Wednesday, October 12, 2016

11. Leaving the U.S.M.C.

Leaving the U.S.M.C.

There was one particular evening I remember as if it were just yesterday. It was at the end of the day around 5:00 P.M. at San Ornofre at camp Pendleton and most of us had gotten the roll off of new South American marijuana that had come across the boarder. We were smoking and blowing shotguns through real shotguns! Then came the acid (LSD) brought in from Berkley and it came in Window pane form. Everyone was running around tripping on acid and smoking pot while the sound of mortar fire was blasting from the night training area. It sounded like bombs going off all over the place! In fact they were bombs of sorts and rapid rifle and machine gun fire echoed through the mountains into the San Ornofre valley. The ground would literally shake from the concussion of the blast and we were all pretty much used to it except for the fact that this particular evening everyone was under the influence of major psychotropic drugs namely LSD. I remember sitting on the side of Mount Smokey with a few partners and we were hiding in the brush looking down at the grinder (parade deck) and smoking pot while tripping our brains out on LSD. There were a company of grunts out playing war games (maneuvers) with other companies all around the area out on maneuvers, and it looked like a virtual war zone. There was this kid I was talking to who was saying to me that this is not what he had signed on for and how disillusioned he was. He went on to tell me how he missed his home and wished he had listened to his parents and he would not have gotten himself into this mess.

Mt. Smokey Courtesy of Google

I gave him what I thought was the best advise for the time and as I did I kind of gave it to myself as well. I told him that whatever happened we only live the life we love until it’s done and that he should follow his mind and heart and do what he thought he needed to do to move in the direction he felt best. I on the other hand already knew what I was about to do. I was waiting to come down off of the acid trip so I could pack a few things and get the hell out of dodge! I was going back to Columbus Ohio where I was better known and get with my friends and band members to do what it was that made me know who I was and for me that meant playing music, having a girl, and trying to have a life that fit what I thought life should be like, or maybe I should say what I was used to!

 I.T.S. huts San Ornofre Campen Calif

At around 6:00 P.M. the next day I did exactly that. I left with what little money I had and caught a greyhound to San Francisco and made my way to Berkeley for the second time. I stayed awhile and then met a pimp who lost his money, cars and girls gambling in Las Vegas. We kind of teamed up because he spoke the east coast language and he was alright with the exception of his over inflated ego. We caught a ride with a group of heads as for as Cheyenne Wyoming and I met a girl who was willing to take us in for the night. We stayed with her at her trailer out on a farm. She fed us and we watched a little T.V. and she left us there while she went to work. There was a big jug of money and there were guns in the house. Mind you at this time I was only about 19 years old and far from home stuck with a guy who fancied himself a pimp/player from New York and truthfully I was a little cocky myself but the fear factor never left me. I took some of the money, and I did take a pistol that was in a holster and put them in my sea bag. My plan was to ditch the pimp because he was starting to talk crazy, then make my way to St. Louis were I had family members. I would sell the pistol for a bus ticket and vwala, I’d be home!

We left the trailer and hitched a ride into downtown Denver Colorado and walked to a park. Now this guy was really starting to talk like a maniac and I saw a filling station so I told him I had to use the restroom. I went into the filling station restroom and climbed out of the back window and made my way back downtown out of his sight. Some kids stopped in a blue van and picked me up. They were college kids around my same age and they were getting ready to party and asked if I’d like to join them, I said sure! We made our way from Denver all the way to Wichita Kansas and pulled into the driveway of a house that belonged to a friend of theirs where the party was to commence.

Downtown Wichita Google

Wouldn’t you know! More window pane acid! I made the mistake of taking some and I met a girl who’s name was Mary. She was really nice and we became intimate, then the acid kicked in and I got super paranoid! All of a sudden she didn’t look so nice anymore and all the kids there seemed to be part of a conspiracy or something. We went to a club and watched a live band perform a few songs and I did the restroom move on them as well. I headed out to the freeway ramp and caught a ride with a trucker that took me to a rest stop further up north. While I was there I went into the rest room and there was a young black guy camped out on the restroom floor when in walks this guy that looked to be early 50’s or so  smoking a pipe and he stands in from of me looking me up and down. He removes his pipe from his mouth and asked me; “Need a ride”? I said yeah I’m headed to St Louis, then he says to me; “What kinda pipe you packin”? Well at that point I told him I didn’t need the ride and I could make my own way, so he says; “You sure”? Just about then the kid lying on the floor says, “I’ll go, I’ll go”! He went!
Public Domain Google

I ended up getting a ride with another trucker all the way into St. Louis over the bridge from Kansas into KC Missouri then on up into St. Louis. I looked in the phone book for my people there and found them on a street called Penrose off of a main street called Delmar. I made my way to the house and breathed a big sigh of relief, it was good to be around family and I could finally take a full shower. We talked and caught up on times past. My cousins there were the children of my father’s oldest brother Harold who was named after my grand father. Their mom’s name was Mary, my Aunt Mary, she seemed so sad just the way I remembered her from 1963 when my uncle died of a heart attack. It was now the summer of 1973 over 10 years since I’d seen her and she was still depressed and just lying about the house mostly in her bedroom. I stayed for a couple of days and one morning I sold the pistol I had stolen in Cheyenne to a neighbor of theirs for 20.00 to get a bus ticket back to Columbus Ohio to my home where I was better known!

Delmar Blvd. St. Louis MO "Google"

When I got back to Columbus I had made up my mind that I was not going back to the U.S.M.C. for anything other than to be released so I lived as if I was free when in fact I knew the day was coming I’d have to pay the piper.  That day came about 9 months later in March of 1974. I was Visiting my mom’s house and eating a bowl of cereal when in walks two FBI agents. They introduce themselves, let me finish breakfast and then deliver me to the workhouse to await the cross country chasers for my final return to Camp Pendleton.

Great Lakes Brig

I Spent about2 weeks at Great Lakes and 90 days in the Camp Pendleton brig and was returned to duty. I went through yet another company and disobeyed a lawful order purposely to get them to vacate sentence on a Bad Conduct Discharge. I just wanted out of this mess anyway I could get out and it didn’t matter to me at the time about what kind of discharge they gave me as long as I did not have to be there anymore! I just wanted a normal life so I thought! But what’s really normal? 

Camp Pendleton Brig
Anyway, I made it back home on December 20th 1974. I was now 20 years of age. On the way home as I boarded the plane Aristotelis “Telly” Savalas, his brother and friends were sitting up from in first class giggling and laughing about what I don’t know except they looked like they were tripping on some sort of drug themselves. When I got home there were two young ladies that had their sights on me and came to see if I was relationship worthy. One was an old school friend named Gail and the other was a girl named Angie from the north side who was getting ready to graduate from Ohio University in Athens. Needless to say I was not feeling like I was worthy of a serious relationship with either of these young women, I felt they deserved much better and besides all the things I had been through, how would I ever explain, how could I justify my decisions, the choices I made or the things I did?

Next time: More growing up

10. Traveling with hippies and soul searching with drugs and sex.

Traveling with hippies and soul searching with drugs and sex.

As I said, I had many UA’s and if I count them all up including the ones where I was a few hours late getting back to the base I’d probably had about ten or so. One particular AWOL that kept me out for about 6 months started when a Sgt and his crony chaser decided to make a personal example of me for disobeying a lawful order. I felt that going in circles over issues was a waste of my time and completely stupid to say the least. They would have us (the admin platoon), clean an entire area of rocks, boulders, cigarette butts, paper etc… and later go back and trash everything showing no respect or appreciation for our efforts and improvements. So one morning came when I was ordered to repeat the same grueling routine and I simply said no!

I.T.S. Camp Pendleton "Google"

That “no” landed me in front of a drunken Staff Sergeant and his pet chaser who’s last name I still remember to this day and I’ll explain why a little later on. This chasers’ name was lance corporal “Crooks” I quote Crooks because that’s exactly what was going on. They where under investigation for drug smuggling across the boarder and Cocaine was the real issue, they didn’t care so much about the Mexican pot or even the pot that was making it’s way up from South America, but the Cocaine was an issue that the big brass felt needed dealing with for one reason or another. You can probably guess the other!

After I disobeyed the order to make like an ant and do the repetitive toil thingy, I was called into the Sergeants office and escorted by Crooks. When they got me in the hut they handcuffed my wrist to my ankles and began questioning with every nasty slur imaginable and I felt like this was the last straw. Punishment is one thing but this was just plain sickness and I made the mistake of letting them know that. Night sticks inserted through cuffs from wrist to ankle pulled with just a little effort have a way of putting you head first on a concrete pad! The stick itself has uses in corporal punishment and brutality yet to be shown on TV or in movies!

I was given 60 days restriction and fined ¾ of my monthly income which was nothing new. My pay grade as an E-1 was 283.00 per month and ¼ of that came to a whopping $70.75 paid out every two weeks for a bi- monthly sum of $35.37. It was just enough to get a motel room, a hamburger or two and a cheap hooker, and for the most part they had thousands of guys like me that they kept in legal platoons largely for the purposes of taking the money to invest in other not so legal enterprises. This too was under investigation! Sound familiar?

I waited until 4:00 when every one shut down and prepared to make my move. I caught a base shuttle truck which was just a green tractor pulling a rig with benches in it and made my way to the front gate, showed my I.D. and made my way into San Clemente. From there I caught a bus to L.A and made my way into the Bay area and felt my way around. In 1973 there were still plenty of hippies and heads gallivanting around the Bay area especially San Francisco and Berkeley. After being propositioned by gays to the tune of 5 or 6 times in San Francisco I made my way over to Berkeley by way of Telegraph Ave.  When I got near the heart of the University I couldn’t believe my eyes, ears, or nose and the excitement was off the scale. Music on every street corner, guys and girls just playing for change tossed into hats or cases, the aroma of good weed filled the air with the smell of jasmine and all sorts of incense. Chocolate mescaline (my favorite), was at every other corner and in the park, acid was just a basic deal and friendly was a way of breathing!

Telegraph Ave. Berkeley "Google"

The girls were hot and loose! Bras in those days were only for squares and panties, well what are panties? They had crash pads that would feed you a bedtime snack and People’s Park had spools of clothes the church fed breakfast and lunch and the only thing missing was maybe a private tent in case it rained during the day which rarely ever happened so a blanket in the grass was just fine. And if you were going to do the sex thing you just roll up in the blanket. Although there were a couple of scenes where the couple got so into it they kicked the blanket off and did an exhibition for all to see and marvel at! what a rush!

People's Park Berkeley "Google"

I hung out for about 3 weeks and got homesick so I brainstormed a way to make it back to good old Columbus Ohio as conveniently as possible. I was totally broke money-wise but I had a few drugs I had saved and I soled them to get a ride back to Ohio with a group of hippies that were bound for Athens Ohio. All they asked me for was $20.00 to help with gas and they fed me along the way. Mind you in those days food took second place to a good buzz or acid trip so we didn’t eat that much anyway. The guy driving was husband, father and friend to everyone else on board and his name was Bo! It was a good trip and along the way we spotted a Marijuana patch in a cornfield just before we got to Indiana off route 80. We filled countless trash bags and boogied on down the road to home.

When they let me out at my front door I had 6 large trash bags of pot to introduce to the hilltop community. I hid them in my dad’s shed and in the crawl space under the first  floor of our house. Nobody ever checked that or even thought about its existence so I was good to go. The very first of friends to show up was always Daniel Ragland my friend and bassist buddy. We’d get together and go out to play our music in coffee houses, recreation centers and jam sessions, and smoke plenty of grass along the way. We developed another name for pot, we called it SEEDS! My girlfriend and mother of my first child was seeing someone else, and living with them so I was free to meet someone if I wanted to and believe me after 2 cheap hookers over a 6 month period of time at 18 years of age my hormones said, “meet someone”!

Me and my 1 year old son 1973 during a U.A.

I met a new girl on the block names Iris. She was light skinned and looked Cuban or Puerto Rican and she was stacked and cute as a button. We had sex like mad dogs every chance we got which was almost every day for the first two months of my return when I wasn’t out with Dan and Bobby playing. Her dad really didn’t like me a bit when he first met me and for quite some time after that. But years later he turned out to be a very good friend.

One day I was out with Daniel and we ran out of pot so we drove back to the west side (my house) to stock up. As I was parking I noticed there were a lot of people hanging around in the back yard around the fence and a lot of smoke that had that all too familiar smell, then I spotted my mom dumping a large trash bag onto the BBQ grill and I knew then I was at a loss-loss! It wasn’t long before my mom talked me into returning to the Marine Corps. I really tried to live up to her expectations of me, but I always seemed to make the wrong choices. I wanted to do what my parents considered to be the right thing, but something inside took me somewhere else. I finally turned myself into authorities and they shipped me back to Camp Pendleton.

Monday, September 19, 2016

9. From Paris Island to MCB Camp Pendelton

The graduation from Paris Island and arrival at Camp Pendleton Infantry Training School

It all happened when we were on the rifle range. Someone took a set of my ear plugs and I reported it. Siganik had everyone beside me holding rifles on fingertips until the culprit surfaced and they were all suffering pretty badly. A recruit named Battle told me he had an extra set of ear plugs and to tell Siganik I found them on the floor. Out of feeling bad for the platoon’s sweat and pain I did just that and Siganik didn’t take kindly to the fact that I found them on the floor with no one to blame! He came from behind his desk and hit me with a horizontal butt stroke that dislocated my mandible. I spit blood and stayed at attention looking at him to see if another blow was coming!

I waited to see if another blow was coming and felt the blood filling up in my mouth. Nothing came instead he said, “Come on and swing and give me a reason to kill your ass”! I responded with the Marine Corps “Sir no sir” and spit a mouthful of blood from my mouth over my left shoulder and remained at attention until dismissed. When the Senior drill instructor returned to his shift he called me into his office and tried to persuade me to sweep the occurrence under the rug. He hinted that if I kept silent about it that I had honor man status pretty well in the bag. He further went on to say that if I brought Siganik up on charges that it would follow me wherever I went, and that life in the Marine Corps and beyond would be not so good for me.

I was an emotionally charged 17 year old boy in a world that was dishing out reality checks too fast for my mind to handle. It hadn’t even been a whole 24 hours since my incident with Siganik that he came into the squad bay and assaulted two more recruits. The thing that made his assaults stand out from the norm of the day was his level of brutality and the fact that all of his targets where black guys. Some of them where pretty big guys too most everyone was bigger in stature than he was anyway. He not only portrayed a “Small Man’s Complex” he exhibited racial bias without a second thought.

When the Doctor at sick bay called me back in for treatment I told the story just as it happened. I didn’t care about being graduated with honors at this point all I could really think about was revenge and making Siganik realize that he could also be dealt with by others and held responsible for his actions.

Graduation day was fast approaching and Siganik was relieved of duty awaiting a Summary Courts Martial. When MOS (job classifications) came out I was expecting the Marine Corps to honor their commitment to put me in aviation as guaranteed in the enlistment contract. Instead the contract was done away with and I was given an 0300 classification which is basic infantry (a grunt)! I wasn’t the only one of the recruits who got shafted there were many others as well.

Graduation came and went and we all got our 10 day leave for home before returning to duty for infantry training. I was ordered to MCB Camp Pendleton for I.T.S. (Infantry Training School) and reported two days late. To tell the truth I really didn’t want to go at all, but I was persuaded by my parents to do the “RIGHT THING”. My time in the Marine Corps was rattled with UA’s, drugs, and fights. I pretty much lived in legal platoons with other socially removed cases like myself although there were degrees of variance in the non-conformist types I nevertheless fit the mold. I had tried every company in the battalion and left everyone of them before graduation. There were still evacuation missions going on and two guys in a graduating company before my 1st one didn’t make it back. It took all but two weeks for their lives to be ended. I started seeing this USA in a very different light. Once again reality set in deeper than I could have imagined and even more than I understood at the time. At this point all I wanted was OUT!

Leonard W. Bowers Jr. USMC 1973

Next time: Traveling with hippies and soul searching with drugs and sex.

8. U.S.M.C. Honor, Pride, or just plain Stupid

When Uncle Charlie lived with us I developed some pretty bad habits. I learned that doing all the wrong things made me cool in the eyes of all the wrong people I thought I needed to impress. I don't put the blame for my actions on my uncle, after all he had a really rough childhood probably much worse that his other 8 siblings including my dad.

You see my dad's Mom (Alice Moss/Bowers) died when my dad was just 13 or so and uncle Charlie being the 3rd youngest could not have been more that about 4 years old when my dad's whole family was separated and placed into foster homes after the death  of their mom (my paternal grandmother). So yeah, he had it pretty rough and although I know allot about things that happened to them I can't and won't speak on it.

Needless to say I looked up to my uncle Charlie and was very proud of the many gifts he had. It just so happens one of them was being able to talk the skin off of an orange or anything else for that matter and I had developed some of those traits at an early age. From around age 12 to 15 I was always in and out of juvenile corrections and detention centers primarily because I was car happy and would take a joy ride in someone else's car lickity split.  This resulted in me ending up at F.S.B. at the age of 13. It was a very disciplinary institution and if you toed the line you got along pretty well. I used to wash my cottage parent (Mr. Coverse's) Black Mercury Cougar at least once a week. I had two separate stays at F.S.B. in Highland Cottage. After my bouts with he juvenile authorities and spending time away from home at Fairfield School for Boys (F.S.B.) I finally returned home to stay, so I thought!

Highland Cottage F.S.B.

Both times around I eventually was stair-guard monitor and played with the Bell Choir and sometimes went off campus with the group and Mr. Hearnst or director to do presentations. Only Highland Cottage had the Bell Choir.

F.S.B. Bell Choir

Back at home I had a girlfriend that had been in the picture ever since I was 11 years old. She was a cousin to some of my neighboring childhood friends the Holiday family. Her name was Sharon and all the kids called her grandma because she was a little fussy and bossy. She was 2 years older than I was and I would see her whenever she came from the North to the Westside to visit the Holiday’s. (Her cousins)

Needless to say when I finally got through with the juvenile crisis I was nearly 16 and shortly after my 16th birthday we moved into an apartment on the East side of Columbus in the heart of all street activity. I lived right on the corner of Linwood and Main St. which in the day was an area known for drugs and prostitution. As I mentioned earlier I had friends named Bobby Shelby and Daniel Ragland who were also band members, but with these two there was always something brewing. Dan loved to smoke “pot” and watch the seeds pop! Bobby was a womanizer and loved to chase the skirts. I was somewhere in the middle I guess, but I had Sharon (Grandma) looking over my shoulder watching my every move.

She ended up getting pregnant by the time I turned 17 years old and I would drive and take buses to West High School on the Westside I was still in high school.  One morning at about 7:30 there was a knock at the door of the apartment and it was Bobby all full of energy and ready to roll! He said, “Hey man this guy let me use his car until he gets off work and I thought we might take care of a little business while we have it”! I asked if the car was stolen and he said “No” and that he’d even take me to meet this guy on his job.  I got my coat and off we went to the Westside cruising in a metallic blue Barracuda with dual Thrush mufflers sounding off.

When we got to the guys job he came out and said “Yeah it’s my car”, and that he wanted us to be back by 4:00 P.M. when he got off work. So off we went to good old West High! Bobby asked me if I wanted to drive and I said “Yeah, why not”. So I got behind the wheel and we were circling the block at West High looking parking space when one of the mufflers came loose and was dragging the ground. A policeman noticed it and pulled us over. He asked for my license and I gave them to him then he went back to do the routine check. He came back and told us the car was stolen and placed us under arrest!

We took the police to where the guy worked at J. Ashburn Youth Center and the old women that he worked with covered for him by saying he did not work there. So Bobby and I got left with the ticket and the ticket was Auto Theft. On the way to lockup Bobby and I had a few choice words.

When we finally made it to Court we were given a choice of either Jail time as adults or enlistment into the U.S.M.C. It was December 1971 and we would be leaving for Paris Island South Carolina on April 13, 1972. I thought I had made the right choice, besides the Marines were respected for being top of the line braves, and now I’d get to rise up through the ranks and make my mark. Bobby had similar notions, but all he seemed to talk about was how many different types of women he was going to boink  along the way!

One night not long after our car incident Bobby, Daniel and I were out on the O.S.U. Campus partying when this guy comes up and asked us “You guys do acid man”? Being the big men and hipsters we thought we were we all said stuff like “yeah who doesn’t”, or “All the time”! We knew full well we had never experienced LSD, but what the heck tonight we were going to give it a try! The guy shows us these little orange pills no bigger than a BB and Daniel starts to laugh saying, “You’ve got to be kidding what are these supposed to do”! So he takes one and pops it in his mouth and now the other guy was doing the laughing saying, “You’ll see man you’ll see”! 

So then we all three took one and went into the BBF to drink pop and listen to the juke box. So were sitting there listening to Led Zeppelin “Black Dog” when all of a sudden Daniel rushes back from the restroom pointing at his tongue saying “Orange spots, Orange spots man”! So I said, “Chill out man be cool or we’ll all freak out”! Bobby was sitting across from me with the silliest looking grin on his face I’d ever seen!

Anyway these two girls walk up one was name Jill Edwards and the other was her cousin or friend or something. I remember Jill and that’s another story. Anyway we’re all sitting there getting acquainted when all of a sudden I’m looking at Jill and her face starts moving in weird ways! Daniel is cracking up laughing and Bobby still has this idiotic grin pasted on his face! So I’m trying to be serious and calm and I get up and start walking through the BBF corridors and bopping to the sounds coming off the juke box and look back and notice that almost everyone in the joint is following me in line bopping to the groove and tripping hard too! So I get to the door and break for it and here comes Daniel and Bobby right behind me. Then Jill comes running down the street and puts her hand in my pocket and kisses me in the mouth, turns around and runs back into the BBF!

The snow on the ground is showing names written in it of everyone who’s ever lived and yet to come, Daniel is saying “Da, la, la, la….” And Bobby is still grinning that sinister grin! Up comes a bus looking like slow motion and the doors open so we get on. We went all the way to the back of the bus and each took separate seats near each other when all of a sudden this chick takes out a comb and rakes it through her hair! Man that hair started crawling all over the bus and was changing colors, now I knew I was gone!

We all made it home and made weird phone calls throughout the night because none of us could sleep. It felt like this trip was never going to end and I remember thinking to myself that this is what hell must be like. Bobby and Daniel ended up in the hospital together because their parents didn’t know what was wrong with them. My mom on the other hand chose to pray over me and quote scripture and that took me somewhere I don’t think anyone would want to experience!

One day in late March Bobby wanted to go back on the campus to party but Daniel and I had enough of that and we were still in awe from the acid experience so we chose not to go. Well Bobby got into some trouble messing around in the girls dormitory at O.S.U. and got an attempted rape case that landed him in prison for 3 years. I went into the Marine Corps on April 13, 1972 as scheduled.

I arrived at Paris Island and was assigned to 3rd Battalion Platoon 342. Staff sergeant Castle, sergeant Siganik, and some other guy were our original drill instructors for the platoon. The Marine Corps was allot like what I experienced at Fairfield School for Boys back in 1969 and 70 with the exception of PT and rifle range. Everything else was spit and polish and the discipline was about the same as well until I had an encounter with Sgt. Siganik that would result in his Courts Martial.

It all happened when we were on the rifle range. Someone took a set of my ear plugs and I reported it. Siganik had everyone beside me holding rifles on fingertips until the culprit surfaced and they were all suffering pretty badly. A recruit named Pvt. Battle told me he had an extra set and to tell Siganik I found them on the floor. Out of feeling for the platoon’s sweat and pain I did just that and Siganik didn’t take kindly to the fact that I found them on the floor with no one to blame! He came from behind his desk and hit me with a horizontal butt stroke that dislocated my mandible. I spit blood and stayed at attention looking at him to see if another blow was coming! Nothing but embarrassment, but it wasn't over yet..!