boom Box. Every one was teary eyed. They departed like Ghosts. Leaving just the family. My brother and I dug the grave. We placed the cigar sized box containing his ashes into the post hole sized grave. The rest of the family all helped fill the grave, My brother and I placed the VA marker on top.

Joseph Porter (Pete) Cawthon
PHM1C
January 8, 1917 March 10, 1995

Thanks Marines
For all that you have done.
And for all that you will do.

Well done – Carry on – Semper Fi

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

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

5 comments


  • Don Z’Boray, HM2

    You did WHAT? I suppose in the sixties and early seventies that was the gauntlet tossed upon many a kitchen table, beginning arguments (and tears) from parents against the decisions of their sons to voluntarily enlist in any of the uniformed services. At my house, it was as if a fireworks warehouse had blown up. I was darned near a hippie in college, attending every protest against the war in VN, on or off campus. Then came my epiphany. I felt the duty, an obligation as a citizen of this fabulous country — where I could raise my voice against our involvement in VN without being jailed — nevertheless to serve in some capacity so the carnage might be lessened, in some way more effective than chanting and ranting words I felt nobody cared to hear. As Churchill opined, “Whether the war be right or wrong, nevertheless we are in it.” Everyone else in my family has been in military service. My brother entered the Coast Guard right out of high school. Dad put in 22 years, first as an enlisted Army-drafted medic then field commissioned into the Army MSC, retiring from the USAF MSC as a major. I was the college kid (3 years), doing very well at my studies as well as being anti-war. The greatest warrior in our clan was Mom although she actually cried over my decision for months. British, she worked in a London steno pool by day in her years in the Royal Women’s Army Corps during WW2. During nighttime Luftwaffe air raids, she was an AA gunner. Her actual total kills are unknown although she was credited with four bomber and two fighter kills. I enlisted in the Navy as a hospital corpsman but I became a Marine before I every held a Navy-based billet. And I came to realise my decision was right, my service did make a difference in this world. I was blessed with the opportunity to save many lives as well as becoming, for life, an elite among U.S. warriors. I am, and always shall be, a Marine Corpsman. Semper fidelis.


  • David

    Ha I got it from my mom. Both side of the family was military. Saw my first marine in Okinawa when my dad was stationed on kadena. Said that’s all I ever talked about being since. When I invited my recruiter to the house to meet my folks. He didn’t know I hadn’t told them and they didn’t know I’d already signed the paperwork. Thought my mom was going to beat the hell out of both me and the recruiter. Lol semper fi devil dogs


  • Harry

    As soon as I saw the title of your story it instantly took me back to the day I told my family that I enlisted. I turned 18 Jan 67 while still in high school so not long after graduation I got the “Greeting from Uncle Sam”. My Dad had really been pushing me to get out of the house get a job ,go to school or just anything but get out and do something. SO… I did I enlisted in The Marine Corps. Man did the crap hit the fan the day I told them. My Mom cried My Dad shouted many @##$%$^^%&& and ask me if I was aware that there was a war going on. I said yes I did and I would be better off being in the Marines than I would being drafted into the Army. They eventually calmed down and became very proud. Thnx for the memory and great story of your Dad Harry USMC 67′-70,


  • Bill Walter

    Semper Fi Marine! My Dad was on Guadalcanal, 1st MARDIV, also. He would only tell me about the fun things that happened while on the island. Not too many stories! One was about a buck 1st luie that insisted on being notified of any noises coming from the jungle. He got zero sleep for two nights due to monkeys jabbering, birds squawking & coconuts falling out of trees before he changed that order. I came home from high school graduation and told my Dad I was going in the Corp. He made me give college a try first. I left for boot camp Dec. 26, 1969, graduated HS in 1966, got married in June of ’69. William David Walter, Sgt. USMC (also known as Bill and on the Canal as “Skervy”) Dad weighed 115 lbs. He fought Bantum weight in HS and the Corp. In Australia while on R&R he fought some of the natives. He fought one guy, with a very large nose, that weighed 175 lbs. and knocked him out with 4 punches!! A left jab to the nose, watering the natives eyes, a right to the stomach, a left to the right jaw and a right upper cut to his chin for the KO! William D. Walter, Cpl. USMCR


  • sidney crews

    People don’t have any idea what went on at “The Canal” Your Dad was a true warrior. Semper Fi my friend.


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