From the VETERANS series:
Corporal, United States Marine Corps
Dates of service: 1974-90
"I went from one hell to another."
-August 2013, Bronx, NY
“Growing up with my grandmother was not easy. There were a lot of issues and I needed to run away. At sixteen years old, that’s when one day she hit me very hard. I thought she broke my head. She used to hit me with the heel of the shoes. She knocked me out, when I got up, I lay down in bed—it was summertime—that was the beginning of fighting back; my rebellious day.
“I was looking out my window one day and I saw the Metro North going and I said, “I feel like I’m in jail, I have to get out or I’m going to die here. I need to get out. I don’t want to go to school here for the rest of my life. That was my environment and that’s why I needed to go away. But I didn’t know I was going to another hell.
“I had a little boyfriend that I was seeing in school without my grandmother’s knowledge and he had decided to go to the Marines. We went to the recruiting office together and one day he showed up and then he told me, “You can’t go to the Marines, you will never make it.” I was so tiny, only 113 pounds, very feminine. I left it like that and while he was in boot Camp, I went to take the test.
“The recruiters were thinking I won’t pass the test; I did pass the test, and at that point they advised me, ‘Maybe you should consider the Air Force or the Navy, Marines are too hard. You’re very feminine, you’re a little girl, and we’re worried about you.’ I told them, ‘You know what? I’ll be back in three months as a Marine. I’m going to the Marines, I don’t want to go no place else.’ All my life I have been told no. So, I challenged them back. I joined the Marines in 1977, during the Cold War years; I had just turned eighteen years old. “I was very naïve, I didn’t know anything about life, and I didn’t know what was waiting for me in the Marines. The Marines were a completely different world, which I could have never imagined.
“My childhood experiences helped me to endure what I was exposed to in the Marines. That was the one thing that I didn’t realize until years later. I managed to graduate with my fellow Marines, and I was sent to Quantico, Virginia, my first duty station. That’s where I realized that I went from one hell to another. Throughout my years in the Marines I encountered many episodes of gender and racial discrimination, and sexual harassment, which impacted my life in different ways.
“After dealing with various issues of gender and sexual harassment, “A Major from my command, after viewing certain actions toward me; recommended me to the interpreter/linguist school. At the time with perseverance and God’s help I endured, worked hard, and was able to achieve the rank of Sergeant. I went to Texas to training at Good Fellow Air Force Base and from there in 1980 I was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to work as an interpreter/ linguist. What I endured during the following year was unprecedented to what I had already been exposed to- sexual, racial and gender discrimination. If you didn’t accept the situations, you were considered an outsider and became a target of intense persecution. I remember many times during that time in my life, I would climb on top of a cliff by the ocean sitting for hours, crying my heart out, observing the ocean. I felt I was drowning and there was no hand to reach out to for salvation. There came times were I contemplated jumping from that cliff; finishing it. My child fear instilled in me by my grandmother about God was stronger than what I was enduring, and it saved me.
“I was transferred to Camp Lejeune in 1981. I thought returning back to the states I will be free of Guantanamo Bay; but it didn’t happen. The father of my son and I were charged with fraternization, which was the outcome of events that developed from prior circumstances at Guantanamo Bay. The Gunnery Sergeant was penalized with a fine of a 1,000. As a female I was punished harsher by demoting me to corporal, and taking my salary for three months. It hurt like hell; I worked so hard and endured so much for that sergeant stripes. A few people, who didn’t agree with the outcome of these events, came to my support. I was a few months into my pregnancy and through their kindness and support I was able to keep a roof over my head. I left the Marines in February 1983.
“I grew up without parents. I promised myself that my children would have at least one parent in their lives. I used to look at my life and say, maybe I could have taken the other road not travel; I am a proud mother of two college graduates. I know now that my childhood and the Marines taught me to endured life unexpected circumstances and to always look forward to better times.
‘Becoming a Marine was a change that cannot be undone in my life; a permanent reminder through the years of what the Corps stands for. I will always be a Marine.”
Nina Talbot, Veterans series © 2012