I am often asked why I joined the Marines. I had three reasons.
The Marine Corps was the only branch of the service that a woman who only had a GED could join at the time. I had become an emancipated minor at age 16; I did not finish regular high school. I had this burning desire to go to college, but after being treated as poor white trailer trash while attending public school, I did not even know how to get scholarships to go to college. I joined the Marines so that I could earn the GI bill, and use that financial assistance to go to college.
Secondly, a family friend whom I had the greatest respect for at the time said that I should join the Marines because there are so few women in the Marines, that I would be treated with respect. The Marines were the combat branch of the service; they only were allowed to have 3 percent of their troops be women. So for every 97 men, there could be only three women. The Marine Corps was the only branch of the service that had a two-year enlistment. I wanted to get into the service, serve my country, and get out. As Vietnam was a very unpopular war, a few of my friends thought I should have my head examined for wanting to become a Marine.
As soon as I had my honorable discharge, I signed right up for college. You would think that graduating from BMCC, EOU, and later graduating with national honors from the UO Law School would have been the proudest days of my life. They were not. The proudest day of my life was the day that my drill instructor pinned that Marine Corps insignia onto my uniform as I graduated from boot camp. I had the most amazing realization that I was one of very few women who had just earned the right to call myself a woman Marine.
Marine Corps boot camp, both for women and men, is demeaning, degrading, hard, and physically and mentally demanding. For me, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Be prepared to run a few miles, go to the gas chamber, be ordered to remove your gas mask and sing the Marine Corps hymn, then stagger outside with your eyes burning and choking. The reward was pride in myself and this overwhelming pride in my country.