LtCol James L. Volkmar U.S. Marine Corps (Ret) (Served 1963-1984)
Read the service reflections of U.S Marine:
LtCol James L. Volkmar
U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)
If you served, join us today at http://togetherweserved.com to tell your story.
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I was in college and was dumped by this little blond cheerleader. Crushed me. Caused me to drink heavily one night and break out the literature that I had pilfered from the post office. Suddenly, I could see myself returning from Marine boot camp in dress blues and profiling fortheÂ benefit of the cheerleader, causing her heart to throb at the possibility I would give her as second chance. In addition I saw the last guy I had a fight with cowering at the thought I would seek vengeance and thrash him within an inch of his life.
This Walter Mitty episode was compounded by my picture appearing in the paper as I proved to the policeman that I was of legal age following a recent raid at a nearby night spot. I knew this would probably cause me trouble at the small religious college I attended. Like all students attending, I had signed a pledge that I would not drink, dance or smoke while in attendance. I would like to say that my moral conscience came into play and I wanted to do the right thing but as a pre-med student I had discovered I was far better at playing Doctor than studying to become one.
Truth be told I was really bummed about the little blond cheerleader. Filled with new resolve from the alcohol and my mind’s eye picture of the steely eyed sartorially splendid killer Marine I was to become. I called the recruiter listed on the brochure the very next day. Alas as I went to search for a picture of the little blonde cheerleader my tears over the years had washed away the image. But to give you some idea, I have posted here a picture of my lifelong heart throb that could have been her twin had Ann-Margret’s hair been a bit more blonde!
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
Boot camp in San Diego! A Hollywood Marine, fitting given my predilection for the drama of my planned triumphant return to woo the little blond cheerleader and crush my high school nemesis. It should be noted that half way through boot camp, I received a letter from the little blondcheerleader indicating that she was getting married to a friend of mine and wanted me to know she was proud I was serving my country. I was crushed. There was no real reason for me to be in boot camp any longer since my triumphant return was in ashes.
I tried to explain the mistake that had been made to my Drill Instructors. Candidly, they were less than sympathetic.
While in boot camp I went to an interview for Marines who would volunteer for Sea Duty. This time and without the benefit of alcohol, I saw myself in Dress Blues (all sea going Marines were issued them), cutlass in hand up in the riggings of an American ship of war. After all my life I had envisioned for myself was over. I think the Marine Staff Sergeant conducting the interview liked the fact I had some college and I had the presence of mind not to relate my real reasons for volunteering. I was accepted and after Sea School at MCRD San Diego I was assigned to be an Admiral’s Orderly in Commander Carrier Division One stationed at Coronado. Out of boot camp I carried an 03 MOS.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
As an enlisted Marine I did a WestPac tour on the staff of Rear Admiral E.C. Outlaw or as those of us serving as his orderlies referred to him “the bandit of the South China Sea.” Admiral Outlaw earned a Navy Cross for his actions as a pilotÂ in World War II.
His Chief of Staff was a Captain Swanson who I spent most of the time serving as I was the junior Marine of the six of us in the detachment. Captain Swanson had the voice of God and a real sense of humor. One day he sent me to the ships store to get him a bottle of Vitalis hair oil. The ships store was out and when I returned and informed him of same he said he didn’t care he wanted it so find him a bottle. After an extensive search I finally resorted to paging on the 1MC anyone aboard who had a bottle of Vitalis hair oil to report to the Admiral’s bridge immediately. A sailor showed up with three quarters of a bottle that I gave him two bucks for. Captain Swanson accepted it as being the only bottle on board and I was out two bucks.Â
As to Combat operation the pilots flew out daily bombing North Vietnam. I quickly became convinced that if you wanted to return you flew the propeller driven SPADS as I watched them come back with six of their twelve cylinders blown apart, gushing oil but still flying. The A4 and Phantoms could take a round in the wing somewhere and not return. As you can see by my citation from the Admiral that I was a major factor in winning the air war. LOL!
Years later as a 2ndLt., I would take part in combat operations of a much more personal nature. The most memorable was when the company Hotel 2/26 was set in along the river at Ga NoiIsland when we were attacked by NVA in a battle that raged for several hours. We had Spooky (Douglas AC-47D,) often referred to as “Puff the Magic Dragon,” sending down from the sky a wall of solid red tracers blowing the hell out of banana trees. As Spooky finished firing in front of my platoon’s perimeter, Lt. Tom Turner came up on the net requesting that he do the same for his platoon’s perimeter. I can remember that when the first round in front of Tom’s position hit, I said to my radio operator, “that was close”. Just then Turner came up in highly emotional tones shouting “Check Fire”, “Check Fire.” Seems Spooky had shot right down the line of Tom’s platoon, but the “Gods of War” were watching out for those Marines as there was only one Marine with what amounted to a flesh wound. Turner was really miffed though cause two bullets had gone through his pack and blew apart his last can of Turkey Loaf. He also had a round go through his last clean skivvy shirt. One bullet but when you unfolded it you had six holes in the shirt. I think he still tells the story that he was wearing the shirt at the time.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
As the Commanding Officer of Marine Security Guard Detachment Company “A” -Europe, I had the responsibility to travel to every country in Europe at least once every six months. I had one of my watch standers, who had come from an African Embassy, tell me late one night that I didn’t have to worry about him as he would never do anything to get in trouble. I was struck by his sincerity. He was assigned to Helsinki, Finland, which as any Marine will tell you who has been there it is about as close to Heaven as mortal man can get. Anyway as I questioned him further he said that after his last tour this was Heaven and to emphasize his belief he shared these immortal words with me. “Sir, I got to tell you some of the girls here are not just beautiful but they would suck the chrome off a trailer hitch just to practice their English.”
However, my fondest memories of a duty station are reserved for my stint as the OIC of the Northern Training area on Okinawa. I spent a year living in a tar paper shack surround by thousands of acres of jungle and roads so bad that it took 2.5 hours to get to Camp Hansen where I would occasionally go so that I could flush a commode and watch water swirl. It was here that I had to tell Sgt. Jones he could not bite the heads off of snakes during his class on Jungle survival after his third bout with some strange illness.
We had a Marine from one of the infantry companies collapse while out on patrol and we had to swim a river to get to him. He was unconscious so we put him on a stretcher and raced him to an LZ before the bad weather closed in and so the Medevac bird would not tarry. The LZ was about three miles from where we started and I swear it was uphill the entire way. Well that is not exactly true as once I was headed down this very steep incline only to hear Jones shout, “Captain, get off the trail”. As I made a prodigious leap to the side the unconscious Marine on his stretcher went hurtling past me bouncing to the bottom. A rather chagrined Sgt. Jones explained how the stretcher bearers in front had tripped. We did get him to the helicopter in time and they got him to the hospital with only minor cuts and bruises, not related to the strangulated hernia he received when he was dropped on the trail.
Then there is the time one of the Marines on patrol was bitten by a poisonous snake and after five or six really terrible painful days the snake died. I have attached this picture of where my little Floyd called home prior to his untimely demise.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
The day I checked into Second Recon Battalion, coming from my stint as the XO of the Marine Detachment on the USS Hornet. An assignment I got due to a profile from wounds suffered in Vietnam. Anyway I was there for the Apollo Twelve pick up and stayed until theyÂ decommissioned the Hornet. As I was walking to the Battalion HQTRS, as a really squared away 1stLt, I saw this elderly gentleman coming toward me whom I assumed to be the Battalion Commander based on the ribbons on his blouse but as the sun was in my eyes I couldn’t really see his rank. So I saluted and in my best parade ground voice rendered a “Good Morning, Sir”! As he returned my salute and passed me I recognized the 2ndLt bars on Howard V. Lovingood. A true recon legend, Howard was to become my best friend and my mentor for everything leadership and recon related.
I was the Casualty Assistance Officer for the Beirut bombing and called on a Marine I called that was in pretty sad shape from parts of a building falling on him. He was in and out (mostly out) of lucidity. I saw on his record that he had been in 2nd Recon and I asked if he knew a Captain Lovingood? It was like a window opened in his mind and the nurses said that he continued to improve from that point. I was at Howard retirement after spending 45 years in the Marine Corps.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
Most of my time in combat was spent trying to get the buttons on my utility’s replaced with velcro so that I could get lower to the ground. Despite my best efforts I was awarded one, not for valor but I guess slow reflexes.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
My Scuba and Marine Gold Jump wings. I was fortunate that while a Lt and in Second Recon Battalion, I spend six month going through some tough training. It began in the Army Ranger School. Then to Scuba School or more precisely Navy Underwater Swimmer School in Key West, Florida. Having lost 30 pounds in Ranger School, I would lay in my rack at night and whimper until the Seals and UDT guys got a hold of me the next morning to further torture me, then back my battalion for two weeks and was sent to Army Airborne School.
I can remember years later when in Second Force Recon and pinning on my Gold Jump Wings thinking, “If only that little blond cheerleader could see me now!”
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Col Howard V. Lovingood for the reasons previously cited.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
I came back from Vietnam the Medevac route. It isn’t that path that I recommend. I was tripping along on Ga Noi Island when some fool tried to kill me. Ruined my day. Actually, I and my radio operator, were felled by some explosive device that picked me up and launchedÂ me nearly ten feet in the air giving me a chance to perfect my one and a half gainer diving form. I like to think back and reflect on my panther like reflexes that let me shield my radio operator with my body as I bore the brunt of damage from the shrapnel but as the Corpsman pointed out it could have been that I was just closer to the explosion.
In any case the left side of my body got a healthy peppering of shrapnel and my face might have escaped but when the blast went off I turned to see what it was. A mistake, as a piece of shrapnel slid up my cheek into my left eyelid and a piece transited up the very center of my nose splitting it roughly in half. I submit it is to my credit that after hitting the ground I told the others not to come to my aid for fear there were other such devices around and I struggled up and limped back to my radio man who was standing rather rigidly upright but clutching his neck with blood streaming between his fingers. I laid him down and by then the corpsman was there and took over the triage.
I sat down and called the knucklehead who got himself and three others pinned down by a thirty caliber machine gun, that we were delayed. About five or ten minutes later, as the corpsman finished with my radioman and turned his attention to me, the four pinned down individuals came wandering into our position. Seems their desperate requests for help and their certainty of near death may have been a bit over dramatized. Our rescue was complete! Of course the circumstance was such that I would never receive my Navy Cross for heroism as I had earlier envisioned. In any case the Corpsman was on me about a Medevac for my radio operator, I started that process.
I had thought that my left eye was gone from the shrapnel but the Corpsman assured me that it was there just swollen shut from shrapnel in my eyelid and eyebrow. As I was in the process of calling for the Medevac every time I would bend forward to read the map for coordinates, I bled profusely on it. Mostly I had just a red smear covering the spot where we were located. Like all good grunts I had my towel around my neck and I could see what appeared to be mud on both sides of my nose and I kept scrubbing and trying to wipe the mud off my nose. As the Corpsman caught sight of my efforts he shouted at me as to what I was doing and I responded that I was getting the mud off my nose. He grabbed my hand and said for me to stop “that’s not mud, that is your nose!? ”
Above is the photo of what it looked like prior to the BOOM!
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I retired from the Marine Corps while serving as the Executive Assistant to the Vice Admiral who headed the Logistic Directorate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While in that job I was requested by the Commandant of the Marine Corps to be the Casualty Assistance Officer for the BeirutÂ Bombing.Shortly before my assignment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff I had been the Regional Marine Officer for Europe and it was felt my familiarity with the area would be of benefit. The Admiral agreed to my temporary assignment and I went off to Europe to deal with the all aspects of the casualties from that incident.
Dealing with the return of the remains of 241 Marines and the wounded set me on a path of questioning my humanity. So when I returned as my younger brother worked for Apple Computer he asked if I wanted to interview for a job at Apple. I agreed simply because I thought the experience would be good for me sometime in the future. Apple, for a corporation, was a wild and wooly place at that time and if they liked you they wanted to hire you. They liked me! Apple offered me a job at what at the time I thought was an obscene amount of money, my standards have since changed. I took the job and that led to a second career in technology. Pictured is the North American Sales Group at Apple in 1985. My hair is longer!
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
Marine Corps League
Together We Served
Force Recon Association
I enjoy the camaraderie!
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Challenge and more importantly “meeting the challenge” is the key.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Fully enjoy the military opportunity but plan for what follows. For as one of my Commanding Officers once told me “it is not a life’s work” eventually they ask you to leave. Plan for that day.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I have located two individual that were in the same boot camp platoon with me way, way back when. The years fall away when something like that happens and as fate would have it the best thing that ever happened was that little blond cheerleader dumping me because it was a catalyst to my life’s best experiences.
As you can see from the attached picture the good times were just beginning.