I don’t recall much about the Marine who recruited me into the Corps in the summer of 1966. A lot of men who served with me know the names of their recruiters, but I only recall a hazy image of a rawboned, hardened man who piqued my interest by advising me that the Corps was tough and to make it a young man had to overcome a series of obstacles, and the difficulty of those obstacles limited the number of men who would eventually call themselves Marines.
My recruiter was right about the challenges of becoming a Marine, especially the overcoming of the obstacles that bar one from becoming part of that fraternity of men who can call themselves Devil Dogs.
An upshot of being part of the Marines is an attitude that as a Marine, you served with the best. Not one of the best, but the absolute best. And for me, it followed that all other services were generally inferior to the Marine Corps. I learned to call men and women who served in the Army “dogfaces,” men and women who served in the Navy “squids,” “swabbies” or “ducks.” Folks who served in the Air Force were “fly boys” or “wing-wipers.”
Even if you were in the Corps, if you worked in supply or chow or the armory, you were a “pogue.” If you were in the Marine Air Wing, you were, once again, a “wing-wiper.”
When I joined the Marine Corps, my recruiter guaranteed me a spot in the Air Wing if I went in for four years. By the time I finished my recruit training, when they told me I was to be a grunt, I had no desire to raise hell about not being made a “wing-wiper.” By then I was indoctrinated. I was—and indeed wanted to be—in “the best.” My service at Khe Sanh reinforced my opinion about the ranking of services. The men I fought with were the best. No doubt in my mind.
Yet though we, the Marines of Khe Sanh, withstood the onslaught of North Vietnamese Army fury for over seventy days, it would be naive not to give credit to the people who supported us. The pilots and other warriors who bombed the enemy to our front, who supplied us, who worked in the rear to make sure the necessary supplies and ordnance were available . . . the men and women who did that were “dog faces,” “ducks,” “wing-wipers” and “pogues.”
I believe that without the efforts expended by those folks on our behalf, I very well could have been either dead or locked up in an NVA prison camp.
Nevertheless, over the ensuing years since surviving my time in Vietnam, I have on too many occasions referred to “dog faces” and “swabbies.”
And it wasn’t just a one-way pejorative harangue from Marines towards other services. I’ve been called “sea going bell hop” and “jarhead” more instances than I care to count. My father, who was a top sergeant in the Army, took every chance he could to derogate Marines. Often he called them “gyrenes” coupled with any one of a number of expletives that I will not mention.
But true to all that is existentially Jarhead, I laughed at all those pejoratives and interpreted them as loving nicknames that the lesser warriors of the world employed to name the finest.
With that as background, last week, BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, BRAVO! supporter and Navy pilot Leland Nelson, Betty and I ventured down to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho, where we had the honor of screening BRAVO! for the pilots, navigators and support personnel of the United States Air Force’s 389th Fighter Squadron, the Thunderbolts.
We met a number of pilots and navigators and weapons officers, and I must say, these young warriors were mighty impressive. They gave us a look at some of their jet planes, the F15E Strike Eagles, one of the Air Force’s more successful fighter-bomber aircraft.
The jets our warriors fly into harm’s way are so high tech that the people asked to fly and maintain these planes need to be smart, tech-savvy, and own nerves of steel. At the speeds these weapon systems fly, split second decisions are the name of the game and those who participate must be physically fit and mentally sharp.
The folks we met at Mountain Home, from my observations, seemed to own all the necessary skills to fly the F15E, plus they are funny, curious, polite and driven to serve the nation.
I don’t really care if one hates war or loves it or ignores it, the young folks we have operating these high grade weapon systems, be they F15E or stealth weapons or tanks or choppers, are worthy of our respect and admiration. They don’t make policy for this country. They aren’t politicians or generals. They are the folks who do the deed when called upon.
And all of us who journeyed down to Mountain Home couldn’t have been more impressed or prouder of these “kids,” as I like to call them.
These “fly boys” and “fly girls” are a special breed of folks who are willing to put their lives on the line and do so at high speeds.
Driving home, I decided to stop referring to our servicemen and women as “Squids” and “Dogfaces” and “Wing-Wipers.”
They deserve to be called warriors.
Christina Iverson, a big friend of BRAVO! and one of the folks responsible for the film’s great reception in Idaho served with the Thunderbolts prior to mustering out of the Air Force. She had this to say about the 389th Fighter Squadron: “The best life lessons for me were while I was assigned to the 389th Fighter Squadron: Thunderbolts. Hard job, good people.”
A big Marine Corps OOORAH! to Air Force Major Staci “Rio” Landers for setting up this event.
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