By Ian Graham
Veterans’ Reflections is a collection of stories of men and women who served their country in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm and present-day conflicts. They will be posted throughout November in honor of Veteran’s Day.
David Fike got the urge to serve early, but his father insisted he think about the decision thoroughly, and that he perhaps consider an officer candidate program, rather than running to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944.
Instead, he joined the V-12 Navy College Training Program, a cousin to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps designed to supplement the Navy and Marine Corps with commissioned officers during World War II.
He served under that program as an apprentice seaman from 1944 to 1946 – he never attended basic training because the war had ended – then returned home to attend pre-med courses at Dartmouth University.
“After I graduated with an A.B. (bachelor’s) degree as a civilian, I worked as a chemist at the University of Wisconsin,” he said.
He was there when the Korean War started in 1950. He was in reserve deferred status until he was in his senior year of law school; it was then he received his draft notice.
“I went up to the Navy who had given me the benefit of three years in college, gratis, and I attempted to return to the Navy,” he said. “Of course, there are rules and restrictions with those who have received their draft notice – as they’re telling me this, sitting there is a Marine Corps recruiter, who beckoned me over.”
Three weeks later, Fike was in charge of a group of Marine recruits on a train from Chicago to San Diego. He attended basic training there and was sent to Quantico for further training. There he was selected to attend the Basic School and become a 2nd lieutenant. He also attended fire school and artillery training.
“I finally arrived in Korea when it was petering down to an artilleryman’s war, and I was assigned to the 4th Battalion of the 11th Marines,” he said.
When he left Korea, he took command of a firing battery – he had opted for a year’s extension after the war ended. After conducting a variety of operations with his firing battery, Fike left the Corps as a 1st lieutenant. The day he left the service, he got a letter informing him that he had made the list for promotion to captain, however, he was never officially promoted.
Like many of his fellow servicemembers, Fike reflected humbly about his time in uniform. He said he shouldn’t take too much credit for any medals or commendations he earned, as he wasn’t doing anything except what was asked of him.
“I’m quite sure on introspection … I wasn’t doing anything other than required,” he said.
Fike said today’s Marine Corps still teaches the same values he learned when he was in the uniform, even if the skills they learn are very different than the ones he learned. His two sons each served a four-year enlistments in the Corps; so he knows to some degree how much it’s changed, and how much has remained the same.
He said he never expected to see Marines doing entirely land-based operations, nor did he expect to see the way war has evolved, from the clear uniformed military vs. uniformed military wars of the past to the more ambiguous operations going on now.
“The Marine Corps is a good place for young men to go if they want to grow up fast,” he said. “It’s a tough row to hoe and I do not envy anyone in terms of the type of war they’re fighting.”