Hanging Tough is Tough

by Sergeant Major (Ret) George S. Kulas

After 19 months in Vietnam, I arrived at Camp Courtney Okinawa. I was to spend my last six months on active duty in the Marine Corps at the camp. It was December 1968.

Before I even unpacked, I started counting the days until I would get out of the Corps, go home to college and buy a brand new, fire-engine-red Mustang with my savings.

I was looking forward to the "good life". Although I was lonely, I didn't want to get to know anyone.

I had known too many Marines in "Nam" who always seemed to leave one way or another, just when we became good friends. After having to say goodbye to several of these buddies, I became hardened and tough. It was easier that way.

When it was finally my turn to leave I simply shook hands and said something like, "Keep your head down" or "Have a nice life." I wanted to say more, something like, "I'll really miss you," or "I'll never forget you," but I kept my true feelings inside.

I "hung tough."

But on Okinawa the inevitable happened: A few Marines took me in. Montgomery, Harrington and Kuhn became my best friends.

We were always together after duty hours--playing tennis or basketball, running or lifting weights. After our workouts, we would have a few drinks at the enlisted club, sometimes more than a few.

At the club we would laugh and joke around, but we'd also have serious discussions about our future plans, our hopes and our dreams.

Dancing with the Okinawan girls who frequented the club was always part of our evenings. One such girl was Yoko.

I liked Yoko a great deal, but I fought off getting serious. I still was thinking about the "good life" that I was going to be having at home.

A few days before I was scheduled to depart Okinawa, I was transferred to the outprocessing station at Camp Hansen. I had arranged to meet my buddies at the Courtney Enlisted Club on my last night.

When I arrived at the club, they were there waiting, along with just about everyone else from my unit. I was overwhelmed, but I didn't show it. I told myself to be strong, be a Marine, and "hang tough."

Before long it was time for me to get back to Hansen for the midnight bed check.

I "hung tough" as I made my way through the group, shaking each Marine's hand, while Yoko clung to my arm.

I "hung tough" when I reached Montgomery, Harrington and Kuhn at the door. We shook hands I wanted to hug them, but I didn't. Yoko still was clinging to my arm when we got outside. Then she said, "I think I never see you again."

That's when it hit home and I felt myself starting to break.

I quickly jumped into a waiting taxi. The taxi sped toward Camp Hansen, taking me farther and farther from my friends.

My chest was heaving and my entire body was shaking uncontrollably. My eyes felt swollen as tears rushed from them.

I was thinking of Yoko, Montgomery, Harrington and Kuhn. I was thinking of the Corps and all of the good Marine buddies I had known during my three-year tour.

I was feeling empty inside and as lonely as I had ever felt in my life.

The Okinawan taxi driver looked at me curiously and said, "Why tough Marine cry? You go home tomorrow. Be happy."

But I wasn't happy and I couldn't "hang tough." I couldn't fake it any longer. My home was quickly fading behind me, and I realized I would never see it again.


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