...How Joe Rattigan weaseled his way out of the Marine Corps and into the
Joe was uneasy about the way this guy was looking at him. It wasn’t
threatening, no show of malice. It was more like the guy was expressing a
look of anticipation. Joe’s uneasy feeling was coming from the fact that
he’d just finished his pre-induction physical at the South Boston Army
base. Joe was exiting from a cavernous room where two busloads of guys had
been walking around naked for the last three hours. They were finishing up
with a mindless routine. Standing in line to wait for the doctor who
conducted the exam that related to his specialty.
After each guy finished he put on his clothes and, like Joe, left the exam
Many of the guys were Joe’s friends, they were part of the busload which
four hours ago had departed Malden City Hall. Earlier they had been
greeted there by the mayor, Fred Lamson. Each of them holding his small
brought-from-home bags which held a change of underware and socks, had
raised his right hand while the Mayor read off the words of induction.
The Class of ’48.
The entire group was part of the Selective Service process which used age
as the basis for the call up. This meant almost everyone had been a
classmate at Malden High class of 1948. There was a smaller number in the
group who had graduated from Malden Catholic. After a few handshakes here
and there by the Mayor the inductees filed out of the Aldermans’ Chamber,
down the stairs to the street level, and out the front door with each guy,
in turn, holding the door so it wouldn’t close on the guy behind him.
It was raining by the time the first guys hit the sidewalk. They started a
slow run to the bus that was awaiting them. Things slowed down as each guy
had to climb up the stairs into the bus which meant the group started to
bunch up with the guys in the back standing in the rain while they waited
for the guys in front to get on the bus. The first time that anyone had
talked above a murmur was when the guys who were getting rained on started
hollering, “Let’s go!”
The bus driver had started the bus earlier so it was nice and warm by the
time everybody was seated. This was a compassionate act by the bus driver
since March 5, 1952 was a mean, cold, raw day with rain that was blown in
sideways on a whipping wind.
Coming in second to Everett.
Another bus was already parked when they got to the Army Base in South
Boston. When they pulled up behind it they could see that it was empty its
occupants were already inside. It turned out that it would be a group
almost identical to the Malden group except that these guys were all from
Malden’s neighboring city, Everett.
Inside,they all grouped up, shed their clothes and were issued sheets of
each with his name and categories for each phase of the physical so the
examining doctor could write in any comments appropriate to his exam. Each
draftee would then stand in the line of a doctor who had not yet examined
him. The process would be finished when all your categories had been
It was when this seemingly endless process was finished that Joe put his
clothes back on. As he expected he had passed the physical and was now
headed for an area where the other okayed guys were collecting.
Eventually they would be loaded on buses that would takes them to Fort
Devens in Ayer Massachusetts where they would spend their first night as
members of the U.S. Army.
To get to this assembly area from the exam room everyone had to walk down
a corridor that had been formed by setting up fences. The okayed-members
from the group emerged from the examining room and walked down the
corridor in two’s and three’s to the assembly area.
This is when Joe saw the person standing at the end of the corridor, a
Marine master sergeant. It was his gaze that had made Joe feel so
uncomfortable. The Korean War had produced a situation that had never
occurred before. The U.S. Marines Corps had not come up with enough
volunteers to satisfy their needs. Like the Army, they too, would have to
rely on the draft.
The Marines, however, would find their candidates after all of the
physical exams for the Army took place. They would select them from the
group that the Army had already approved. They would take the pick of the
litter. This was the process in which Joe now found himself.
Don’t be ridiculous.
He had not worried about being selected for the Marine Corps. Small and
skinny, no way did he look like the rough, tough specimens that he had
seen in the ads appealing for Marine enlistments. But the man whose look
that had been making Joe so uncomfortable was a Marine, a Master
Sergeant, who was choosing the guys from the exiting group who would
become Marines. When Joe walked to pass by him instead of ignoring Joe
like he had with so many of the other guys who had walked by him he stuck
out his hand in front of Joe. Joe wasn’t surprised, he was stupefied. The
sergeant's gesture meant he wanted to see the papers from Joe’s exam.
While he was flipping the papers to examine each page he said to Joe
without looking up, “Rattigan? You Irish guys are pretty tough.” Wrong
Irish, Sarge. I’m from the songs, dances, and witty sayings group. The
sergeant responded by looking up and saying with a grim smile. “You’ll
make a great Marine, Rattigan. Take a seat over there.” He gestured to a
bench that was situated directly across from him.
Sitting down to keep from falling down.
Joe, his papers now with the sergeant, walked, dreamlike, over to the
bench and sat down heavily. How, he said to himself, did this ever happen?
He thought of the brutal training regimine he had heard about from his
pals who had enlisted in the Marines. He felt like he had fallen through a
hole in the ground.
While he was sitting there in his self -pitying funk he noticed a bunch of
exiting guys, maybe eight or nine who had stopped walking to form a
huddling group about ten feet before they got to the sergeant. They were
whispering to one another. Finally the tallest guy in the group said to
the sergeant, “If we all join together can we stay together?” Without an
iota of hesitancy the sergeant responded with a firm shake of the head.
There were not eight guys in the group but ten and they were talking
softly but excitedly as they walked over to take seats alongside Joe.
Giving it a shot.
The worst he can say is no, Joe thought to himself as he was considering
the possible responses of the sergeant to the question he was working up
his courage to ask him. He left his seat on the bench and walked up to the
sergeant who turned to him with a very hard look. Joe then said while
gesturing to the volunteers on the bench, “Hey, sarge, you got all these
guys now, why the hell do you need me?”
With a snarl the sergeant said., “Oh, all right, gawdammit!” He angrily
shuffled through the exam papers until he found Joe’s. Snatching them out
he snapped them over to Joe and said forcefully. “Here!” Taking them
gingerly Joe risked even more anger when he examined them to be sure that
they were his. Afterward, he held them up and with a little gesture, said
to the grim faced sergeant, “Thanks, Sarge.”
The guys on the bench looked up at him curiously as he walked by.
As he was walking down to the assembly area he was almost floating with
relief. After a few steps he paused and then began to laugh out loud whie
he said to himself, “I never thought I’d be so happy to be in the Army!”
Joe Sullivan uses the character of Joe Rattigan to describe his Army
January 6, 2017