“A few good men,” were sought by the Marine Corps when I decided to join in 1979. I knew it would be tough. I expected to be disciplined, even beaten – like in the movies, where young men trained for Vietnam. And ultimately, I knew it was my chance to serve my country, further my education, and see the world. I needed to score twice as many points in my entry exam as the vast majority of future Marines. Why? Because of my gender.

In 1979 I was an 18-year old daughter of a conservative, traditional Hispanic family in the Midwest. Voted “most lady-like” by the faculty of my high school, I surprised everyone who knew me. But the surprise was on me when I took classes on makeup, etiquette, and poise during the all-female Marine Corps boot camp training.

“Recruits!” bellowed a short, dynamic female drill sergeant. “You WILL learn to conduct yourselves like Women Marines.” She warned, “In the past, we’ve had a few misguided recruits try to commit suicide by drinking detergent. Don’t bother. You’ll only belch bubbles and get a stomach ache.”

Sixty-two female Marine recruits in Parris Island, South Carolina awakened to the crashing sounds of wooden bats beating hard against a large aluminum garbage can at 0330. And at dusk we carefully slipped our worn out bodies into our perfectly made Marine Corps bunks and fell asleep after singing the Lord’s prayer.

There were history classes, exercise sessions, drill marches. In the end, Parris Island’s top brass was invited to a tea party held by my female platoon. This occasion was the event which was to prove we WM’s (Women Marine’s) were ready to graduate and embark into the male-dominated world of the U.S.M.C., most likely in administrative positions.

We became confident and strong – both mentally and physically. Two months later, fifty-one of us graduated.

Fast-forward 20 years: a marriage, and two teenaged children later. The skills I learned while in the Marines served me well as a secretary in fast-paced offices. They served me well in managing a household. But little did I know I was yet to make the best use of my Marine Corps skills.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said a counselor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, in San Antonio, Texas. “Do not despair if you fail a test, or a class, or the entire program.” The counselor showed a videotape of friends and family of medical students who had committed suicide due to academic pressure. “Of 480 applicants for this program, only 79 were accepted. What matters most is not whether you get A’s B’s or C’s. What matters MOST, is that two years from now, you will have the letters, R.N., after your name.”

Of the 79 students who started a bachelor’s nursing class with me in the Fall of 1998, only 45 graduated. For me and other male military veteran classmates, the two years of nursing school were much more difficult than boot camp. But that Marine Corps discipline helped me get through nursing school.

I joined the Marine Corps to serve my country and see the world. Today, as a traveling nurse, I serve my patients and see the country. In 1979, the United States Marine Corps needed a few good men. Today, I believe the nursing profession could use a few good Marines.

Happy birthday and Semper Fi!

Ms Lillian G. RN

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29 thoughts on “I KNEW IT WAS MY CHANCE”

  1. Thanks Ms. Lillian. Yours was the first I have read about “WM’s” in boot camp and I enjoyed it. As you may know, “Women Marines:” are passe. We are all Marines now and that is the way it should be in my opinion. Semper Fidelis!

  2. Semper FI, this brings back memories of my own boot camp experience. Many of the same things you remember. Some things stuck and some didn’t. Today I have a history of a marriage of over 28 years, two children who had their mom at home till they started school, 7 years as an LPN, over 25 years as a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor, BS degree at age 58, 4 years of working with foster children and families and now medically forced retirement. Over night I went from working 6 days a week, driving up to 300 miles a week for a job I have loved. Actually I loved and enjoyed every stage of my life, from Marine to retired. Today I have 4 grandsons in the military, two Marines, and two in the Army. My total count of grand children and great grand children is around 28. I live in a 4 generation household and enjoy interacting with them all on a daily basis. Thank you for your service and the wonderful reflection on how it has carried through your life. Joyce

  3. Lillian and Joyce, thank you for sharing your stories. You are both inspirations to young women everywhere.

  4. Lillian, enjoyed your story. Refreshing! As I was returning from the doctor’s office with eye glasses for the platoon, I went by a platoon of WM’S being drilled. The Drill Instructor said, There’s probably 300 miles of dick out there and you’re not going to get an inch of it! They were looking at me…I guess I was handsome then at 19. Thank you for your story. Maybe a book from you would be in order. Best wishes, Ed Fryzel (904) 635-7218

  5. You are a first class Marine Lillian and my wife of 60 years I met in the Marine Corps, is almost as tough as one coming out of boot camp. Semper-Fi Marine, Ed

  6. Not wanting to start anything, but drill sgt? I was at PI in 1975, to this day I have never referred to DI as drill sgt ! And recruits getting up at daily at 03:30 ?. Sorry I don’t by it Sgt Kroen 1975

    1. I agree, as for the dick comment, that was something that was common knowledge, told throughout my time in service. My My how PC we vets are getting these days.

    2. I must agree! I was at Parris Island for the summer of 1973. I would NEVER refer to a Drill Instructor as ‘drill sgt’! That is an army term and is appalling to Marines! Semper Fi.

  7. Great and excellent story. The manners and discipline they learn, WM’s use that affect their lives in later years are real. In the aerospace industry, I had former military women working for me and they were the ones I counted on to get jobs dome on time and right. Semper Fi

  8. ” I decided to join in 1979. I knew it would be tough. I expected to be disciplined, even beaten – like in the movies, where young men trained for Vietnam. ” What movie would that have been?

  9. Great story!!!! I’m a retired Marine Mustang married to a former SSgt of Marines. I don’t know who is prouder of the title United States Marine: me, my wife or two sons. My dad went through PI in 1916. My wife in 1974. Unfortunately, I ended up in San Diego in 1962. NO!!! we were not issued sun glasses! The Corps taught us a lot (discipline, dedication, leadership, commitment and a lot more) enabling both of us to achieve successful careers in sillyvillian life. Karen is a retired corporate controller with both Bachelors and Masters degrees. To this day she carries herself like the proud Marine she is. All of us who have served – male or female, it doesn’t matter – and who have earned the title United States Marine unites us as brothers and sister in a fraternity that few can gain membership in. Semper Fidelis!!

  10. Great Job. Once A Marine Always A Marine. I went in 1972 and I found out quickly the women at PI had to endure a lot of abuse too, after I seen some Female DI’s just rip into those young girls. From that point on, I knew for a fact that they were just as tough on them as some of the male boys. Well we all became Marines and to this day, still proud of it. Wear my cover/hat where ever I go saying (Once a Marine always a Marine). Thank you for sharing your story

  11. Ms. Lillian, your story is one of perseverance! Every day I have the opportunity to mold young boys and girls. As a high school math teacher students tell me their dreams of what they want to do and be in life. Often I hear them say, “I don’t know if I will make it.” I tell my students that most of the battle is believing in yourself that you can do it. If you believe you can make it through medical school and are willing to give it your all, you can. If you doubt yourself, you will most likely fail. Furthermore I tell them remember F.A.I.L. really means “First Attempt In Learning” (The author of this quote in unknown to me; my wife found it somewhere years ago.). Obviously failure was not an option for you and you believed in yourself. You made it! Semper Fi to you and my entire Marine Corps family.

  12. Wow, your story reflects mine on so many levels. I graduated bootcamp in 1977. Retired in 1996 and earned a BSN in 1997 and have been in nursing ever since. Memories flashed back of that same morning, trashcan lids in hand, lol! Make-up classes, the mandatory girdles and even the afternoon tea we put on. Our utilities were the navy blue or black slacks and blue shirts. I recall one incident after being fitted with ‘BC’ glasses; as I walked out the office, I walked by a mirrored window and caught a glimpse of myself. I had a fit of laughter which resulted in my platoon and myself dropping and giving the proverbial “40”. And to think those glasses are considered fashionable today. Semper Fi!

  13. I went thru boot camp SD January 1954. my biggest thrill or memerory is I shook hands with General Chesty Puller at Marine Corps Air Base in Hawaii in 158. Semper Fi brother Marines Male & Female

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