Or-Strange Happenings in 8th Marines

In 1970 and ’71, I was assigned as Commanding Officer of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina…part of the 2nd Marine Division. Captains from throughout the 8th Marines’ three infantry battalions and its headquarters company were periodically assigned duty as Regimental Officer of the Day. During the 14 months that I commanded India Company, during which we were deployed for 6 months to the Mediterranean, I drew the duty only once. But it was a quite memorable night.

The duty consisted of reporting to the Regimental Adjutant at the headquarters building after working hours in the seasonal service uniform, which in this case was Winter Service “A”…the forest green uniform of the Marines for the uninitiated. The Adjutant would brief you on any activities of importance, or on any actions outside normal routine that you needed to take during your tour of duty. Your post was the Adjutants office, which included a small adjoining room with a cot, sink and shower. There was also a duty NCO, usually a sergeant of staff sergeant, assigned to assist you in your duties. These included periodically checking posted sentries of the Regimental guard during the night, randomly checking the various battalion mess halls during the evening meal and at breakfast, and being on site just before closing time at the Division NCO Club, which happened to be in the 8th Marines area. In addition you were to handle any administrative duties which may come up during the night that required immediate action. Nothing unusual to any Marine officer who has stood Officer of the Day at any post or station of the Corps.

On this night everything was fairly routine until I made my rounds at the NCO Club to observe its closing, which as I recall was probably 2300 or 2330 since this was a week night. There were no rowdy drunks to herd out the door or no fights to break up. All hands were out the door and the place locked up when one of the girls who worked at the club approached me and asked if I wanted to join her and several other girls who worked there at here apartment off base for a little party. Being a bachelor at the time, and knowing the difficulty of finding female companionship at and around Camp Lejeune, this invitation was tempting, but I informed her that as Regimental O.D., I didn’t have the option of joining them on this night…but maybe some other time. Which, by the way, never panned out.

The club was on the opposite end of the 8th Marines area from the headquarters building, so I checked a few sentry posts on my way back to the Adjutant’s office. When I arrived there the duty NCO said that there was a corporal in the outside office that wanted to see me. I asked what he wanted, but the sergeant said he wouldn’t tell him, that he needed to talk to an officer.
He showed the Corporal into my office so we could get to the bottom of this. When the Corporal reported to me I noticed that he seemed to be much older than your usual NCO of that rank. There was something strange, and different about him that I couldn’t immediately put my finger on. It slowly dawned on me that there were no crossed rifles under his two stripes, and as I investigated further, I noticed that his leather was brown…not black like regulations called for. I asked him his business and when he spoke the mystery was immediately cleared up. He had deserted his 8th Marines battalion a number of years ago and was turning himself in. I can’t remember exactly when he deserted, but it had to be before 1958 when the crossed rifles were added to our rank insignia, and our leather started the transition from brown to black. Thus he had to have been gone for twelve or more years. He had his wife and two children with him. The kids appeared to be 8 to 10 years old as I recall. They had driven from their home somewhere in western North Carolina and it was apparent that his family was prepared to leave without him since he expected to be taken into custody. He spent some time with them, kissed and hugged them all good bye, and they disappeared into the night.

I determined that there was no threat that he would flee since the decision to turn himself in was obviously made after some long soul searching and deliberation. I told him to sit tight in my office until I could figure out what to do with him. The duty NCO asked if he wanted some coffee or something to eat, and I called the Division duty officer for guidance. He said he would call me back, and did a short time later and informed me that a vehicle would be sent to pick him up. After about a half hour two Military Police and an MP Officer arrived. I briefed them on what I knew, shook hands with the Corporal, wishing him luck, and they drove off into the night towards Division Headquarters. By this time it was past 0100, so I hit the sack and the remainder of the night was uneventful.

Thus ended an exciting night as 8th Marines officer of the day. I later inquired several times at Division to find out what happened to the Corporal, but I was never able to track him down again. I’ve often wondered over the years how much time he served, or what punishment he received. It was an interesting incident of many I experienced as a Marine over the years, but you learn over time, that ultimately, nothing that happens in the Corps surprises you.
Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends