“Mister Military Science”


Ol’e Larry Sirmons,

our only “unk” at PI,

my “bunkie” – Force Recon!*

 

  • (Private Larry Sirmons of Washington, D. C., and I exchanged perhaps one hundred-fifty words our first two months of United States Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.  If that.  The truncated third month perhaps another hundred.  I remember none of them.  He was derisively called “Mister Military Science” by our drill instructors.  He stood just behind me in file in the Fourth Squad of our platoon.  He was the only one of our surviving 70 or so recruits not to qualify on Friday of our two-week stay at The Rifle Range.  All Marines are at first riflemen.  The DIs had the option to hold back a recruit they felt might not qualify and send him back to re-shoot during the next phase of our interminable time as recruits – which we rarely were called, by the way: terms much less-endearing, usually – but at the last minute they agreed: all would sink or swim that fateful Friday.  Larry sank.  He kept us from the promised land: one hundred-percent qualified.  Our only failure in those awe-filled agonizing moments of getting everyone across the finish line in a group-challenge.  We parted ways a few weeks later, as Larry’s orders tagged him an 0311 (Oh Three Dumb Dumb – aka cannon fodder, grunt, infantryman).  He went immediately to Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Geiger at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina whilst I handed out linen and cooking supplies during a near six-week mess-n-maintenance duty at Camp Geiger before a hasty and horrid mud-n-snow marred month of ITR training for non-grunts.  I often though about Larry Sirmons and what had befallen 60 or so of the 70 of us who graduated PISC as Marines.  Years Later:  I learned most of the guys who got tagged “grunts” went to Vietnam just in time to take part in the Chinese New Year Festivities called TET.  Yep. Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Eight.  I finally got to Th’ Nam just before Tet, 1970.  By June I had acquired a nice crusting of “salt,” and was taking my ease at the beer garden at the Freedom Hill PX – post exchange complex – just a few “kliks” – Kilometers – from the First Marine Division Rear at Hill 327.  I was there for a payday and a party or seven squeezed in between stealing and trading, drinking and recreating – and, yes, in that sense as well – so I did not notice the taller, slimmer dark black Marine who approached the picnic table I had secured all by my lonesome despite tremendous opposing forces – bugs and mosquitoes and such – and heard that voice I’d hear utter maybe 300 whole and total words before in my life.  “J Richards. Is that you?” I stood even before looking.  “Larry, Mister Military Science, My Bunkie!” I batted away in proffered closed-fist for a “dap” in lieu of even the head’s handshake, the palm slap or the straightforward regular ol’e ‘Merican handshake and lowered my center-of-gravity just a fit and wrapped both arms around his hips and hoisted him highward.  “My Bunkie’s Back!” I yelled, getting some moderate attention from the usually and expected segregated crowd sudsing themselves: blacks, whites, hispanics – yes that foolish civilian shit had crept into The Corps even before Martin was killed.  But that’s another story.  Sirmons thumped me on top of my bare and illegally long haired head and yelled back: “Let me down you brute Chuck Bastard!”  We both laughed and I said the words I hated to hear answered.  “How are The Others?” Larry knew.  “We got massacred the first two weeks.  Hardly anyone from 1047 on the Freedom Bird back to The World.  Heard Bulldog (real name not revealed) got a bunch of guys killed in a patrol. He survived.  I went to Recon and later Force Recon.  Back again as that – Farce Recon.  Yeah.”  “Good,” I replied, seeing his face much the same stone as mine: “Farce” shoots even less that Rikky – Rikky Recon, another derogatory term for the elite of the elite, recon and infantry, and if so, Force Recon, thusly, had to be Farce Recon.  God. I was glad Larry got to use his high school Marine Junior ROTC training, his cool demeanor and good humor and quiet nature to do what he was born to do: swiftly, silently and deadly.  My Bunkie.)

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