© Copyright Michael Dan Kellum 2010
Marine Recruiter Stories
Books I & II, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs"
By Michael Dan Kellum
1stLt. Michael Dan Kellum, USMCR, Echo Co., 2/1, Vietnam 1970-71
"In August 1967 I drove 135 miles to Dallas, Texas from my East Texas hometown in Longview to
join the Marines. Didn't need a recruiter's bum's rush to join or any coaxing. I wanted to be a
Marine and looked to go in on a 2-year enlistment as advertised on TV. I wanted to go to Vietnam
and fight then return and go to college on the GI Bill. I felt obligated to be a part of the Vietnam
War...my generation's war. I had a year at the University of Houston and was feeling guilty to
some extent for sitting safe and sound stateside while other young men my age were at war
halfway around the world.
"The Marine recruiter in Dallas suggested I finish three more years of college since I already
had one year behind me and go in as an officer. I didn't want to miss this war so I told him to sign
me up that day that my mind was made up. He went through a big to-do act searching his desk
for a 2-year contract and finding none said all he had was a 4-year contract and I was to take it or
leave it. He knew I wanted to be a Marine in the worst way and thought he had me over a barrel. I
was eager to join but I wasn't stupid. I told him I was going in the service that day on a 2-year
contract and if he didn't have one then I was headed down the hall to the Army recruiters. He said
he was sorry but all he could offer me was a 4-year contract. It kind of dawned on me we were
playing verbal poker. I called his bluff. I laughed and told him, "Then that's that." Got up and hit
the door and was almost to the Army recruiter's door when the Marine recruiter came running out
his door waving a 2-year contract yelling, 'Come back, come back. I found a 2-year contract at the
back of my desk drawer.' Recruiters. And that's why I've always been leery of Marine recruiters.
As Doc Mike Shuck noted when he was recruited into the Navy...all the recruiter is looking for is a
heartbeat coming through the door to recruit you.
"My recruiter told me I could go in on the Delayed Enlistment Plan and could wait until the end
of October if I wanted to be home from boot camp for Christmas. I didn't want to miss Christmas
as I figured if my grandiose plans didn't work out as designed and I didn't return from Vietnam
alive I would at least have spent one last Christmas with my family and friends. Boot camp lasted
about 8 weeks and as my luck would have it, all the offices at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San
Diego shut down the day after our graduation and we were held in limbo until after Christmas at
San Diego. We actually had to report to Camp Pendleton and check in before they released us
for Christmas leave. I was seriously angry at my recruiter.
"Fast forward to August 1968: I finished Officer Candidate School as a second lieutenant
through the Enlisted Commissioning Program. I took leave back home and went to visit that
recruiter who had misinformed me about my Christmas leave. He was still on recruiting duty and
at our local U.S. Post Office back in Longview in a shared upstairs office with the Navy. I was in
civilian clothes when I reminded him he had recruited me roughly a year earlier. I asked him if he
ever followed the progress of those he recruited...he said he didn't. I gave him three names of
local Marines he might've recruited and noted two were killed-in-action and the third wounded-in-
action in Vietnam. I asked him if he knew anything about me after I had given him my name.
"I seem to recall his chuckled response was, 'Well, you ain't dead!' I told him he had that right. I
informed him I had just finished OCS at Quantico and I was now a Marine officer. His attitude
changed and he started talking about how well his recruiting of Marines was going. I asked him to
do me one favor and that was to not lie to recruits about circumstances beyond his control like
telling them when they could come home for Christmas. I told him about missing Christmas which
he had indicated I wouldn't miss if I went in on such-and-such a date. 'Don't make promises you
can't keep. Tell the recruits the truth. If you don't know you can deliver 100 percent on something,
don't promise it.' He said he would do that, no problem.
"Okay, so it gave me a little satisfaction to go back and brace my recruiter to some point and
gave me a peace of mind over something that had pissed me off the entire previous year. It was
kind of weird to outrank the guy after only a year's time. I just wanted him to be truthful and not
bullshit the recruits. Of course, I soon learned that 'Marine Time' is different from 'civilian time' and
your time and location is at the discretion of the United States Marine Corps. 'Hurry up and wait,'
is not just a bunch of words but how the Marine Corps operates.
"Without giving names, a blood relative of mine decided one day in 2011 he wanted to check
out the Marines to see if he could get in on a program that would use his computer skills. He went
to see his local Marine recruiter. According to the young man, after scoring in the 97th percentile
on their tests the recruiter promised him he would not have to go to war if he was involved with
computers in some stateside job. Then again, perhaps he misunderstood the recruiter.
Regardless, it sounded like a 'Christmas story' all over again. Understand in 2011 fighting in
Afghanistan was still going on and Iraq was winding down. Unconventional and conventional wars
were raging all over the Middle East 2010-11. I passed along to that young man's family that
recruiters don't always tell the whole truth and this sounded like a whopper...as Marines are
tooled to fight as 03 infantrymen from Day 1 at boot camp and you can't promise them if they join
they won't fight...on the contrary, if you're a Marine, you WILL fight. I ran this story by several
Marines and a Navy Corpsman to see what they thought of their having been recruited into the
Marines and Navy. Here's their stories:" Initial recruiting story was in Chapter 3, Book I, American
Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs."
Sgt. Steve Plunkett, 1st Recon Battalion, Vietnam 1970
"When I enlisted in April 1968, the recruiter told me I could go to the engineers. I wanted to
serve but did not feel I could take another's life, being a product of the '60's with the peace
movement and all that was going on then. I said cool...I'm in. Then in September when we
graduated boot camp and MOS's were issued, lo and behold, I was an 0300 basic infantry!
"I actually requested mast and got to see the battalion Sergeant Major. While standing in his
Quonset hut at rigid attention listening to him rant, he suddenly slugged me hard right in the solar
plexus. As I crawled out of the hut on all fours......POINT MADE! I knew then I could take
another's life, preferably his. And so it was, I became a grunt."
Lt.Col. Gilford G. "Gil" Robinson, USMC, Ret., Vietnam 1970-71
(This is a positive recruiting story from a Marine officer I knew in Vietnam).
Following Vietnam, Robinson, a Florida A&M graduate via a Jesuit High School, was assigned
to recruiting duty on college campuses. “Some joker played a trick on me and put in my record
book ‘Caucasian’ under ‘Race’,” he said and laughed. Capt. (Ted) Hopgood was the assignment
officer stateside and he placed him in the 6th District located in Raleigh, North Carolina. The
colonel in charge of that area picked up on the fact that Robinson wasn’t "Caucasian" as his
record book indicated but rather was of the African-American persuasion when he reported for
“He thought I’d have a hard time recruiting on many of the all white campuses still in place
back then. I told him I could do the job. I ended up leading the nation my first year of recruiting.
The college kids just wanted to hear the truth about the Marine Corps and I told them the truth. At
Bob Jones College, Bob Jones Sr. set me up with a little recruiting area on campus. Someone
told me I was the first ‘nigra’ on campus since they hired the maintenance supervisor. I never had
a problem due to my race on those campuses whether they were a minority campus or not.”
Epilogue, Book I, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs"
Cpl. Ron Robison, Echo Co., 2/1, Vietnam 1969-70
"Well I can't say I have a story that would scare anyone off. I used to read the Leatherneck
magazine in the high school library and that kind of hooked me. Plus my friend's brother was a
sergeant in the Marines at Camp Pendleton. He had enlisted for 4 years and, according to my
friend, hated the Marines. He was never sent to Nam though, I remember that.
"Anyway, I went to the Pasadena, California recruiter right after I turned 18. I had heard about
the 2 year enlistment but when I got there I asked about the enlistment terms and was told 4-
years. Well there was no way I was going to enlist for 4 years and told him if I wanted that I would
join the Navy - which was in the same office. My dad was in the Navy and later I would tell family I
went down to join the Navy but changed my mind and joined the Marines! Didn't want them to
think I was that crazy!
"I had this funny idea about the 2 year enlistment. One of my brothers had enlisted in the Army
6 months earlier and I figured out that I could join for 2 years and get out 6 months before him!
Naturally, I didn't think I would get killed but thought it was worth the chance to get the GI Bill and
go to college. Anyway, after making my position pretty clear the recruiter told me about the 2-year
active, 4-year inactive reserve enlistment. And he was pretty frank with me and said with that
enlistment you will be going to Nam and I guess that is the only promise he made. So I signed up
on the 120-day delay program and went in 2 weeks after high school graduation in June of 1969.
And, well, I did go to Nam so the recruiter was right! Only when I got to Boot Camp did I learn
you could join the Marine Reserves and only spend 6 months active duty and 5-1/2 yrs active
reserves. Now I might have done that if I had known about it.
"I would tell your young relative if he wants rank and medals he should join the Army! Although
I think they are giving out more medals now in the Marines, I'm not sure rank is any easier to get.
"Now if it was an Army/Navy/Air Force/Coast Guard recruiter (making those promises to your
young relative), I might believe that but whatever happened to 'a Marine is a rifleman first?' And
why would a recruiter even say that about not seeing any combat? That makes no sense. And
remember the day when 'you're going to see combat' was a selling point. In World War II they
wanted combat because they wanted to kill the damn enemy. That was Nam in the beginning for
many but not later during our time.
"My one brother who joined the Army to become a heavy equipment operator was told that that
was no longer available but they had combat engineers which was real close! Basically he got to
blow shit up. He made it to Spec 5 (E-5) which is no longer a rank in the Army."
Cpl. Ray Kozakowski, Alpha Co., 1st Recon Battalion, Vietnam, 1970
"My nephew joined the NROTC and went to Notre Dame. When you're in your second year, you
have to choose Navy or Marines...he chose Navy. They paid for 4 years of college and he owes
them 4 years. Not a bad deal. Tell him to look into NROTC.
"He can become a Marine Officer and if NROTC doesn't work out because of grades, etc., he
has the choice of going in as an enlisted man.
"I did the 2-year enlisted deal also. In 1969 I hitchhiked to the recruiting office in Oaklawn,
Illinois. I had about three beers in me and they must have smelled it because the recruiters
teased the hell out of me when I told them I wanted to fight in Nam. They gave me a 2 year
contract...with a 120 day delayed entry so I could enjoy the summer before I got killed in combat.
They were laughing it up on my account. But they were also NCO's and didn't pull any punches.
They were honest and told me up front 2 years enlistment was boot camp and Nam. They must
have made a note in my file because when I got to Da Nang I went to 1st. Recon Battalion. Later
and good luck with your young relative."
1stLt. Darcy Vernier, HMM-263 Peachbush pilot , Vietnam, 1969-70
"In 1964 I was a student at American University in Washington, D.C. I had talked to Marine
recruiters when I was at Catholic University, but got kicked out of CU and had moved across town
to AU. The recruiters were set up at a table in the Student Union and were surrounded by a lot of
my friends who were protesting the war. I pushed through the crowd and asked the captain who
was there if they had airplanes. He said they did, and I signed the initial forms. To this day I do
not know why I did that. The Air Force and Navy both have airplanes, but I’ve never regretted it.
The fact that you and I are in contact with people we’ve never met or haven’t seen in decades
shows that the Corps is more like a fraternity than an organization of anonymous members. My
family has no Marine history, other than a cousin of my mom’s who gave up an appointment to
West Point and was killed at Tarawa (in World War II).
"My interest in the Corps was solidified when I was at Quantico in Platoon Leaders
Class/Officer Candidate School, PLC/OCS, summer camp. About a week before I was to go, a
friend and I 'hurled a missile at an occupied residence and otherwise disturbed the peace and
tranquility of the Commonwealth of Virginia.' The residence in question was the national
headquarters of the Nazi Party of America, George Lincoln Rockwell’s gang. The missiles were
coke bottles. By pure coincidence we were driving home a few blocks away when the Nazis saw
my car and pointed us out to the police. The Arlington cops brought us back and one officer made
a point of chewing us out. I argued, not realizing that the cop was doing me a favor and trying to
satisfy the Nazis that the matter was closed. They released us and I thought that was the end of
"While I was at Quantico, two Arlington detectives showed up and arrested me. I was taken to
main side (or whatever it was called) and taken in to see the general. I was a candidate who lived
in fear of sergeants and officers and was sitting with a general. He told the detectives to wait
outside, and asked me if I had done it. I told him that I had. He turned to a Capt. Vis (I’ll never
forget that name) and told him to go with us and that I was not under any circumstances to be
locked up. The end of my story is that when we went to court the arresting officers called in sick
and said they would continue to call in sick until the charges were dropped.
"The Corps stood by me and took care of me when I was a lowly candidate with no status
whatsoever. Who would want to be associated with any other organization or with any
organization which didn’t have that attitude towards even their lowest member? Semper Fi is not
just a slogan.
"This letter has gone on longer than I thought, but a final comment to your young relative is that
he will never regret joining the Marines, but he should do it through a college program like
Platoon Leaders Class because a recruiter wants to get him on a bus to Parris Island or San
Diego, not Quantico or Pensacola (flight school). Tell him to locate the Officer Selection Officer
and not to deal with anyone else. Tell him to fly."
Col. William C. "Wild Bill" Drumright, CO, 2/26 & later 1st Recon Battalion,
"(At some point after I retired to Columbia, Tennessee), a recruiter came to me with two young
men (graduating from high school) who had been busted for possession of marijuana. The Marine
Corps wouldn't take them with the marijuana conviction on their records. I called the judge and
convinced him to wipe their records clean as I thought they would make damn good Marines after
talking to them at length.
"As it turned out one of them completed Parris Island number one in his platoon and the other
one was recommended for OCS. I took them both down to see the judge when they returned
home from boot camp and told the judge he had done a good job (giving them a second
chance)." Chapter 9, Book II, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs"
HM3 Mike Shuck, Echo Co., 2/1 Navy Corpsman in Vietnam taking care of Marines, 1970;
Recruited by the U.S. Navy
"When I was a senior in high school, I knew that I didn’t want to go to college as my older
brother did and wasn’t ready to work in a factory, so I knew my third choice was to join the
military. My Dad gave all us four boys the same three choices. I really liked bell bottoms at the
time, so the U.S. Navy seemed a likely choice AND they had a medical program, which I knew for
sure I wanted to do something in that field.
"In fact, the Navy recruiter, being the clever guy that he was, Guaranteed Me Hospital
Corpsman School after basic training, assuming I could make it through Basic. Little did I know
that almost anyone who finished basic training, had a heart beat, didn’t faint at the sight of blood,
could be a Navy Hospital Corpsman. But I was Guaranteed Hospital Corpsman School, so maybe
my application went to the head of the line….who knows?
"After Hospital Corps School, I went on to Surgical Technicians School, which was 32 weeks at
Bethesda, Maryland. I really enjoyed that most of all. As technicians we set up the operating
rooms, cleaned them and passed the instruments during surgery. From there I went to
Charleston, South Carolina, got married and was in the surgical suite for 9 months before going
to Vietnam. Everyone was going to Vietnam, it was just a matter of time. Then at Da Nang some
guy came up and said, 'Shuck, you’re going with me….to 2/1.' I was hoping to get in the field
medical hospital in Da Nang, as I knew those surgical technicians were called upon to do a lot
more than basic stuff and closed the Marines’ wounds up after surgeons did the major repairs.
The surgeons then went on to the more critical patients who were being medevacked in."
Shuck noted that his brother went the NROTC route and attended Indiana University graduating
with a bachelor's of art degree in history in 1970. He opted to go into the Army and managed to
totally miss the Vietnam War.
Capt. Jim Kyle, USMC, Ret., platoon commander, Echo 2, 2/1, Vietnam, 1970
While still attending California State College, Jim Kyle attempted to enroll in the Marines’ officer
program in September 1967 but was rejected twice due to a spot on his lungs revealed by x-rays
taken during his physical. After a third attempt in January 1968 showed the same spot, he pled
his case to the Marine recruiter, SSgt. Beem.
“I proceeded to tell him about my friend Danny Nicklow and how his loss (fighting in Vietnam) had
made me think about commitment and accountability in life. He called me literally the next day
and told me my lungs were clear of any spots and I was good to go into the Marines after I
graduated (from college in May 1968). Funny, that the nodule or spot on my lung has reappeared
on every x-ray I have taken ever since,” said Kyle. Epilogue, Book I, American Heroes: Grunts,
Pilots & "Docs"
Maj. Derek Watson, USMC, active duty in 2011, former Recruiting Station Operations
Officer with multiple tours in Iraq
"I can unequivocally promise you this: If you join the United States Marine Corps today, you will
most likely see combat. No ifs, ands or buts. A few years ago, I would say you will definitely see
combat. Out of Iraq and focused on Afghanistan, the likelihood is pretty good that someone
joining today will see one tour before we draw down.
"But as our nation's 911 Force of Choice, and with a very unstable world, it is a safe bet that
your young relative will see some kind of action...police or otherwise. Having said that, recruiters
screen out people based on three categories: (1) mental, (2) moral, and (3) physical.
"Basically, if you didn't have any disqualifying medical issues, such as asthma, don't have a
felony and can pass the Armed Services Aptitude Vocational Battery, ASVAB, and (in most cases)
have a high school diploma or on track to receive one, you will be eligible to enlist. There is no
disqualification for poor spelling or penmanship.
"Jobs can be guaranteed, however, the Marine Corps prefers to 'sell' the Marine Corps, not
jobs. Jobs depend on a couple of hard line items: availability and ASVAB scores.
"Most Recruiting Station Operations Chiefs control Jobs for the Operations Officer and it can be
given out per Recruiting Sub Station or, most likely, on a first come, first serve basis. So, it is very
likely that there are 'computer' jobs available.
"I am going to computer school this Thursday and Friday, as a matter of fact, Blue Force
Tracker. I'll be learning to plot my location, friendly forces and enemy forces on a digital map that I
will have in my up-armored (MAT-V or MRAP) vehicle while in Afghanistan. Not an all out lie, we
do have 'data communication' Marines as a Military Occupational Specialty, (MOS).....but
everyone touches computers today, including our Motor-T mechanics.
"Your young relative should apply for the NROTC Scholarship, regardless if he enlists or not.
He can do it online. It is extremely competitive and mostly kids with 4.0 and above with high
school leadership, Eagle Scouts and strong sports backgrounds with 1200 SAT scores and above
get accepted. If so, enlistment becomes mute. The process itself can be very rewarding to a
mature young man, as it truly tells you where you stand among your peers in society.
"In a nutshell, any recruiter that tells a kid that he won't have to go into combat is full of it. The
recruiter cannot know that. However, it would concern me that a kid today would join thinking that
he wouldn't want to go into combat. One thing that I have learned in my short 25 years in the
Corps is that today's Marines love being tested and the best place to test their proficiency as a
Marine and their MOS proficiency is in combat and are good at it, which I attribute in part to being
desensitized by video games and TV.
"Overall, most folks think the kids are going to get the screws put to them, but if they remember
that in the Marine Corps they are first and foremost Riflemen, they won't have to worry about the
rest. Here is the NROTC website http://www.nrotc.navy.mil"