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You are here: Davis of Iowa > Jim Davis's Biography > Part IV                    Click HERE to go to Part V

Part IV



My USMC Years


 USMC Officer’s Basic School –


Karen and I spent our honeymoon first night in a downtown Davenport, Iowa hotel.  We had driven about 100 miles and we were both exhausted.  Fortunately, we had lost our ushers.  We also, fortunately had a hotel with underground secure parking so we only took to the room what we needed and quickly collapsed into bed for much needed rest.  The  900 mile drive to Quantico took us two leisurely days.  There was no on-base housing at Quantico for married officers attending USMC Officer’s Basic School.  Karen and I researched our options prior to our wedding and we decided to make our housing decision when we arrived in Virginia.  From my experience the prior summer at the USMC summer camp, I knew that the nearest reasonably sized town to Quantico, was Fredericksburg,  Virginia.  Since Karen was hoping to get a job while I was attending the nine month School, we decided to begin our apartment search and her job search in Fredericksburg.


Our first day – Tuesday, June 12 - in Fredericksburg, was dedicating to locating an apartment. I had until June 18 to report in to the USMC Officer’s Basic School.  The local paper had a listing of apartments  for rent so we began our apartment search, after a southern breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and grits.  Karen was not familiar with grits and when the waitress served us our breakfast, Karen took one look at the grits and asked the waitress “What is this?”  The waitress replied “Why, mam them is grits.”  Obviously the ISC Home Economics College did not teach their students about “grits”.


Fredericksburg had a population of about 13,000 at that time.  We looked at several apartments and settled on a furnished apartment which was the entire second floor in a two story private residence located near the Rappahannock River. It had a small but adequate kitchen, an average sized bed-room, with a decent sized bathroom and a nicely sized combination dining room and living room.  There was an outside stairs to the apartment with a modest landing at the second floor.  It was more than adequate.  It was empty and we moved in the following day.  Karen’s folks were shipping  us the wedding presents that we had not brought with us as well as the rest of Karen’s clothes that she wanted in Virginia.  


After our wedding, Karen’s folks began the process of loading the trailer that he built to move the things that they wanted to have in California.  They also arranged to ship a modest amount of keepsake furniture, clothing and kitchen goods that they could not fit into the trailer.  They donated the rest of their worldly possessions to local charities.  They left for Orange County, CA a couple of weeks after our wedding.  They like so many settlers in the 1800s, left their home without a specific destination, a job or a home.  They just  headed west to their future.  


Karen’s dad was about to turn 55 years old and her mother about to turn 50 years old.  They knew that the California teachers were well paid and had a wonderful retirement program.  To be vested in the retirement program the teacher needed to teach  in California for a minimum of ten years.  Hence, her dad could work until he was 65 and meet the retirement time hurdle.  Her mother would also be able to easily qualify.   Their trip to California was uneventful.  Immediately, upon arriving in Orange County, they explored teaching job opportunities.  They signed contracts to teach in Fullerton shortly thereafter.  Having determined where they would teach, they explored the many options for buying a home.  They found a new home located on a short street which  dead-ended  at an orange grove in a new development in Brea, a smaller city contiguous to Fullerton. 


The house was perfect for them, a 2000 square feet, six room two car garage ranch style house located on a small lot,  with a small back yard enclosed by a six feet concrete block wall which provide ample privacy and a great place for her father to do his landscaping projects.   They lived in that house for the rest of their lives.  They loved California, the weather and particularly the traveling in the summers during  their teaching years.  We talked with them frequently and nine months later, I was stationed in California not too far from where they lived – but I getting ahead of myself!


Karen surveyed the job opportunities, which were limited by her desire to work only nine months – until the end of basic school as it was highly likely that I would be transferred from Quantico upon completion of Basic School.  In the end she accepted a job which required her to sign a ten month contract from August 20  to June  20, 1957 teaching Distributive Education to students at Fredericksburg High School.  She was required to attend a three week course in Distributive Education at VPI in Blacksburg, VA which was  220 miles southeast of Fredericksburg, to prepare her for teaching distributive education.  For ten month contract she was to be compensated $2900, paid monthly.


 (Distributive Education was basically, a program where the student went to school in the mornings, taking a reduced load of regular classes and worked in a local retail establishment in the afternoons.  Karen would be responsible for matching the students who opted for this program with a retailer, who agreed to hire the student and work with the student to prepare her/him for a career in retail.  Karen  would grade each student based on her observations, her assessment on the progress the student was making and the feedback from the student’s employers. 


I reported to USMC Basic School on June 18, 1956 along with some other 186 newly commissioned USMC and USMCR Second Lieutenants who were assigned to one of four platoons in E (Echo) Company.  Some of us were wearing the uniform of the day (kaki shirts and trousers and no tie), some were wearing civilian clothes and one officer was in his Dress Blues!  I was assigned to the Fourth Platoon.  The single officers were  assigned to base housing/barracks (BOQ) located  near the classrooms and other training facilities.   The married officers, like me, were allowed to live off base.  Interestingly, nearly all of the 187 officers in our company were in the USMCR as only a few were regular commissioned USMC officers.  


The U S Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico, home of the USMC Officer’s Basic School covers some 55,000 acres (86 sq mi) and is used primarily for training purposes. MCB Quantico, is known as the "Crossroads of the Marine Corps”.  The FBI Academy, the principal research and training facility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the principal training facility for the Drug Enforcement Administration  (DEA) are also located on the base.


Our company was one of three companies which comprised the Third Basic School Class of 1956.  Therefore, our total class was some 550 officers.  The initial days were spent with physical exams, paperwork, drawing our required equipment (except for weapons), utility uniforms and boots and being measured for the standard kaki and green dress uniforms which we were required to purchase. Reserve officers were not required to purchase Dress Blues uniforms, although a few of them did purchase them. I did not purchase Dess Blues as I had already decided that I would not make the USMC a career. We also, began the organizational meetings with  the officers who were responsible for training in the coming nine months.  Each company had a Commanding Officer,  ours was Major Autry, and each platoon had a Platoon Commander, our Fourth Platoon Commander was 1st Lieutenant Martinelli – the other three platoons in our company had captains as platoon commanders.  I suspect that their assignments were made on the basis of rank/seniority and as I was in the Fourth Platoon, our Platoon had the most junior officer of the four.


2nd Lieutenant, James H Davis


Lieutenant Martinelli, was an experienced USMC officer who had been promoted from the enlisted ranks, however it was his first assignment as a Basic School platoon commander. He was learning the ropes as well.  As a married officer living off the base, I commuted daily to/from Fredericksburg and Quantico which was about 20 minutes each way.  We typically reported in at six AM and were dismissed about six PM unless there were night exercises/classes scheduled.   At least I did not have to endure barrack inspections!    Nor did we have many weekend classes/duties, although one of the student officers served as Officer of the Day (OD) for each of the Basic School Companies every day, a responsibility that rotated among all of the student officers. I was assigned that duty relatively early on in Basic School.


Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected president with Richard Nixon continuing as his vice-president.  At Christmas time we were afforded the opportunity to take up to five days of leave -  the commanding officers wanted  to take time off as well.  Karen and I decided not to take leave, as our families were all a long distance from Quantico.  When I reported that to the company clerk, my name was added to the duty roster for OD during the five days scheduled for those on leave. I was assigned the OD responsibility  on Christmas Day.  Our uniforms were almost exclusively heavily starched utilities and spit-shined boots. We had frequent uniform inspections.  We were not issued rifles except when we were qualifying on the rifle range and for field exercises.  We only had the USMC officer’s standard weapon, a 45 caliber M1911 pistol when we were on the range qualifying. 


The nine-month USMC Officer’s Basic School was designed to develop leadership capabilities, to learn basic infantry officer’s responsibilities and other  USMC officer responsibilities.  Hence no tactics  other than infantry tactics were part of the Basic School curriculum.  We  were consistently ranked on the basis of our  academic accomplishments and our leadership capabilities.  We were never counselled individually as to our accomplishments or deficiencies, unless we were not meeting what the officers considered the minimum acceptable level. The subjects and training were  in lecture halls, usually with the entire company  in attendance and in the training fields with lectures and demonstrations which were typically to smaller groups, e.g., individual platoons - some 45 men per platoon -  depending on the subject. 


The courses included map reading, compass usage, individual infantry weapons, i.e.,  M-1 rifle, 45 caliber pistol, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), water cooled and air cooled 30 caliber machine  guns, 60 mm and 81 mm mortars, hand grenades, flame throwers and K-bars (the USMC combat knife) and hand-to-hand combat.   These  classes were a combination of classroom lectures and field demonstrations. Each specific topic concluded with a written test on that topic.  The field demonstrations concluded with live firing of each of these weapons by each student officer.  Our ability in map reading and compass usage was sharpened and tested in field exercises. 


Other courses included basic infantry tactics for the company sized and smaller units.  A USMC  infantry company typically included four rifle platoons of three squads each.  Each squad included four rifle teams, one member of each armed with a BAR and the other three with M-1 rifles.  Each rifle team was typically lead by a corporal, each squad led by a sergeant, each platoon commanded by a lieutenant with a gunnery sergeant as an assistant. 


Depending upon the mission, an infantry platoon or even a squad might be reinforced with one or more mortar or machine gun teams, which were typically assigned from a special weapons platoon frequently assigned to the infantry company or the infantry battalion. 


An infantry battalion consisted of four infantry companies, a headquarters company (mainly administrative/support personnel) and occasionally a special weapons platoon.  An infantry regiment consisted of four infantry battalions, a headquarters company and possibly a specialty platoon/company providing additional capability, e.g., special armament,  transportation, etc. An USMC Division consisted of three infantry regiments, an 105mm Howitzer regiment, a headquarters company and possibly other specialty units, e.g., 155mm guns, tanks, transportation, etc.


An artillery regiment was comprised of three 105 mm Howitzer artillery battalions, which consisted of  four artillery companies, each composed of four artillery platoons, each consisting of four 105 mm Howitzer guns and gun crews.  The fourth artillery battalion in the regiment was an 81mm mortar battalion organized as the 105mm Howitzer battalions, except they were armed with 81mm mortars.


We were being trained in Basic School  to lead an USMC infantry platoon the basic building block of the USMC and the most hazardous assignment an USMC officer could have.  Our officers/non-commissioned officers stressed the leadership qualities that are needed to be a successful platoon commander, namely total knowledge of (1) his men and their capabilities, (2) the weapons as this disposal, (3) as  much as possible about the mission, the enemy and the terrain  and finally, he must have the discipline to insure that he and his men carry out the assigned mission. 


The mission of the Officer’s Basic School was to prepare newly commissioned officers to be effective infantry platoon commanders.  Secondarily, the school was preparing officers to be competent, successful USMC officers, should their entry level into the USMC be through non-infantry assignments, e.g.,  artillery, aviation, etc.  Those alternate assignments typically required additional schooling after completing Basic School for those officers selected for other than infantry duty. 


Each USMC specialty/field assignment carried a “MOS” or Military Occupational Specialty number.  Each specialty had a four digit number.  All  infantry specialty numbers were 03XX  and therefore each officer graduating from Basic School was assigned an MOS of 0302 until or unless he became further skilled in an infantry specialty  which carried a more refined MOS number, or was transferred to a different MOS billet.  (I was assigned to artillery and therefore was given an 0802 designation - a basic artillery officer.)


Weapon qualification was an early part of Basic School training.  Every Marine is required to qualify with the USMC basic weapon, the M-1 rifle and to requalify periodically throughout his USMC career.   In addition, all USMC officers were required to qualify with the 45 caliber M1911 pistol (except, I believe the aviators carried a smaller 38 caliber pistol, with which they were required to qualify).  We were issued rifles which were kept locked in a special armory when not required for training or for marksmanship qualification.  It was our responsibility to keep our assigned rifle spotless and to know its serial number – mine was 071341!  Security of our weapons was paramount.  No one had ammunition for his weapon, until we were at the range and prepared to qualify in marksmanship. Before we  began our marksmanship qualifications, we had rifle orientation, its functions,  proper sighting the rifle, i.e., sight picture and sight alignment, trigger and breathing control and finally the four shooting positions.  Once these basics were understood by all, our entire company would spend all morning or all afternoon on the range learning and practicing shooting the M-1 from the prone, the sitting, the kneeling and the standing positions. 


These basics w/r/t positioning the body, use of the rifle strap, sighting the target and holding the rifle were drilled into us via demonstrations and then very close coaching by our company officers supplemented with range commissioned and non-commissioned officers.  All of this was without  ammunition.  Once the officers were satisfied with all of the student’s ability to utilize each of these positions, as well as the breathing, sighting and other requirements, were provided ammunition and we began firing from the prone position.  We then progressed to the sitting, kneeling and standing positions. Safety, was very, very strongly emphasized and continually monitored by the instructors and company officers, who were reinforced by the range officers.   If inappropriate actions occurred, firing was ceased, weapons cleared/unloaded and occasionally reprimands delivered. 


Qualifying with the M-1 was the ability to score a certain number of points at 500 yards distance to the target from the prone position in a set number of rounds.  The scores were calculated based on the number of rounds placed in various concentric circles on a paper target, with each circle was valued a specific amount.  Everyone, fired their rifle during qualification until they were qualified as a “Marksman”, “Sharpshooter” or “Expert”. 


We also were required to fire from the other positions, typically at shorter distances, e.g., 200 or 300 yards, as the other firing positions were less stable and therefore less accurate shooting resulted. After qualifying with the M - 1 rifle, we moved to the pistol range, where the orientation, practice, drills were similar to those with the rifle.  The target distance was 25 yards. I qualified as a Sharpshooter with the M – 1 and as an expert with the 45 caliber M1911 pistol.  Every Marine wears his rifle and pistol qualification medals as the bottom row of his medal awards above the left breast pocket of his dress uniforms.


(Some 50 years later, my son-in-law, David and grandson, Kyle, who were both residing in Texas and had begun target shooting recreationally, invited me to go shooting with them one afternoon.  I had not held a handgun, since leaving the USMC.  My grandson asked me to shoot his 9 mm handgun at the 25 yard distance.  I surprised myself and amazed my grandson and son-in-law with some very fine shooting, that would have “requalified” me with that pistol if I were being retested in “The Corps”!   Maybe it was just luck, but I will claim that it was my training of some 50 years earlier and skill!)


While we were qualifying with the rifle and pistol, Karen took the train to Blacksburg, VA to attend the three week course at VPI. We agreed that I would visit her one the weekends of her three week course.  On that weekend I, took the train to Blacksburg on Friday evening and met up with Karen.  She was staying in a girls dormitory while attending the course.  We stayed in a local motel and enjoyed touring Blacksburg on foot, as neither of us had a car in Blacksburg.  The town and VPI reminded us somewhat of Ames, IA and ISC.  Karen completed her course two weeks later, trained back to Fredericksburg and prepared for her Distributive Education classes.  She had only about a dozen students to place in retail establishments and to monitor throughout the year.  Karen became quite friendly with the retail establishment owners/managers and relied heavily on their evaluations of the student’s performance.  She rather enjoyed the work which wasn’t that demanding or even challenging.  She made friends with other young teachers with whom we socialized with a bit.


We also socialized with several other married USMC officer couples attending Basic School and living in/near Fredericksburg.  We took frequent driving trips to Washington, D.C. and other area attractions on weekends, including Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, the Smithsonian and the Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson Memorials.  Neither she nor I typically had school work on the weekends.  Weekend life was leisurely, educational and enjoyable.  


The basic infantry training was the very important central mission of our schooling.  Most of the time and focus was on small unit tactics and maneuvers.  MCB Quantico was heavily wooded with numerous small unit infantry training areas.  We would frequently march with our gear, including our M-1s, to a remote training area where we heard lectures and observed operations/maneuvers  At one of the demonstrations demonstrated by the Basic School Staff, the instructor pointed out the commander of one of the training platoons which was some distance away.  This commander was running with full gear at an extremely fast pace, as an example of what was expected of us when we reported to our infantry assignments.  This demonstration continued for some time, with the commander running full speed during the demonstration.   At the end of the demonstration, the instructor announced “by the way, the platoon commander you have been watching is First Lieutenant Wes Santee, the Kansas University runner who had won the outdoors One Mile run in the early 1950s four times and almost broke the 4 minute One Mile Run with a best time of 4.00.5 minutes!”  Clearly, the instructors were having fun challenging us.


Our time at Basic School passed quickly, soon it was February with only one month to go.  We were directed to make our choices as to the type of duty and the duty station to which we wanted to be assigned upon competition of Basic School.  I had been thinking about this for a while and had decided that I my first choice would be artillery.   We thought that Karen might be pregnant and if so, being stationed fairly close to her parents would be a great thing.  I chose Camp Pendleton where the Eleventh Marines (the 1st Division’s artillery regiment) was stationed, with Twentynine Palms (where the USMC 155mm Long Guns and various rocket units were based) as my second choice.   Camp Pendleton was about 60 miles from Karen’s folks home in Brea, CA and Twentynine Palms was 160 miles distant from Brea.


My USMC Artillery Service –


Two weeks later, we learned that I would be assigned to the Eleventh Marines.  I was blessed with both of my first choices.  We also had confirmed that Karen was pregnant and expecting to deliver about the end of September.  She, however, was committed to completing her teaching contract which would be satisfied about June 20th.   Despite being pregnant, Karen continued smoking and moderately drinking alcohol, mainly wine.  At that time the medical community had not yet started discouraging pregnant women from drinking alcohol.  The science was not fully settled  on the effect(s)  on children of pregnant women who smoked while pregnant, although it was discouraged.  The medical community now thankfully, is fully against smoking in general and drinking alcohol while pregnant.  Her habits however, continued to be a bit of an issue between the two of us.


The other big event in the final two weeks of Basic School was the “two days war” which was conducted in cold rainy windy weather, Quantico’s finest, in  the forests of the MCB Quantico.  This was our final leadership and tactics test.  An all-night, two day competition for the entire battalion, the 3-56 Basic School Class, it also was a bit of a physical test, pulling an all-nighter in that weather. 


There were a number of parties to attend, good byes and  good wishes to deliver and visits to the Battalion bulletin board for the latest news, especially to see our final academic and leadership scores.   They were finally posted.  I was honored with being first in the battalion academically and  somewhat near the  middle leadership wise.  I received my orders  to report to the Eleventh Marines no later than March 31 ten days after being released from Basic  School.  Karen and I agreed that I would drive my car with all of my possessions and some of our things that she no longer needed in Fredericksburg.   She would stay in our apartment complete her teaching obligation and ship the rest of her stuff when she was ready to fly to California.  Most USMC and USMCR officers assigned to artillery directly from Basic School were ordered to attend the US Army gunnery school at Fort Sill, OK.  I however, was ordered to proceed directly to the Eleventh Marines.  I assume the USMC figured that I could learn gunnery on my own and sent me directly to an artillery unit.


My brother, Bob learned that I would be driving from Fredericksburg to our home in Marshalltown, where I would spend a few days visiting my parents and my siblings still at home.  He,  his wife Vieve and daughter, Kindra, who was born the previous November 27 were living near Fort Campbell, KY where he was finishing his two year US Army obligation.  None of Kindra’s grandparents had met Kindra.  Bob asked me to drive to Marshalltown by way of Fort Campbell and to take Vieve and Kindra to visit Kindra’s grandparents.  I agreed as it was not much out of my way,  it would give me an opportunity to visit Bob briefly and to have company on one day of  my driving trip to California.  Driving to Marshalltown from Fredericksburg would normally be 16 hours and 1100 miles, but driving by way of Fort Campbell would add about 6 hours and 200 miles.  Regardless, I  agreed to Bob’s request, as it would please him but  more importantly please both of our families in Iowa.   Kindra was my parent’s first grandchild.  I left Fredericksburg about midnight on March 21 with the destination of Fort Campbell.  I arrived before noon, local time, met Kindra and visited with Vieve until Bob finished his duty and returned home.   We reconnected, packed the car for an early departure the next morning and got a good nights sleep. 


The drive to Marshalltown was uneventful.  We drove directly to Vieves parent’s home.  Her parents were delighted to meet their newest granddaughter.  I left them after a bit and drove the 20 miles to my parent’s home.  We had a wonderful four days reconnecting.  My parents met their first grandchild later that day when Vieve and Kindra came to visit them.  The four days with my family went quickly and then headed west.   It was an uneventful drive.  I reported for duty one day early and was assigned a room in the BOQ (Bachelors Officer’s Quarters) which would be my home for the next three months.


The BOQ was a comfortable single room with a single bed, chest of drawers, a desk, a decent sized closet and three-quarter bath (shower only).  I ate my meals at the Officer’s Club.  I found that I had considerable “homework” learning gunnery by way of correspondence courses from Fort Sill and a 11th Marines gunnery course.  I was assigned to Lima (“L”) Battery, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  The following morning, I reported to my commanding officer, Captain Flynn.  He was a relatively young captain  with a senior First Lieutenant who served as the Company Executive officer.  I was one of four platoon leaders in Lima Battery.  Camp Pendleton was not permitted to  have live artillery firing because of the  relatively small base size and the civilian population surrounding the base.  Twice each year each  11th Marines’ Battalions would convoy from Camp Pendleton to Twenty Nine Palms to have  two weeks of live firing exercises.  The artillery training that took place at Camp Pendleton was all dry runs/practices.


I spent my nights studying.  I spent the weekends visiting Karen’s parents, touring parts of southern California that I thought Karen would not be as interested in.  I also, met my third cousin Willard Ware one weekend who traveled to California from North Carolina to catch up with some of our Ware relatives who had settled in Orange County,  California.  I met a number of our relatives at a weekend cookout, however Edwin McGrew, my great uncle, who had lived in Orange Country had died two years earlier.  Edwin McGrew was  a William Penn graduate, who then graduated from divinity school.  He served as president of William Penn twice for a total of  17 years.  I never had the pleasure of meeting him.


Our Battery Commander assigned his executive officer to teach me the gunnery compass which was the basic gunnery instrument.  It was critical that the exact location of the battery was known and that the exact compass direction in which the battery would be firing was established, using this gunnery compass.  It was not a difficult assignment for me after our map reading and field exercises in Basic School.  I also signed up for an 11th Marines artillery class which was held twice a week at the Regimental Headquarters.  I was directed to enroll in the Fort Sill artillery gunnery correspondence course.  Gunnery was fairly easy for an engineer who had considerable math and related engineering courses in college.  I had no difficulty mastering the work.  In retrospect it was a wise decision for the USMC to send me directly to the field and not to Fort Sill as that twelve week course would have been excessive for me, including training on a wide range of artillery armaments, including nuclear armaments none of which I would have used in my tour.


Observing two atomic explosions –


I quickly learned the drill, the administrative work, the men in my platoon, our Howitzers and found my way around the base.  A few weeks later, the 11th Marines and other units were asked to task junior officers with a special duty assignment.  The regiment asked for volunteers for the assignment which was a brief,  but undetermined number of days of deployment to the Nevada Atomic Proving Grounds (NAPG) for duty as observers and live detonation testing officials of  a nuclear detonation, beginning June 5th.  I was interested in participating in the special assignment and the fact that I was living in the BOQ, with Karen not coming to Camp Pendleton until about June 20th, it seemed like the thing to do. 


I was accepted, received orders to report to the NAPG, made travel arrangements and departed on Wednesday, June 5.  Upon arriving at the NAPG, we were assigned quarters in a small tent city and we were advised that the test to which we would be assigned had been delayed a few days by  weather.   However, there was a test that Friday morning that we were invited to witness.  We traveled by bus to an observation point some 20 miles from Ground Zero.  The observation point was a small open air mesa.  There were communications between the detonation managers at the control  station and the mesa on which we were observing. 


We heard the countdown.  At the count of 20 we were instructed to turn around and face  opposite the detonation site.  We were wearing no eye protection or radiation monitors. When the countdown reached  “zero” the entire area became a brilliant white.  We were then instructed to turn around and  face the blast.  We witnessed the mushroom cloud begin to form and gradually build.  We then witnessed a shadow of the compressed air forming the sound wave, moving toward us.  As the shadow of the sound wave reached us, so did the very loud detonation blast noise.  And, the blast wind moving almost as fast as the sound wave also hit us.  The mushroom cloud continued to build more slowly now and the winds began to disperse it.  After about 30 minutes much of the mushroom cloud had disappeared.  It was a very impressive demonstration of a 20 kiloton nuclear device detonated some 300 feet above the desert floor.   Shortly thereafter we boarded the buses to return to our barracks.  We  were not scheduled for any duty until 0700  Monday.  Four of we USMC officers went to Las Vegas for the weekend.  At that time, military men and women in uniform attending any of the many performances in Las Vegas were seated in the front row, frequently for only the cost of three alcoholic beverages or about $10.  I remember seeing Jack Benny in one of the shows.  We also were rewarded with rooms at discounted rates and other preferences. 


On Monday we began the briefings and training for the detonation for which we had come to participate.  I was assigned to a group who would be stationed in trenches some five miles from the planned detonation.  We would be wearing full combat uniforms and carrying the usual USMC combat gear.  We would wear eye protection and radiation monitors.  There were numerous military equipment and gear located at various locations and different distances from ground zero.  The intent of our participation and the various placements of military equipment and vehicles within the expected impacted area, was to measure the amount of radiation and to assess the amount of damage from the nuclear detonation and the resulting blast affected area.


On the first re-scheduled day, Thursday June 13 for the test, those of us who were assigned duties in the trenches, which were some eight feet deep and three feet wide, were in the trenches at 0430 with a planned detonation of a 5 kiloton nuclear device at 0600.  The device was on top of a 300 feet tower. The count-down began at 0530 and the tension began to build.  As the countdown neared zero, we were alert and waiting for the brilliant white light - we could not see the nuclear device..  


The count reached zero and nothing happened.  After about two minutes the test controller announced to all personnel to hold our positions and not to venture out of our assigned area.  We continued to wait, five minutes, ten minutes, 30 minutes of  waiting and wondering.  Finally, after an hour, the test controller announced that the weapon had experienced a “hang-fire” and that everyone should leave their assigned positions and return to our transportation. We did so and returned to our base. We learned a bit later that a scientist/engineer climbed the  tower to determine just what caused the “hang fire”.  We did not learn what the malfunction was.  We participants were told that there would be no assignments for us until the following Monday. The four of us who had spent a prior weekend in Las Vegas decided on a “do over”, however, this time we called the Nellis USAF base located between our tent camp and Las Vegas to arrange both transportation and lodging in its BOQ.  The USAF was most accommodating.  We had car service into the Las Vegas Strip and back to the Nellis BOQ each of the three days.  We saw several shows for bargain prices once more.


The test we were to participate in was rescheduled for the following Wednesday, June 19th.  For some reason that I never learned, I was reassigned to a helicopter monitoring group whose mission was to fly into the radiation area after the detonation and measure the radiation levels on the ground and the equipment on the ground ten minutes after the detonation.   We trained for this mission on Monday and Tuesday.  On Wednesday the test was conducted without a hitch  and I flew in one of four helicopters measuring and recording radiation levels at the assigned locations. 


Shortly after the completion of our assignment on Wednesday, we were released to return to our assigned duty stations.  I traveled back to Camp Pendleton that night, arriving three days before Karen arrived in LAX.  I was at LAX to meet her plane and to see her for the first time since I left Virginia.   We went directly to her parent’s home and she had a wonderful reunion with her parents, having not seen them since our wedding just over a year earlier.  Karen was six months pregnant with an expected delivery date of September 30th.  She looked wonderful, was experiencing no significant pregnancy illnesses.  We both were relieved she was in California. 


On Sunday we drove to Camp Pendleton, where our home for the following year was waiting for us.  I had applied for base housing effective mid-June shortly after reporting to the Eleventh Marines.  I was advised of our unit’s availability prior to departing for NAPG and had moved my belongings into the house at that time. The address was 323 A Alderwood, Oceanside, CA.  The house was furnished, although I had purchased a few items that we would need after Karen arrived.  The house was a small two bedroom ranch style located in an on-base housing development for officers.  It was more than adequate for our needs.  We introduced her to the house; I toured Karen around the base to familiarize her with where the various on base services were, primarily the location of the battery to which I was assigned, the Post Exchange where we would do the bulk of our shopping and the base administration office where she would need to get her USMC identification card.  The U.S. Naval Hospital for Camp Pendleton was located in the nearby town of Oceanside which is where she would get her pre-natal care.  


Karen enrolled herself with her pre-natal healthcare,  acquired her identification card, met our neighbors,  shopped for food, pharmaceuticals  and supplies and  generally got our family up and running.  The following  weekend we had a battalion party at which I introduced her to my battalion and  battery officers.  However, we never socialized with any of these couples other than to attend unit social functions. Karen’s brother,  Ed married Erma Lee Butts on June 23, however we were not able to travel to Orosi, CA, Lees parent’s home for the wedding because of all our immediate requirements in Oceanside.


Karen’s pregnancy was relatively easy for her.  She had not experienced morning sickness, she had great energy and she kept active.  We visited Karen’s folks on weekends, visited her Uncle and Aunt –  Karens mother’s younger brother, Reece and his wife Flo, who lived in San Diego, toured southern California and generally became acquainted with this new, to us part of our country.  We visited many of the coastal cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego.   


One of the USMC functions we attended was a battalion dinner dance held in early September,  prior to a  scheduled Battalion two week live firing exercise at Twentynine Palms. At the dance our battalion commander, knowing that Karen was to give birth within the month, asked her if she wanted me to stay behind as the Battalion Duty Officer, explaining that one Battalion officer was required to stay behind.   Karen responded “no, the baby is not due until September 30th and it would probably be late in arriving anyway” . 


At 0600 on Monday, September 16th our battalion convoyed from  Camp Pendleton to Twentynine Palms.  A trip of about 150 miles which took about 5 hours of elapsed time, as we took less traveled highways.  The battalion’s exercise had been scheduled for some time and the USMC Twentynine Palms Base which is 935 square miles  in size was prepared for us. We were immediately directed to a specific training area.   Each battery had an initial  training and bivouac  assigned location.  We deployed, established our camp, placed our Howitzers and stowed our ammunition. The following day we began pre-planned gunnery operations.  On Thursday morning, I was assigned to serve as the battery fire direction officer, meaning that I would receive the requests to direct our fire to a certain target, monitor the reports of the observer who would be radioing in requests for the shells to be moved left/right/longer/shorter and translating these requests to specific gun sightings. 


Cynthia Ruth Davis born -


During this exercise our radio suddenly came alive with the “This is Fourth Battalion Five actual” (the battalion executive officer), “let me speak to Lt. Davis actual”.  I immediately thought that we had fired an errant round and we were being alerted to a problem.  I took the radio and replied that this was “Lt. Davis, actual”.   The Battalion Executive officer replied, “Congratulations.  You are the father of a baby girl born yesterday.  Your wife and daughter are doing just fine.  The Battalion Commander has arranged for you to travel to Camp Pendleton tomorrow on a scheduled jeep run and to return to your post on Sunday by the same method.  Congratulations!” 


Cindie, her given name which she changed some thirty years later was Cynthia Ruth (Ruth was Karen and my mother’s given first name), was born at the U.S. Navy Hospital in Oceanside on September 18th.   Karen had called her parents later that day and told them that they were grandparents for the first time and that “Jim did not even know he was a father!”.  (Swanson’s second granddaughter, Toyel, Eddie and Lee’s daughter was born the following February13th.)  I was able to get a message to Karen through the Battalion Duty Officer who had stayed behind, that I would be back late Friday PM and would see them as soon as I could. 


The next 30 hours awaiting my departure from our deployment and a four hour jeep ride to Camp Pendleton was a challenge as I was not able to communicate with Karen.  I finally reported to the battalion headquarters mid-afternoon on Friday and “enjoyed” an open air jeep ride to Camp Pendleton.  The driver dropped me at our home.  I quickly changed clothes, drove the five miles to the hospital and visited Karen and met Cynthia Ruth, which we promptly shortened to Cindie.  She of course was the most beautiful baby ever.  Cindie was healthy, although, Karen was not producing enough milk for Cindie, so the medical staff put Cindie on formula day one.  The US Navy protocol was to keep newly delivered mothers and child for five days after delivery.  The only charge for Karen and Cindie’s delivery and hospital stay was Karen’s meals @ $1.75 per day or $8.75!  Karen insisted that I return to Twentynine Palms after arranging for our neighbor to pick her and Cindie up on the following Monday.  That neighbor was the one who graciously had taken her to the hospital the day her water broke.  Of course, Karen and I only had communication with each other by relaying messages through the 4th Battalion Duty Officer, which were limited to important developments.


I met my jeep transportation to Twentynine Palms at mid-afternoon on Sunday, had a long  ride back to my unit and reported to my commanding officer later that evening.  The next week was the longest week of my life, as I could only assume that Karen and Cindie were home and doing well - as it turns out they were.  After completing our training exercises, on Thursday AM, the battalion convoyed back to Camp Pendleton.   Friday was a day of cleaning and storing the equipment, completing reports and preparing for weekend liberty.   Karen organized ourselves to visit her folks that weekend.  On Friday evening we made the two hour drive to her folks for their first look at their first granddaughter.


The grandparent’s Swanson were delighted to meet and doat over Cindie.  Karen’s mother pulled out all of the stops, cooking a feast for us, looking after Karen and Cindie’s every need.  We also visited with Karen’s brother (Ed Swanson) and his wife (Lee).  We frequently visited Karen’s folks on weekends and holidays.  We spent Cindie’s first Thanksgiving and Christmas with them and with Ed and Lee who was pregnant with their first child.   Cindie really enjoyed the Christmas Tree, the lights, the Christmas packages and her gift of a spring suspended rocking horse, although she was a bit too young to ride it.  Over the next several months, she enjoyed being held on the rocking horse and having daddy bounce it a bit.  Cynthia Ruth really did not like the name Cynthia and after college, veterinarian school and marrying she officially changed her name to Cindie Ruth.


On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik (the Russian word for satellite) into space, thereby initiating the world’s Space Age.  The satellite weighed 184 pounds and was 22 inches in diameter.  It circled the earth at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour until its speed decreased to the point that it entered the earth’s atmosphere four months later and burned up.


On an early November weekend, Karen, Cindie and I drove to Twentynine Palms to visit my ISC chemical engineering and NROTC USMC option fellow officer and his wife.  He was assigned to the USMC 155mm long guns there and since he was obligated to serve three years, he was sent to the US Army artillery school at Fort Sill, OK.  We stayed with them over night in their on-base housing only to find Cindie covered with black ants in the morning.  Little did we know that it was a Twentynine Palm’s problem.  Fortunately, she was small enough and  the ants apparently did not bother her too much, although her mother and I were quite upset.  That is the last we ever saw of either of our friends, although I learned that he made a career of  the USMC.


I was promoted to a 1st Lieutenant on December 1, 1957.  This is an automatic promotion unless a 2nd Lieutenant really screws up.  As we entered into 1958, I began on focusing on the next phase of my career.  The commanding officers in my regiment,  battalion and battery all tried to convince me to apply for a regular commission and to make the USMC my career.  We had one young daughter and early in 1958, we learned that Karen was pregnant.  Both Karen and I thought that a USMC military career was not particularly “family friendly”, consequently  we never seriously considered a USMC career.   I had taken no leave time in my tour with the USMC and decided that I would save all 60 days  of leave which I would earn in the two year tour.  I would cash it in when I finished my tour.  Officers could cash in up to 60 days of leave when they left active duty.  Karen and I had sufficient holiday and weekend time to do all of the visiting that we needed to do.   I began considering my career options.  After satisfactorily completing all of the artillery correspondence courses needed by my USMC assignment, I enrolled in business courses through the United States Armed Forces Institute.   I was able to complete a business management and two accounting courses, all with a grade of distinction prior to leaving the USMC.


Beyond the USMC life -


Dow Chemical had committed almost two years prior, that “if they were hiring chemical engineers when my USMC tour was over, that I would have a job with them”.   Unfortunately, the job market in 1958 for college graduates, including engineers was not as robust as it was in 1956.  Dow was not hiring at that time nor were most manufacturing companies.  This was a time before computers, cell phones and the Internet.  Copy machines were mimeographs!  Karen and I typed many copies of my resume’ as brief as it was.  I searched various periodicals and other sources of job advertisements.  In the end we sent out almost 100 letters and resume’s, primarily to Southern California companies and to national headquarters of major chemical and petroleum companies. 


Of all these letters, we received only one firm lead, an opening in a detergent and bleach plant owned by Purex in Southgate, CA – a suburb of Los Angeles.  The job was a shift leader position in the detergent packaging plant.  Purex’s corporate headquarters was at this same Southgate location.  I never interviewed for the job or visited the job site.  The compensation was $475/month and the location was somewhat close to Brea, Swanson’s home.  I could begin employment as soon as my UMSC tour was completed.  It was at least a place to start and I quickly accepted the offer.  This was a big relief for us as we knew that Karen was expecting about October 1st.  We spent several weekends in May looking for houses to purchase within commuting distance of Southgate.  We found a relatively new 1500 square feet, three bedroom ranch style house located on a quiet cul-de-sac in Buena Park about a mile east of Knotts Berry Farm, a very well-known tourist venue. The address for the house was 6255 San Ramon Way, Buena Park, CA.  We applied for a mortgage, which was quickly approved, with only a 10% down payment.  We closed on the house on Saturday May 24 and paid $13,500 for it.  We purchased a home owner’s insurance policy from an agency recommended by our real estate broker.


I  completed my USMC tour on May 31, 1958 and was detached as of June 1.  In as much as I was provided travel time and expense to my permanent home of record, Marshalltown, Iowa, my release from active duty was officially June 9, 1958.  Karen, Cindie and I moved our personal possessions and our small amount of furnishings directly from our Camp Pendleton base housing into our Buena Park home on June 1, 1958.  We then spent considerable time and money (which we did not have) modestly furnishing and organizing our new home.


I was extremely fortunate to have served in the USMC in the two years that I did.  The Korean War was in our rear view mirror, although there were still considerable tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the U.S. had a considerable number of troops (no USMC personnel, however) stationed on the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which was located along the 38th parallel separating South and North Korea.  Fortunately, Viet Nam while beginning to heat up wasn’t the conflagration that it eventually ended up being.  Many of my fellow officers proceeding and following me were not so lucky!  Regardless, I am proud to have served and to be a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.  Hooraw!!


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