Everything is relative — and annually in the later stages of summer, there is the separation anxiety of kids going off to college and leaving home for an extended time for the first time.
Parents get stressed — and sons and daughters get stressed.
All understood. I was an immature kid out of l in September of 1981, and beginning my four years at Boston College as a student-athlete, and there were some who thought I wouldn’t be able to hack it.
I think my father harbored concerns whether I would make it. My mother figured I would figure it out.
I graduated from BC with a bachelor’s degree in English, and I managed to win a few races and a few medals.
I find it interesting that so many start but don’t finish college.
This is all curious because there were long stretches, even generations, in America, in which large numbers of young men and women right out of high school faced and met a challenge, whether one they signed on to, or one to which Uncle Sam commanded them. That — at least to me — is infinitely more difficult and places more demands on character, than enrolling in college and earning a diploma.
I am speaking, of course, of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
I talk with veterans, and I say to them that I think this country would be so much stronger if every young person in this country — and they would need to be of healthy mind and body — went through military basic training.
Yes, boot camp ... also known as basic training or just “basic.” Those names speak to a fundamental culture in America — a bedrock of American greatness.
National service. Wearing “the uniform.”
What I never did.
Heck, young people, even if you just went through boot camp, and were allowed to skip the rest — our republic would be much better off.
I talk to veterans and I ask them about what to many may seem uninteresting and fairly mundane — and, I guess, therein is the point — we have far too many in our country who don’t view … no, halt here … don’t appreciate the commitment, sacrifice, and what is needed to successfully complete “basic.”
I ask these veterans about when they decided to join the military. I ask them about the “send off.” I ask them about how they got to boot camp. I ask them about the first days and nights in boot camp.
Questions in this vein are somewhat separate from the broader experience of boot camp — and the years of service that followed — with that service running the gamut of a soldier never hearing a shot fired in anger or a soldier knowing the obscenity of combat.
No matter, basic training is a test — one that improves all.
I was stressed my first night at Boston College. I can’t imagine what the first night at Parris Island — the main U.S. Marine Corps training center (in South Carolina) — is like.
So, for this column I got in touch with a couple OA grads who enlisted in the U.S. military, both during peacetime.
And this is significant, this is important, because the choice of these men to enlist in our armed forces was not attached to a war, or an international conflict. Neither man knew combat. And their service is exceptional all the same.
Jim Kippenhan and I were in the OA Class of ‘81.
After graduating from OA, “Kip” went into the Navy.
“I always knew that I would end up in one of the Services,” said Kip.
“When I was young, I thought about following my dad into Army Airborne or my dad’s cousin into the Marine Corps. Dad sat me down and told me that if I was going to enlist that I should choose the Navy or Air Force. With them, he believed, I would always have three square meals and a dry place to sleep. I decided to join the Navy the summer between our junior and senior years at OA. I ran into some guys at Westgate Mall doing the Hometown Recruiters Assistant Program. They told me that the recruiter was from Easton and that I might know him. Turns out that I did know him. My recruiter was Bill Canty; he graduated from OA in 1976.
“The Sunday before I left for basic training my folks threw me a great going away party at their home on Central St (now my brother Joe’s place). My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were all there, as were many of my Easton friends and friends from my days on the staff of the Camp Squanto Boy Scout camp. The party lasted late into the evening and some folks spent the night in tents in the backyard.
“On August 26, 1981 — it was a Wednesday —my dad dropped me off at the Navy Recruiting Office on Main Street in Brockton at about 0630. His last piece of advice before I got out of the car was to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open. It was excellent advice. I was the only guy from the Brockton office leaving that morning, though there were a couple of guys going up for their physicals. The recruiter drove us to what was then known as AFEES (Armed Forces Entrance and Examination Station) at the old Fargo Building in South Boston. Because I had enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program the previous October when I did my physical, I had already been sworn in as a member of the Inactive Naval Reserve.
"When I reported to AFEES, they updated my physical, discharged me from the United States Naval Reserve and swore me into the Regular Navy for Active Duty. As the day went on, we were grouped together with others that were headed for the same destination. My group consisted of a guy from Medford, a guy from Lexington, and a girl whose hometown escapes me.
"We were all bound for the Navy's Recruit Training Center [known as an RTC] in Orlando, Florida. At that time the Navy had three RTCs — one in Orlando; one at the Great Lakes, near Chicago; and one in San Diego. Orlando was the only basic training spot for women. San Diego and Orlando were closed in the 90s. All Navy recruits now go to Great Lakes.
“They put us on a bus to Logan Airport. While going through security, I was surprised to see my folks there to say goodbye again. I had said my farewells at home and had asked them not to come to the airport. Being the good parents that they were, they showed up at the airport anyway. In retrospect I was glad that they did.
“The four of us boarded the plane, an Eastern Airlines nonstop to Orlando and had an uneventful flight. The plane was pretty empty and it was easy to relax. I don’t know what time we arrived in Orlando but I do remember that it was after sunset. We were greeted by a couple of Petty Officers whose job was to gather the arriving recruits into one area for transport to RTC.
“These guys were pretty approachable and answered our questions to some degree. They were not part of the training cadre.
“After a while we boarded a bus and were transported to RTC. We stepped off the bus and the fun began. We were taught to line up according to height and were marched into the Reception Building. They took most of our personal belongings from us and we filled out a million forms. We were then ordered to make a phone call to let our folks know that we had arrived safely. Once all of this was done we were marched off to a barracks to get a good night’s sleep. By the time I bedded down it was well after midnight. RTC Orlando was in the flight path of the old Orlando Airport. I listened to those planes come and go and wondered if I had made a smart decision
“At 0500 the lights came on and the shouting started. We shoveled in our breakfast and began our in processing. All of us who arrived the night before were formed into companies. I was in Company C224, 80 guys from all over the country. The two guys that I had traveled with were also in my company.
“We spent the first few days getting uniforms, inoculations and disciplined. We marched — and not very well — wherever we went. We learned that every sentence started and ended with the word ‘SIR.’ We also learned that ‘I’ did not exist. We were to refer to ourselves as ‘This Recruit.’ When we finally arrived back in the barracks that evening, the training continued. We were taught to make our bunks a certain way and store our clothing a certain way. We were each assigned a billet number (‘SIR, my billet number is 40, SIR!’)
“My transition from civilian to sailor was challenging but not as difficult for me as it was for some members of my company. Some guys never caught on and were recycled and given the chance to try again. Every time someone screwed up, they ‘mashed’ all of us. Mashing consisted of a type of pushup, called a bodybuilder, and which involved eight separate positions done wth eight corresponding counts.
“As you go through, you eventually figure out that it is a mind game. Once you decide to play the game, life gets better. Your company gels into a team and everything begins to click. By the time you go to firefighting school in week four, you would trust anyone of those guys with your life. You prove that to one another while fighting that fire in a shipboard compartment — in what is called a 'capstone' exercise.
“The services all do a capstone exercise in the last week or two of training that lasts about 48 hours. This was not the case when I went through, but I truly see its value. It is a culmination of everything that you have learned along the way and tests both the individual and the team. The Marines call theirs 'Crucible' and the Navy calls theirs 'Battle Stations.' The Navy version presents the recruits with scenarios based on real life events — for example, the bombing of the USS Cole or the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
“Military service is not for everyone. However, those who choose to serve, whether it’s for four years or 30 years come away with a perspective on life that cannot be learned in a classroom or an athletic field. The bond that I created with the men and women that I served with is like nothing else that I have ever experienced.”
Jim “Kip” Kippenhan made a career out of the Navy — from which he retired in 2001. In the Navy, Kip was a specialist in maintaining and operating jet fuel systems, and today he manages a gas and oil terminal in Chesapeake, VA.
Kip and his wife, Jeannette, live in Norfolk, VA, and have three children, ages 24, 20, and 17.
Chuck Gallagher, a “Unionville” kid, graduated from OA in 1979. When he was growing up in Unionville — in a neighborhood of working class families, many of which had moved to Easton from Boston within the past decade — he heard a lot about the Marines.
“Growing up, I always heard and felt that the Marines were the hardest and most respected,” said Chuck. “And this was before the Internet, and YouTube — and all I knew about the Marines was what I saw on my seven television channels — what I learned in school, and what I learned on the street.
“Things stick out in my mind, as a kid coming home from school, and at three in the afternoon watching Vietnam unfold on the black and white television in front of me. So as graduation from OA arrived, I thought about the military. My father, a U.S. Army vet, told me to join any branch of the armed forces except the Marines. Thus I joined the Marines.
“I signed up when i was 17 in the delayed entry program, which included a $2,500 bonus — and when I signed to join and got that money, well, I was thinking … ‘Woo Hoo!!” … I had never seen so much money.
“The day I left for basic there was a big party at my parents’ home and there were a lot of friends and a lot of alcohol consumed. I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to stop seeing me — and she said ‘no’ — she wanted to wait for me. That exchange was a full heart for both of us. So the next day, at 0600 hours, after listening to Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me, and Led Zepplin’s Black Swan, I walked out of my house and got into the car with my recruiter and we were off.
“We went into Boston — and there I swore my allegiance to America and the Constitution. I was then sat down and told I couldn’t leave — and that my departure date was four days earlier, and that meant that my contract was null and void. After the big send off back at home what was I to do? So I offered to sign another new contract. Which I did, along with finding out that I would no longer receive my $2,500 bonus. I was not a happy camper and I should have learned then what to expect from the military.
“A group of us were brought to the airport only to find out that the flights were not taking off. So we were put up in the hotel at Logan. The next day we were off to Parris Island, the ‘The Land that God Forgot.’ When on the ground again, on the way to PI [Parris Island], we managed to talk the bus driver into letting us buy a couple cases of beer for the trip. I was off to becoming a man.
“When we got to Parris Island, we were met by Marines who were more machines in green than human. They screamed louder than my father ever did. We hurried off the bus and on to those famous yellow prints [yellow foot prints set in the ground outside the Receiving Station at Parris Island.] We were yelled at and told to do this and that, and no matter how hard we tried we could not do it fast enough. And that was how it was that day — and for the weeks that followed — we were nothing more than a bag of worms.
“You know, interesting, one thing that sticks out in my mind more than anything else about those first couple at days at Parris Island is the smell of new Fruit of the Lomb skivvies and tee shirts. Really, the smell was everywhere. I stll get flashbacks.
“Only because of the grace of God, in the four years I spent in the Marines as an infantryman, and which I departed as a corporal, I never saw combat. I visited Asia, South America, Central America, Africa, and Europe — a tour that included 27 countries in full.
“‘God — Country — Corps.’ From now until the end of my days.”
After Chuck Gallagher was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps he became a police officer, a first responder role and job he has held for close to 30 years. Chuck and his wife, Kelly, live in metropolitan Boston.
Again, I have to think that boot camp would be good for building the mettle, soul, fortitude, and character of all young people.
This in turn would build the mettle, soul, fortitude, and character of a nation.