John A. Ward

I was meant to be a Mud Marine.† Anne lamented that I didnít wear my dress blues more.† She said I looked good in them.† Anne always liked social events better than walks in the woods.† Her idea of roughing it was the Holiday Inn.

Her brother, Bert, is that way.† He got interested in Civil War reenactments, but when he found out participants had to wear itchy woolen uniforms, sleep in pup tents on hard ground and eat hardtack and beans, he lost interest.

When the Marines were in the field, we wore our green utility uniforms, called battle dress today.† In garrison, we had to keep them ready for inspection.† We sent them out to be cleaned, starched and pressed, because the care was more than we could manage with the sinks and scrub brushes provided for our cartridge belts and marching packs.† A slew of enterprises follows an armed force to keep up the spit and polish veneer.

There was only one day when I was completely relaxed in uniform.† It rained the night before and it was wet in the Quantico forest.† This was no problem on the paved roads. Ground cover and fallen leaves kept the woods from getting muddy, but the firebreaks were another story.† Firebreaks were cut through the trees to contain a conflagration should lightening ignite the timber.† The firebreaks were quagmires.† I was assigned to assist the platoon commander in the jeep while the troops marched to the camp site.

We took a shortcut along the firebreak to get to camp first and make sure the supply trucks were there to set up the chow line before the company got to the bivouac.† Predictably, the jeep got stuck.† The other grunts and I got out to lighten the load.† The lieutenant gunned the engine, worked the gearshift back and forth and tried to rock it out.† He succeeded only in burying it up to the axles.

We fed branches under the wheels for traction and got behind to push.† Our boots sank into the mud and we forgot about the shine.† The wheels spun and splattered us with mud from our bloused trouser bottoms to our crotches.† The wheels caught and leapt forward.† We fell and finished the job, slathering the fronts of our utility jackets with slime.† I pushed myself to the standing position and smiled as I slid my thoroughly besmirched body into the seat next to the lieutenant.† I was gloriously filthy.† There was no hope of cleaning my uniform before we were back in the barracks.† I had an unconditional dispensation to be disheveled.†

For the first time, I felt comfortable in my uniform.

First published: May, 2008
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