Top Sergeants; USMC

During the 3 years that I spent in the Marines Top Sergeants made an impression on me as much or more than anything else. Boot Camp leaves an impression that never fully leaves you and it cannot be compared to anything else in life but ‘Top’s’ fit a special nitch.

As a 19 year old that didn’t like being told what to do it would make one wonder why I thought joining the Marine Corps was a great idea. Looking back even in my own mind it seams rather odd but at the time I had several goals in mind. One was a realization that I needed to mature and go somewhere on my own that was removed from family influences. I had then and as well as now a great family but I needed to find out who I was.

After boot camp, ITR and BIT, Infantry Training Regiment and Basic Infantry Training which consisted mostly of Jungle Warfare we sere allowed 20 days leave. Most of the guys that I was with extended for 5 days extra at home as we were all heading to Vietnam but after 20 days I knew that it would only get harder each day to go back so at the 20 day mark I had my dad drive me to the airport.

I was given a dual MOS the spring of 1970 and drove truck at Camp Pendelton California for about a year and a half. That’s where my first ‘Top’ made an impression.

I don’t recall his name after all of these years but he was the type of man that you will not soon forget if ever. Top was 6 foot 4 inches and all of 260 pounds, maybe more. He had lunch box sized hands and even without his immense size he had a commanding presence,

He was a veteran  of 3 Wars, WW2, Korea and Vietnam. He was married to an Okinawan gal and had 2 sons with her. A couple  of stories about Top have always stuck with me. The first was how how he came about an Okinawan wife.

It is not unusual for Marines as well as other servicemen to come home to the States with wives from foreign countries. The few months that I was stationed in Okinawa it was a common practice; some of the marriages worked and some didn’t.

Top was in the battle for Okinawa in the spring of 1945 and during the battle he saved the life of an Okinawan farmer. Out of gratitude the farmer gave Top his daughter. She was a bit young to get married so Top waited until she was 18 and tied the knot. I don’t know exactly how old she was at the time of the battle and I do know that some cultures marry young but for Top she was too young; at least then.

I knew Top in the 70’s so it was 25 plus years after the battle of Okinawa and saving the farmers life and all that transpired after that. Korea and Vietnam were behind him and he was near retirement age. Like an old work horse he couldn’t quit just yet and riding herd on a bunch of Marines with dual MOS’s and not being sent to a good fight, we were something of a pain in the ass, wasn’t his idea of a good time but he did his job well. His job was to keep us in line and like I said, well I suppose I don’t need to repeat it.

One day Top was talking and I was listening and the conversation grew rather interesting. I’m not sure why I was the recipient of this conversation and I don’t recall anyone else around but Top was a coin collector and had withdrawn an rather large sum of money from their savings to purchase a coin that he was interested in; no big deal right? The problem was that he hadn’t visited with his bride about it beforehand. To see this huge bear of a man sweating over his diminutive brides reaction when she found out cracked me up. Trust me I did not laugh at him openly or even smirk about it. I was very content that my head fit nicely on my shoulders and didn’t need to spend the rest of my  life walking side ways because Top cuffed me.

Top survived but it was a good lesson to me in the equality or lack of it in a marital status; I think it was more equality though.

The second Top that I remember well was at Camp Hansen, Okinawa.

The fall of 1971 I was on my second set of orders to Vietnam and mid December as we were at Camp Hansen being processed for the Dead Marine Zone, I know most folks though that DMZ stood for Demilitarized Zone, the staging company at camp Hansen was looking for a driver. They asked if I wanted to stay there and drive for them instead of going on to Vietnam and my response was that I had yet to volunteer for anything in the Corps. They cut me orders to work for them and that ended my last shot at going  to Vietnam. I didn’t miss much at that time though as we were not near aggressive enough in Vietnam to do any good at that point.

The Top in Okinawa was a combat junkie and was killing time at Okinawa until we had another good fight to go to. He was what we referred to as a Mustanger and had earned a field commission to Lieutenant during combat. It was not an uncommon practice but after things quieted down he was decommissioned back to a senior NCO.

As I got to know him and there was a guarded sense of familiarity between senior NCO’s and junior NCO’s I felt that he preferred being an NCO than a Lieutenant. As a Marine Grunt, MOS 0311, he was painfully aware that a 2nd Lieutenants life span in their first fire fight was measured in seconds. As a combat veteran he held no misguided illusions about famous last stands or ‘Gung Ho’ 2nd Looies going John Wayne and getting a bunch of Marines killed; good way to catch a 7.62 NATO in the head. I never got to know his entire history but he could have easily been one of those Vietnam Era veterans that spent 7 out of 10 years in Vietnam. Like I said, he enjoyed a good fight.

I don’t recall is name either but he was a good Marine and commanded a lot of respect. He was 7 to 8 years older than me and about my size as of back then, 5 foot 10 and around 160 pounds. 

Both Top’s made an impression on me and after all of these years I can still recall their presence.

I believe that there have been Top Sergeants in all Army’s through History; I’m not sure any fighting force could function without them.

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