The Meaning of IS

Lance Corporal John C.Calhoun

Written By Ed Driscoll

Our training had just ended. Our training had just begun. In a few months some of us would be dead, others crippled and seriously injured. In the parking lot below the barracks waited the wives, girl friends and beloved family members of the young marines who in a few days would be fighting for the freedom of a people they did not know in the remote jungles of South Vietnam. We were from all over the United States but those marines who had loved ones close enough had this one last chance to have one last weekend together before we left. The marine barracks was old but spotless. There were four squad bays in the barracks. All squad bays had been released except ours. The order had been given that we would not be released until Lance Corporal John Calhoun’s stolen wallet was returned.

Staging Battalion was lonely duty. It was final training before we left for South Vietnam. We came and left not as members of a marine unit but as individuals. We were all marines but were together for only a few weeks. We were trained by Vietnam veterans. Some had long ghostly silent stares. All had the desire to give us the skills needed to come home alive. Unlike boot camp we were not harassed. We were treated with the respect we had earned in becoming Unites States Marines. In boot camp we learned to shoot straight. Here, we learned to shoot fast from the hip at pop up targets as we walked along dirt trails. We learned how to avoid capture if separated from our unit, how to trap and kill food. We learned how to identify east then travel south so as to stay out of North Vietnam. But, the most important thing we learned in boot camp and had reinforced at every duty station was that the actions of one could get many killed. Therefore, we understood that while it seemed totally unfair to the non-military minds of the loved ones waiting in the parking lot on this beautiful California day, we were going nowhere until Lance Corporal Calhoun’s stolen wallet was returned.

Wisdom prevailed. The thief did not have to confess. The wallet could show up in the head or in any common area. The order was it had to be returned. The method of the return was not specified. Tension mounted as the hours passed. The heels of boots hit the clean polished floor just a little harder as if troops were marching. The squad bay doors swung open with more force than necessary as marines entered and exited. The sudden sound of footlockers slamming shut, punctuated the passing minutes. We all wanted to be released for the weekend but those with loved ones in the parking lot were really uptight.

John Calhoun was my best friend. We left for basic training from the South Boston train station and had been together ever since, partly because his name began with C and mine with D and the importance of order, partly because of chance, but mostly because we grew to love each other. It was not how much money I had but how much we had. Not what I was going to do but what we were going to do. Not if I was going to pass inspection but were we going to pass. Therefore, we volunteered for Vietnam. John was an award winning artist, a gentle marine. I once saw him struck repeatedly by a drunk he could have easily neutralized. He made not a motion to strike back. He was a squared away marine. He always had starched utilities and spit shined boots. John Calhoun loved the Marine Corps.

John was not comfortable at the center of this problem. His face usually happy showed the stress. His shoulders usually straight slumped forward. Though he had searched his locker a number of times, he searched again. This time he pulled his duffel bag out of the locker and placed it on the floor. When the bag hit the floor his wallet appeared in the back of his locker. I told him his wallet must have been returned. He did not even look at me. I said, John, don’t be foolish your wallet has been returned. His shoulders regained their marine posture. He walked with purpose toward the sergeant in charge. The sergeant yelled, “Listen up Lance Corporal Calhoun has something to say to you all”. John spoke softly but deliberately. “My name is Lance Corporal Calhoun. It is my fault you have not been released for the past two hours. I found my wallet. It was in my locker. I am sorry. I will be here in the barracks if any of you want to talk to me more about this. I am very sorry”. No one could have put a hand on John Calhoun that day. We all knew what we had seen.

Mrs. Virginia Calhoun received John’s body, an American Flag, and the Navy Cross for John’s heroism in battle. Somewhere his courage in the last moments of his life is recorded in an official military citation. Find it and read it if you wish. I don’t have to.

Edmund R. Driscoll Jr.
Phone 1800-874-1660
email Ed