I was named after my Great Uncle John Vander Schaff, who was in the Army from 1907-1911, serving in the Philippine Insurrection, Cuban Insurrection and Mexican Border Campaign; he then joined the US Marine Corps serving from 1911-1919. He served in the Peking Legation Guard and later was Marine Barracks Manilla, Mare Island and Marine Guard at Portsmouth Naval Prison. He was transferred Sea Duty in WWI, although he did not serve in combat as he was reassigned to escort military prisoners from France back to the US. He was discharged in 1919. I grew up with his often hilarious stories of his time overseas. I also come from a family where every male had served in the USA or Navy since the American Revolution, and on both sides during the Civil War, it was expected I would put in a hitch during the Vietnam War, as did all of my cousins. The big difference was I stayed in for 20 years.
At the time of my decision, I tried college that did not work. I was not ready for more schooling just out of HS. My dad was in the Coast Guard, I was in the Boy Scouts, I always felt patriotic, and it seemed to lurk in my mind to serve. I found my life stagnant after two years out of HS my buddy at the time mentioned he and his brother were joining the Marine Corps. He mentioned his recruiter, and I should talk with him if I was interested. I did, and he explained to me there was a new enlistment experiment for a two-year commitment, and then if it worked out and I thought this was my groove, then I could do a re-enlist. The rest was history. I joined 1974.
The primary influences were Uncle Sam’s draft notice and my older brother Dave. My older brother Dave was serving in the Marine Corps at the time. So, I asked him how the Marines were, and he said, “it is not too bad.” I knew nothing about any of the service branches at the time. Therefore, his opinion meant a lot to me. Thus, the decision to join the Marine Corps came from my older brother Dave and Uncle Sam. I remember many times in boot camp thinking; if this is not too bad, it must be going to get a lot worse.
Both my parents were in the Navy during WWII. My Mother was one of the first WAVES, and my Dad was a POW at Bataan and an officer in the Navy. I have three brothers who were all in the Navy during the Korean War. During my grade school years, I attended Peekskill Military Academy in NY and was further schooled at home with Calvert School. I graduated from High School in Belvidere, NJ.
At 17, I briefly attended a Business School in Pennsylvania but soon got bored. Then, I decided to join the Navy and carry on the family tradition. There was a long narrow hallway in the post office where the recruiters were located, with the Navy recruiter on my right and the Marine Corps recruiter on my left. I stood in the hall between the two offices. Turning to my right to go into the Navy recruiting office, I noticed that the Navy Chief was wearing a soiled uniform. Next to him was a coffee pot that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the Spanish American War. He was overweight and didn’t seem to be too interested in the young man beginning to enter his office. Just before I walked into that somewhat messy office, I heard someone with a deep, commanding voice speak to someone else he called Corporal. I turned and saw the most chiseled-faced, lean man with a very short neat haircut and wearing a shirt with creases in it that could cut your finger on. I couldn’t help but stare at the very clean office with posters of fighting men, jets, carved Marine Corps logos, and an NCO sword hung neatly on the wall. Another man with fewer stripes on his shirt walked across the office
It was 1965, and my wife and I were living and working in Atlanta, Georgia, when I received my ‘Greetings’ letter from Uncle Sam. I was working full-time and carrying a full semester load in college. Since I was working full-time, I was not eligible for a student deferment, and my rating was 1A.
My decision to join. I had two first cousins in the Corps. One was a para marine, and he was an Infantryman when they disbanded. He served on Iwo Jima, and I once asked him how long he was on Iwo, and he said, “Oh, about 30 minutes.” He was severely wounded and medivac’ed.
When I graduated from High School in 1980, I was about four months away from turning 18. I worked in the Oil Field with my brother through the Summer and decided that I needed to get an education, so I enrolled in a Technical College in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. I entered college as the hostages in Iran were being released. I was in a drafting program and sat at a table in a classroom with about 40 people. About 25 percent were veterans, and none were Marines. We had a radio that played in the classroom, and on March 30, 1981, I listened to the news of Reagan being shot. When the semester was over, I decided to quit college and go back home and do something greater. Exactly what, I had not decided.
To leave home when I turned 18 to get away from a noncaring father and an abusive stepmother. I was one of six children that were not allowed to go past the 8th grade in school and were put to work year-round to earn money for parents. Four of my brothers and sisters left home the day they turned 18, and I was gone two weeks later as soon as I could join the Corps.
Within 90 days after Richard Nixon was inaugurated, he sent me an excellent thank you note for being 19 and indicating that he would be pleased if I would show up for work. He very much insisted I report for the draft.
Growing up as a child, and since my first memory that I can remember, I always heard my Mother who had Served in the United States Marine Corps and the Great Pride of being a “MARINE” during service and after; she had started as a Model in Hollywood and was contracted for Billboard Pictures for WOMEN to Join the Marines allowing Men in Desk Jobs to Go out and fight the Japanese. My Mother was SO Proud of the Uniform that she Enlisted before going home.
I grew up in The Bronx, New York, in the 1960s and was always an impressionable young child. I was always drawn and looked up to men of service. It didn’t matter if they were Policemen, Firefighters, Military Servicemen, or Men of the Cloth. When I started attending school in The Bronx in 1967, the teachers would always ask for a volunteer from the class to hold the American Flag while the class would recite c. Needless to say, I think no one in any of my classes held that American Flag as much as I did. I just felt truly honored always holding that American Flag.
My dad and all of my uncles were veterans of WWII. My dad and some uncles served in the Pacific, while others served in Europe. I grew up watching the war programs on TV and playing combat with the kids in the neighborhood. I read Leon Uris’s book BATTLE CRY in high school, which started considering the Marine Corps.
After school, I had a part-time job and worked alongside a couple of active-duty Marines working off duty for extra spending money.