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thedrifter
03-23-08, 06:49 PM
Graying Marine snaps to at voice from the past

By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune
March 23, 2008

Nothing prepared me for the voice on my message machine at the office Friday morning.

It was one I hadn't heard for 37 years, although the sound was similar to gravel sliding off a wooden shingle roof and the infectious hearty chuckle was mighty familiar.

"I don't know if this is the right number but I'm looking for the guy who was with the 4th Marine Division at Pendleton back in the early 1970s," it said. "If you're him, give me a call."

The last time I heard the Sgt. Richard "Dick" Eubank's voice was on March 16, 1971. That was the day I had completed my uneventful hitch in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, Calif. I was shedding my corporal stripes and returning to the land of civilians.

In fact, I was driving off in a white 1962 Volkswagen Bug I had bought from Eubank. He was among those razzing me with good-natured Bronx cheers.

"You'll be back," someone yelled.

I never returned, yet I never forgot folks like Gunnery Sgt. Fisher, Gunnery Sgt. Alexander, Staff Sgt. Lambert, Staff Sgt. Holzapple, and Cpls. Almanderez, Chelius, Healey, Svenvold and Thronson. Squared-away jarheads, all.

And there was Sgt. Eubank, a well-liked Marine's Marine. He was tough as a boot but was always ready to lend a hand.

"We had a lot of good guys in the 4th Marine Division — a real good bunch of people," Eubank said when I returned his call.

"You start thinking back and you started wondering whatever happened to this guy or that guy," he added. "I've located some of them. But it took a couple of years to track you down."

With that, we both started with, "Hey, do you remember that time ... ."

Take the time the night race riots were breaking out at Camp Pendleton. When fighting erupted in our area, Eubank was sergeant of the guard.

After a Marine refused to stop as Eubank politely requested, the sergeant calmly chambered a round into his .45-caliber automatic. The scuttlebutt was the leatherneck froze in mid-stride.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, our Sgt. Eubank did not suffer bullcrap gladly.

And there was the night three of us, including Healey and Eubank, decided to go fishing at a nearby lake that was part of a U.S. Navy facility. Naval security nabbed us.

"That was the last of my fishing days," Eubank recalled. "Yeah, that night cured me."

Or the time he was on duty when he stepped into the communications shop. A party was under way. Someone snapped a photograph.

"I've still got the picture," he said. "Pete (Healey) and you are both in it, both of you with a beer. There I am with my .45. My God, I could have been court martialed."

With that, we both explode into laughter. The years seemed to peel away.

At 17 when I joined, I was the youngest of the lot. I had been nowhere, done nothing. Most of the other Marines were old salts who had just returned from Vietnam.

Eubank, now 59, had served in notorious sites like Khe Sahn and Chu Lai. Some talked about their experiences. Others didn't. And you didn't ask.

I've always wondered what happened to them. Do they have families? Did they find what they were looking for in life?

The last time I saw Thronson he was playing basketball in college. Eubank reports Thronson is a police officer in the Portland area.

Healey and I were at the University of Oregon together. Actually, we spent a lot of time fishing. But I haven't heard from him in many years.

Last I heard was that Chelius was studying metallurgy in college. But that was decades ago.

Doubtless we wouldn't recognize each other passing on the street.

My hair is graying and I'm battling a gut. My gait has also changed, thanks to a car wreck in the Volkswagen that snapped my neck, rendering me a quadriplegic. It took nearly a year but I got back on my feet, albeit I could still star in that classic Monty Python skit featuring the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Indeed, the marathon relay that four of us ran for the division early in March of 1971 is a distant memory.

"The Corps was the best thing that happened to me," said Eubank who hails from Kern County in Southern California. "I was definitely headed down the wrong side of life before I joined. And I wanted to be with the best."

He would spend 20 years in the Corps, rising to the rank of master sergeant. He became a recon instructor in Coronado, teaching servicemen how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes and scuba diving with the sharks. He retired in 1987, and started a construction company in California as well as Hawaii. He has since turned the Hawaiian company over to a stepson.

He and his wife, Celeste, live in Eugene.

In addition to keeping busy with his construction firm, Eubank has become an officer in the national Veterans of Foreign Wars. He will become a Junior Vice Commander in Chief this coming August.

"I got a lot of buddies who didn't make it home from combat, either physically or mentally," he said. "I'll do what I can to help veterans."

You can take that promise to the bank.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at pfattig@mailtribune.com

Ellie