By Christine Baldwin | Librarian
John Smith was born in Kansas. His first memories were of attending a smoked filled, bagpipe playing “Burns Night” with his Grandparents. John had his first job at twelve; bagging groceries at $.50 an hour. He could also buy groceries at 30% off. This came in handy when he was able to help his family by buying groceries for one whole summer. John quit high school and joined the U.S. Marines at the age of 17. While at basic training in San Diego, he was asked if he could play an instrument. Yes, he had played the base drum in a highland bagpipe band. So the Marine Corps in in infamous wisdom said “we have a musician here”. Therefore after graduating, John was sent to Field Music School, where he learned 107 bugle calls on a bugle he didn’t know how to play.
John’s first overseas assignment was with the 12th Marines Artillery Regiment, 3rd Marine Division at Camp McNair, Japan. They lived in tents at the tree line of Mount Fuji, which got very cold until the snow would insulate the tents. They had help and the houseboys (actually older Japanese gentlemen) took care of the day-to-day activities. This gentleman became good friends with John and invited him to suppers. There John learned to sing Japanese songs with the man’s grandchild. He still knows these songs and delights Japanese guests every time he starts singing. Next, he went to Long Beach Naval Ship Yard, California, where he was the only bugler. At this large installation, John would often play at 3-5 funerals a day. When he became a Corporal, John went to the Marine Corps Security School at Henderson Hall, Arlington, Virginia. At this “Charm School”, he learned Emily Post’s etiquette. He was stationed at the American Consulate in Hamburg, Germany, along with three other Marines and had to know all the proper protocols. Then, he went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with the 2nd Marine Drum & Bugle Corps. But John knew there would not be a civilian job for a bugler, so he volunteered to go the Naval Disciplinary Command at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. John then spent thirteen months in the Marine Aircraft Group 12 (Mag12) at Chu Lai, Vietnam. He joined the VMA Squadron 121. As an additional duty, John volunteered for Civil Officers Security and was a bodyguard for the Civil Affairs Officer, Major Risner. Fully loaded with an M-14, hand grenades, smoke grenades and a knapsack full of ammunition, John would stay close, but under cover to protect Maj Risner’s village meetings. When he left Vietnam, John went to Marine Air Station, New River, North Carolina. While at the main PX some weeks later, He ran into the group Chaplain newly returned from Vietnam. He told John that the major had been capture shortly after he had left. Good news though, the major escaped shortly after. John was one of three staff members at New River, and became the Colonel in charge’s “gofer”. It wasn’t bad at first, but then he was ordered to MCRD, Parrish Island, South Carolina to become a Drill Instructor at the age of 32 with 16 years’ service behind him, (this is a young man’s job), He was assured by the Colonel that he could do anything he was assigned to do. So John went to Drill Instructor’s School, joining a class of 72. He worked hard and in the graduating class of 59 DIs, John finished 4th (oldest person in that class). He was then assigned to 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, and after 14 months as a DI, was told by his series officer that he must report to Regt. HQ at 0800 the next day and the officer had no idea why. John reported in and was told by the receptionist which office to report to a Lt. Colonel. He told John to “have a seat”, so John knew he wasn’t in trouble. The Colonel told him in reviewing record books, he found in John’s records that he had done water survival work. Would he be willing to try out to be trained for that job? YES! They tried to drown him and after graduation from course, John felt he had web feet and gills! The good part for a married DI was that a 100 hour week became a 50 hour week. The training tank was at the rifle range and when there was a break in the schedule, John would go to the pistol range and practice shooting. One day, the PI team coaches were at the range observing John’s shooting and they invited him to try out for the Parris Island Shooting Team and he made the team. Being a member of the team, and shooting more than before, he excelled with the 1911A1 45 ACP issued pistol. At the National Midwinter Championship in 1970, at Tampa, FL; John won the Expert Category moving him into the Master Category (and he also won a 22 target pistol). In 1971 the PIST, went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to compete in the Eastern Division, Rifle & Pistol Championship matches. John won the pistol match and learning no representative from the command would be there, he contacted the PI Command Sergeant Major to come and receive the awards with the team. Winning this match earned John a position on The Marine Corps Shooting Team, Quantico, VA. He shot well enough to get there, but not well enough to stay there. Returning to Parish Island, John received orders and a new MOS; to report to the Correctional Facility at CLNC. The base shooting team there wanted him to join their team. NO! He had just received his new MOS, had to learn a new job, and had to get his pro-pay back. The next year, 1972, John was ordered to try out for the CLNC Shooting Team. But his pistol scores didn’t hold up, not having shot for a year. Before being ordered back to his command, the major in charge of CLNC team had John try out for the rifle team. He made the team, having been a former rifle shooter (won 5th silver with the rifle), after which John returned to his command. Having put in a letter to retire, he retired in June 1973. He went back to New Hampshire. There John became a law enforcement officer and, with his background, became a firearms instructor at the New Hampshire Police Academy. After almost thirty years in law enforcement, John retired, sold his property and became a resident with AFRH-W for the 1st time. (This is not a full story of John’s military or his adult life. The information was gained through several conversations.)