After my tour in Vietnam, I got a transfer to the Philadelphia Marine Barracks. My parents lived in Philly.
I became a casualty escort. My escort section took care of all Marines to be buried east of the Mississippi River. I took escorts from Maine to Puerto Rico. From March 1968 to December 1969 I took home 68 Marines.
The next of kin already knew their son/husband had died. It was my job to escort the body from Dover, Del., to their hometown. Sometimes we would go to Dover and ride in a hearse to the local town. Sometimes we would leave from the Wilmington, Del., train station. Sometimes we would fly out of the Philadelphia Airport.
We would watch the loading of the casket onto the train or airplane. At the airport we would ride with the driver from cargo freight to the plane. We would watch the casket go up the conveyer belt into the plane. Then I would walk around and up the side of the jetway into the plane. I was always first on the plane and had my choice of seats. There was no reserved seating back then.
We had $16 a day to live on. We had to find a hotel room and find meals that would not bust the budget. The powers that ran the escort section knew people. I turned out to be someone people liked. I stayed with the next of kin, or their relatives, and did not have to spend any money.
Once I went to Boston. The Marine lieutenant drove me around downtown Boston to try to get me a hotel room. He would run back out and say they want $95 a night for a room. After three tries, he asked what I could afford. I said $16 a day. He said don't they take care of you? I just looked at him. He was a Marine also. I stayed at the Boston Marine Barracks.
One morning at the barracks it got to be 7 a.m. Time for inspection. I pulled the covers over my head. The colonel came by and asked who I was. The other inspector said I was an escort. They kept on walking.
My job also was to order $20 worth of flowers and have it billed to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
I went to the funeral home every day. In New York City the wake lasted 6 days, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. There was a military funeral. Six Marines fired 3 times, an 18-gun salute. Only generals and above received a 21-gun salute at that time. When there was not a officer around, I presented the flag.
The only training we got was how to drape and fold the flag, and what to say when we presented the flag.
My customer service training started on my first escort and has continued to this day. When a mother would ask you if their son was in the sealed casket, the answer cannot be found in a book.