The war in Vietnam was raging in 1968, I was a senior at Thistletown Collegiate in Rexdale Ontario, Canada. I was active in most sports and and had earned an athletic letter. One of my friends had broken up with his high school girlfriend and was planning on going to Buffalo, New York to enlist in the U.S.Marines. 

When we found out that he was serious, everyone that knew him tried to talk him out of it. He was determined. Our Coach, Herb Tilson, called me aside and asked if I would try to talk him out of it.  I agreed and Glenn and I took the bus... to Buffalo and the Armed Forces Recruiting Station there. The Marine Recruiter was a poster perfect Marine and as high school seniors, we were both very impressed with meeting our first real MARINE. As good luck would have it, Glenn had a few medical issues and did not make the cut. He was feeling pretty low and I personally felt pretty good that he was not going to join. 

We thanked the recruiter for his time. As we were about to leave, the Sergeant turned to me and said... "How about you skinny". I replied to him that I wasn't interested. As he turned away he said "You wouldn't make it anyway". Well, the rest is my history

My next stop, after graduating high school, was U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. The bus arrived at around two in the morning, all of us were tired and hungry and anticipating a warm welcome. That was a huge mistake. As we waited, we started wondering if this had been a really great idea.

The doors burst open and three Drill instructors raced out and all I could think was how pissed off they looked. The next couple of hours, everyone thought that this was the biggest mistake of our lives. When they found out (almost immediately) that I was a Canadian with the last name FLOWERS, I was a marked man. The first question the three drill instructors yelled at me was... "Are you a Queer or a Hockey Player?" This did not look good for me. 

I seemed as if I could not do anything right. When it came to sending our belongings home, I was told that I could not send my clothes home because I wouldn't make it through BOOT CAMP. My belongings were in the cardboard box kept behind my rack sitting next to my bucket and brush. To add insult to injury, the three drill instructors donated five dollars each and gave me an envelope with fifteen dollars and a map to sneak off Parris Island and get to the bus station. They did this in front of our entire Platoon.

Every day,  I was reminded what a "shitbird" I was, the worst recruit they had ever come across... All I knew was I better not quit or fuck this up. Glenn did not even get to start and here I am, thinking, during the first hours, I really screwed up. The training was tough and through it all, I managed but felt any day, I would be told to have a look at my map. 

When graduation day approached 15 weeks later, we were summoned to the center of the squad bay, told to sit down in front of the three monsters that had been our mothers, fathers, mentors, heroes and drill instructors. It was the day we were told our Marine Military Occupational Specialties. 90 percent 0311, Marine speak for Rifleman, given orders and to Infantry training and be told who the outstanding Marine would be. The three D.I.'s were sitting on chairs, us on the floor. I remind you, I had been told I was a shitbird most every day. They called me up to stand beside them and open the envelope and tell the new Marines who were the four that were promoted to Private First Class and who they chose as the outstanding Marine Recruit of Platoon 2043. I read the names or those promoted, then handed the envelope that contained the name of the Honorman. I opened the envelope, pulled out the paper, looked at the name, and turned to S/Sgt Zarn and quietly said... Sir, this is the meanest thing you have done to me in the past 4 months. It was suggested in no uncertain terms to read the name to the Platoon.

In shock, I read the name. The outstanding Marine or 2043 was Private First Class, Gerald A. Flowers.   

After that, I was told that I was going to 2nd Recon Battalion, without having to wait the usual proving time to apply to apply to become a Recon Marine. Heck, I didn't know what Recon Marine was. Apparently, after ITR (Infantry Training Regiment) boot camp part two over at Camp Geiger, I would be reporting to Second Recon Battalion, Onslow Beach, Camp Lejeune. When I got there and found out what Recon Marines did, I wished I had been a cook.

It would change my life forever. When we left to go on the bus with everyone else, as the Honor Man, I was the last one to board for the trip to Camp Geiger. It was that moment when I stopped to shake the hands of the Drill instructors: Staff Sgt. Zarn, Sgt. Okraska and Sgt. N.W. James. They then told me they tried every possible way to break me mentally and physically. They sent me twice to motivation, multiple guard duty, all of it. I think that being told I was a SHIT BIRD every day made me try a little harder and to never think quit. I looked at that map about half a dozen times and kept the $15 bucks.

They told me that I was going to be a good Marine, and that they were proud to have been a part of my experience. They wished me Fair Winds and Following Seas.  All these years later, it's still hard to believe. Actually, the whole U.S. Marine Corps experience shaped my life. I used the G.I. Bill when I got out to attend the U of G in Guelph, Ontario, then Pilot training in St. Petersburg Florida where I learned to fly both airplanes and Helicopters. 

One of the proudest days of my life:

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS | This is to certify that PFC Gerald A. Flowers has completed his course of recruit training in a most proficient and satisfactory manner and is awarded this certificate as the outstanding Marine of his platoon.

O.W. Van Den Berg Jr. LtCol USMC Commanding Officer Recruit Training Battalion
Richard H. Smith Col USMC Commanding Officer Recruit Training Battalion