5 July 1999

Civilian Marines?

Major Anthony F. Milavic, United States Marine Corps (Retired)

The July 1999 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette carries the CMC’s Planning Guidance that is “directed to all Marines, civilian Marines . . . .” I’ve heard that the previous Commandant also used these same two applications for the term, “Marine.” Reportedly, the title “Marine” is conferred on a civilian/recruit upon successful completion of the “Crucible”; an event that takes place at the Marine Corps Recruit Depots and Officer Candidate School. This is the defining moment of something General Krulak described as “a process that begins with the first contact with the Marine recruiter and continues through a Marine’s entire time with the Corps.” Apparently, then, there are two processes:

(1) The one General Krulak described that turns civilians into “Marines”; and,

(2) The fiat which creates, “Civilian Marines.” 

This two-track path to the title “Marine” is anathema to the United States Marine Corps tradition of, “a band of brothers, a Corps of Marines.”

On 11 June 1953, I joined the 2nd 155mm Gun Battalion, USMCR, Miami, Florida. I was issued a Marine uniform and an I.D. card that said I was a private in the United States Marine Corps Reserves--a Marine. On 10 May 1954, I was promoted to sergeant. Sgt. Locklear, a fellow reservist and Bronze Star Medal recipient of the Korean War, congratulated me. Conversely, Sgt. Grisaldi (phonetic spelling), active duty Marine on the Inspector-Instructor staff of the unit, laughed and said I would not be accepted as a Marine, much less a sergeant, until I completed Boot Camp; on reflection, Sgt. Locklear agreed with him.

On 17 September 1954, Sgt. Tony Owens, Sgt. Lloyd Cunningham, and I, all from the same reserve unit, arrived at Parris Island, S. C. to undergo recruit training--Boot Camp. Sitting with the newly formed Platoon 418, an officer came in and called for the three sergeants in the group. We were ushered up to the battalion commander and asked what sergeants were doing going through Boot Camp? “We are here to become Marines,” we said. After signing letters to that effect, the three of us returned to Platoon 418 waiting in formation with our Drill Instructors--S/Sgt. Petronzio and Sgt. White. On graduation day, three months later, each of us was called, “Marine” by these Marine non-commissioned officers for the first time. The sensation of that event--being called “Marine”--justified the sweat and mental anguish of the months before and gave clarity to Sgt. Grisadi’s statement: We had met the challenge of Boot Camp and earned the title “Marine” as those before us had done. 

In January 1966, I arrived at the Officer Candidate School (OCS), Quantico, Virginia (officer's Boot Camp) to be tested by the 7th Warrant Officer Candidate Screening Course in pursuit of an appointment to warrant officer (WO). My class was made up of non-commissioned and staff non-commissioned officers--all Marines. Yet, previous performance did not matter here. We had to prove ourselves all over again in the class room, on the drill field, over the Hill Trail, Power-Line Trail, and I don’t remember how many other “Trails.” And when a “Trail” had sapped us of our physical energy and mental acuity, we were tested over obstacles demanding team-work against the clock. Through all of this, we were “Candidates”; it wasn’t until the day we received our bars that we were again called, “Marines.”

The Basic School followed that experience and our numbers were further depleted on graduation day; nothing was a given for Marines, it was all earned! During this segment of our process, Lt. Gen. Lewis Puller, USMC (Ret.) visited us and, in the course of the evening, called us “Marines.” All considered it an electrifying moment; “Chesty,” the most decorated Marine in the Corps’ history, had recognized us as “Marines.” We were also aware that Lt. Gen. Puller had successfully completed both Boot Camp and Officer Candidate School (at the time, Officer Training Course) in his quest to become a Marine.

In 25 years service, there were many challenges to reinforce the experiences of Boot Camp, OCS, and The Basic School, both, in and out of combat.  Most importantly, in addition to those cited above, there were many Marines along the way: Col. H. P. Crowe, S/Sgt. Tom Pentony, Capt. Terry Crews, WO Jerry Bolick, Lt. Col. Michael Sparks, Capt. Steve Pless, S/Sgt. “Big Orange” Swaggert, Capt “Ski” Wawrzyniak, S/Sgt. “Boozer” Goodrich, 1st Lt. Bill Alexander, Capt. Wiley Clapp, 1st Lt. Wayne Mason, S/Sgt R. E. Ross, Lt. Col. Gerald Avrill, S/Sgt. Bob Spitze, Capt. “Jock” McKenzie, Capt. Robert A. Connley, WO Bob Dalton, Col. “Stormy” Sexton, Col. G. E. Martin, Capt. Fred Seage, Maj. Gen. Raymond Davis, Col. William Goggins, Cpl. Russell Kolins, Col. P. X. Kelly, LCpl Jack De Jong, Gy/Sgt. “Wild Bill” Lightfoot, Brig. Gen. Frank Garretson, Col. Robert Barrow, Sgt. “Slats” Slater, Capt. Donald Cooke, WO Don Johnson, and so many, many more with whom I shared the Marine experience; this is a Marine “band of brothers.”

All Marines start out as civilians and when each proves himself or herself in the arena of Boot Camp or Officer Candidate School or The Basic School each is credited with the title “Marine” and bonded to all other Marines by that shared experience--a rite of passage. Civilians do not become Marines by edict; they become Marines by earning it! At least, that was the Marine . . . the American way before “political correctness”:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, 
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood . . .”  
                                                      Theodore Roosevelt

On the 4th of July, I spent a few hours walking through Arlington National Cemetery to check the credits of those resting there. It was a sobering experience reading headstone after headstone: Private USMC through General USMC; I found no Civilian USMC. In fact, I found no Civilian USA; no Civilian USN; no Civilian USAF, . . .

Semper Marine,

Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)