I wrote this story for a dear friend of mine and fellow Marine to use at a speaking engagement at a Marine Corps Birthday celebration last year.
It’s all about Big MO
I hope you will enjoy it….
Hard to believe but there was a time in this country when people actually knew the difference between a Soldier, an Airman, Sailor and Marine.
On any news channel or newspaper they always report something about a “Soldier” regardless of what branch of service they belong.
It may not bother most people but as a Marine we are different than everybody else and anybody will tell you that’s a true statement. It has been said that everyone else is the military, the Marines are a cult.
Too many times we are accused of being to stern, stoic, and far too serious about anything and everything, which quite frankly that isn’t true.
I have a lot of stories about the humor of Marines, and I have come to find that it is an inherent trait amongst Marines and has been since 1775.
I remember a neighbor I had once when I was a little boy named Joe who was a Marine tanker during his time in the Korean War and he was one of the funniest men I have ever met.
Joe was a big man, a big tall man and I asked Joe once why he was a Marine tanker, because as a boy I would have thought he would have been in the infantry as big as he was and I kind of in my own way said as much.
Joe smiled and replied,
“Because I figured if I was going to go to a massacre I would rather ride than walk”
I asked Joe another time what he remembered most about the Marines in Korea.
“Marines are different son” he would say, and to prove his point he told me this story.
“There was a story going around there, and I believe it to be true that once the United Nations came into the conflict, you had all kinds of different units from different countries manning check points and the like.”
“Now every military unit in the world is proud about something and it was said that when a particular unit would arrive at some United Nations check point that the Military Police would always halt them a safe distance from the check point and shout out, “Halt, Who goes there?”
“Depending upon what unit they were, they would always shout something they were particularly proud about or known for during their exploits, before they were waved through the check point”
“Say for example, an MP would shout in the dark after stopping some vehicles and say..
“Halt who goes there?”
“The response would be The 32nd Royal Fusiliers the Queens Own!”
“Or the response might be, The 11th Turkish Swordsmen under the Crescent!”
“Or, The 101st Screaming Eagles Hero’s of D Day!”
“Sometimes they said “Halt who goes there?” and they would get a response off….”
“Kiss my damn ass”
“The MP’s would shake their heads and say; come on through Marines”
But this story isn’t about Joe or Korea.
It’s like the title says, it’s about “Big MO”
Another place I lived, I was next door to a man that was once one of the fire control officers on the Battleship Missouri during World War II.
Mr. Brockwell was a good and decent man and he was proud of being a Naval Officer and serving on the Missouri, “Big MO” they called her, during World War II.
As a boy he would take me fishing along with his children and treated me like a member of his family and I couldn’t begin to tell you what a wonderful man he truly was to a young boy with nowhere to go and without a family to call his own.
Mr. Brockwell didn’t talk much if any about the war instead concentrated on his family and his career. But for an inquisitive boy, I was relentless.
You weren’t going to stop me with a simple “I don’t want to talk about”.
Even as a boy I was just born to be a Marine.
One afternoon I noticed that Mr. Brockwell had a long deep scar across the top of his forehead near his hairline and imagining him with a cutlass in his teeth and storming a Japanese ship in high seas, I just “had” to ask, “How did you get that scar on your head?”
With a big hand he ran his fingers over the scar and laughed so loudly it shook the windows in his house and he said have a seat I want to tell you story.
He started out saying, “You know I was on the USS Missouri, Big MO?”
“YES SIR!” I nearly screamed I didn’t want to be asked any questions; I had been waiting for this incredible information for seemingly forever.
Still smiling he said it was 1943 and the War could still go either way, and the Marines that we (The United State Navy) had supported during island invasions were a rough bunch, the roughest toughest men I had ever seen in my life.
As a boy that surprised me, because Mr. Brockwell was a big powerfully built man and for him to say someone was rough and scary was a little shocking to me, but he went on with his story.
We took some of those Marines on the Big MO and they looked at most of us on the ship with distain and disgust, it seemed the only sailors they liked were their corpsman, who they would kill you over.
But before the Marines came on board Big MO the Captain of the ship had a meeting with all the officers and told us that Marines would be coming aboard our ship.
I will never forget what the Captain said about the Marines.
“Men, there will be Marines aboard our ship and you need to know this, they will steal anything that’s not welded down, Marines will kill you in a minute if you insult them, their comrades or the Marine Corps, especially the Marine Corps. They speak a rough but unspoken language with each other, do not try and interpret it, it will only frustrate you. They are worrisome, devious, creative forces of nature; watch out for your equipment and your men, that is all.”
I was a Naval Officer, a Fire Control Officer which is an important job, I was responsible for the firing of the ships big guns and the targets we were tasked to hit, so it took me back when I passed some of these Marines on the ship and they barely, just barely made any effort to salute me and certainly not a normal greeting like “Good morning sir” or the like.
Now I was a much younger man then, and although I’m not proud of it, myself and my fellow Junior Officers enjoyed a drink or two every now and again. Drinking alcohol aboard any United States Naval ship is absolutely against the rules and you could find yourself in jail or worse if you were caught on board ship with any alcohol.
But myself and some of my fellow Junior officers had smuggled several cases of alcohol on board the ship during our last port of call and since we had so much that we needed a place to hide it and we certainly couldn’t hide it in our little rooms on the ship so we all got together and thought, were is the safest place on the ship that nobody would look for the cases and cases of alcohol we smuggled on board.
In the magazine of the USS Missouri, that was it, it was the perfect place!
And that is exactly what we did, we hid it amongst the gunpowder bags and shells and we swore to each other under oath and threat of death that we would tell no one.
But once a week once of us was tasked with doing an inventory of our alcohol just to be sure it wasn’t tampered with or had been discovered.
This particular week, it was my turn to check on our cases of alcohol in the ships magazine while Big MO was under way in a task force heading for yet another Japanese occupied island to invade.
There never (ever) was anyone in the magazine of the ship certainly not at this late hour as I was heading down there, so when I opened the squeaky hatch I was surprised to see a wild eyed Marine there in front of me some twenty feet away who appeared to be sweating.
Being an Officer of the ship, I asked a bit startled “What are you doing down here Marine?” This Marine reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a hand grenade.
It sent a chill down my back, but before I could say anything, the Marine still holding the hand grenade, pulled the pin from it with one hand while holding it with the other hand and shouted….
“I DON’T GIVE A DAMN ANYMORE!”
My knees almost buckled, this crazy damn Marine was going to kill us all, because if he let go of that hand grenade it would ignite all the gunpowder in the belly of Big MO along with all the explosive shells and we would be done for, all of us.
I raised my hands slowly and said “It’s going to be ok let’s talk about it” trying to be a s calm as I could under the circumstances and again the wide, wild eyed Marine said..
“I DON’T GIVE A DAMN ANYMORE!”
I couldn’t do anything and the Marine was now waving the hand grenade around his head and shouting the same incoherent phrase, so I took one step forward not really knowing why, maybe to get close to him, I don’t know and that’s when it happened.
The Marine shouted “TO HELL WITH IT!” and with that he let go of the hand grenade and he let it fall at his feet.
I turned and ran as fast as I could because I knew I was going to die, I didn’t drop my head fast enough going through the hatch and I almost scalped myself in the process and that’s the scar you see right there on my forehead.
I half ran half stumbled up the stairway as blood ran down my face from nearly taking the top of my head off, thinking of my wife and my mother and my father back home and waiting to feel the blast of the heat from the explosion that was surely to come.
Gasping for breath on one stairwell it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard or felt any explosions. Was the hand grenade a dud? Is that even possible?
I wrapped my t-shirt around my head to stem the flow of blood and crept slowly back down the stairwells I had so eagerly climbed moments before and did the same down the passage ways while stopping occasionally to listen for any sounds.
I got to the hatch that lead to the magazine of the battleship Missouri with some of my blood still dripping from the top of the hatch and slowly opened the creaky door.
With that Mr. Brockwell dropped his head and started laughing again as if it had happened yesterday and when the spasms of laughter had subsided he looked back up at me and said “And in the magazine of Big MO, there was no Marine, No hand grenade and No cases of our liquor to be found.
I immediately reported this to my fellow co-conspirators of alcohol and they were as baffled as I was, until the next morning.
I passed several Marines in the passage ways the next morning and they all saluted smartly while smiling broadly and greeting me with a loud and hearty….
“GOOD MORNING SIR!”
I couldn’t help but overhear several of those Marines giggling after they passed me and there wasn’t anything any of my co-conspirators could do about it. It’s not like we could go see the Captain of the ship and admit our court martial offense.
All any of us could do was watch those damn Marines grin and laugh while enjoying the alcohol we worked so hard to get and hide.
Mr. Brockwell started giggling again and said he should have listened more closely to the Captain when he gave them the briefing on the Marines coming on board the Big MO.
Marines are devious and crafty as hell and how they found out about the liquor in the magazine of Big MO none of us ever figured out; maybe we should have welded it all down to something like the Captain said.
And I would add here….
Some things never change about Marines.
Happy Birthday Marines