I was ten-years-old when WWII started so I grew up with war movies and propaganda that made it look cool if you were a ten-year-old idiot. I figured I'd join the Marines and be a hero like John Wayne but the war ended before I could sign up.
Unwilling to wait longer, I quit school at sixteen (a step ahead of the expulsion squad) in '48 and joined the Marines to see the world. So they sent my ass to Guam, a tropical island once visited by Magellan en route to his rendezvous with the Grim Reaper in the Philippines. I wasn't there a week when I'd seen the entire place and was ready to move on to more storied lands, but it took me eighteen months and a typhoon to make my escape.
I was back in the States for four months when the Korean War started and the next thing I knew I was on my way to Korea via Japan and 7,000 miles of ocean. Japan was great, exotic and unique and full of kind, friendly people. We weren't allowed liberty while in port loading up to invade Korea and this brings me to the first of my advisories for getting out of the Marines alive.
Nobody tells The Kid he can't leave the ship, by God. I went AWOL every day in Kyoto and carried on like a guy on his way to the front, which is to say I tried to sin enough to last a lifetime. Of course, AWOL is a crime and could land me in the brig but I'd learned a secret trick to foil the head guys.
You see, when you're moving from one place to another your records are all locked up and not available. You commit a minor offense like an illegal day ashore, they catch you, but they can't record it. You're home free. A caveat: computers may screw this dodge up today, as the records are only a keystroke away.
If all my iniquities were listed I'd have a record like Jesse James' scratchpad. As it is, my rap sheet is simon-pure and I even have an honorable discharge to prove it. They never laid a glove on The Kid, I'll tell you that.
(I'm pretty sure I'm safe because it's been 58 years since I got out and the statute of limitations must have run out by now.)
But enough foreplay. I'm not here merely to entertain; on the contrary, I want to give all you would-be Marines some tips on how to stay alive should you end up in some bizarre hole like Afghanistan or environs. I learned this stuff in late '50 during an outing at the Chosin Reservoir, a pleasant mountain resort in North Korea that was scenic but had a downside-it was surrounded by 500,000 Chinese guys who wanted to kill me.
I managed to keep that from happening and so can you.
Okay, suppose you're a teenager or laid off or just got off parole and you decide to join the Marines. With wars raging on several continents you could easily end up in combat and that is not a good thing. Should that happen you'll be glad you ran into me.
First, forget all that Sylvester Stallone crap where you run around shirtless, shoot guys out of trees, and toss hand grenades all over the place. That's nuts and Stallone's an idiot. I'd shoot his ass myself if he ran around me nuts like that.
No, the situation calls for discretion, not valor.
Rule 1: Always retreat, never attack. If you attack the enemy you irritate them and they shoot at you and throw stuff at you and somebody could get hurt.
However, if you retreat they leave you alone because they're glad to see you go. When I was in Korea I never led a single charge. Not one. But I did lead 37 retreats. My policy was if I saw the enemy I'd jump up and shout, "Let's go, boys! Run for your lives!"
And we'd take off lickety-split and wouldn't stop until we were four or five hills away. While some may question the merits of this plan, at least it worked because we didn't stay around long enough for them to shoot us. We never lost a single man in the whole war with this strategy.
What's more, we didn't waste ammunition shooting at anybody because it's hard to aim backwards when you're running like a deer over icy terrain. Think how much we saved the government just in bullets?
So always think retreat. Look for possible escape routes. Practice jogging in place. Shed all heavy gear that may impede your progress. I was in that famed Chosin fight and was I ever happy when I heard we were going to retreat. I was a mile or two down the road before lunch. Nobody in the Marine Corps was a better retreater than Grandpa Ganja, I'll tell you that.
I think the Marines should adopt this strategy forthwith but they refuse to answer my e-mails.
Rule 2: If you're in an advancing column always stay at the very end of the line for two good reasons. One, if you're at the head of the column you'll run into the enemy first and you never want to do that. And two, if you're the last man in line all you have to do is turn around to be the first man in the retreat! Isn't that brilliant?
Rule 3: Wear your armored vest on your back, as no bullets are likely to hit your front as you flee.
Rule 4: Always try to stand close to an officer; the higher his rank the closer you should be, as high-ranking officers are never killed in battle.
Anyway, I always thought war was the worst thing that could happen to a guy-but then I got married. More on that later.