Veteran Interview: Barry Georgopulos

My tenth interview was with Mr. Barry Georgopulos, who, in my opinion, is very inspiring and depicts the exact pinnacle of a strong Marine veteran.  Not many stories come out of the Vietnam War and even though Mr. Georgopulos didn’t get shipped out, he still played a part in the war.   I hope when you finish reading this you will have a much better understanding of our military and will feel inclined to connect with them

5091 vetBarry Georgopulos, Master Sergeant

United States Marine Corps

Served 20 years with active duty and reserves combined, Mr. Georgopulos story will grab your interest and will help you see what serving in the military in the 60’s was like for our men and women in arms.

Why did you decide to join the Marine Corps?

A combination of factors.  I don’t know that I would have looked that hard at it had it not been inevitable that you were going to get drafted anyway.  Since it was a given at that point in time that you were going to be going in the service, I just wanted to do it my way.  I joined what I felt was the best – the Marine Corps.  There is an element of serving the country as well.

How long did you serve in the military?

With active duty and reserves combined, I was in for 20 years.

Where were you stationed?

Most of the time, I was at Twenty-nine Palms, California.  That was the home of heavy artillery for the Marine Corps.  In the reserves, you would have a drill weekend every month and two weeks every summer where you went on active duty.  We also went to Fort Sill, OK and Camp Lejeune, NC.  When there were budget constraints, we just went down to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.  They would set up a big tent city on the south end of the base.  You could actually look out and see the lights of Pueblo.

Places Stationed:             Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA.

Camp Pendleton, CA

Twenty-nine Palms, CA for artillery training.

I also served some time on a ship where a couple of times we had our 2 weeks of amphibious training on board LST’s/LSD’s doing amphibious landings at San Clemente Island, CA.

How did you feel while you were in the military?

As far as lonely, no, not really.  When you are on active duty, you develop a lot of friendships.  I don’t think I ever felt lonely.  The majority of my time serving has been reserve time.  I figured if this was something I really wanted to do with the rest of my life, I could switch over to full time.  I enjoyed it to a degree, but figured it would probably be better to start on a career or education.  I just did the rest of my time in the reserves.  You have your comrades in arms.  You keep current on your training and skills.  You feel like you accomplish something as far as being available if your country every needed you.

What was it like while you served?

Marine Corps boot camp is very challenging.  I guess you anticipate the physical challenges.  You can’t really anticipate the mental challenges of boot camp.  It is a matter of them tearing you down to basically nothing.  Shouting in your face at the top of their lungs and calling you everything under the sun.  Trying to push you down to where you’re ready to be remolded into what they want to make you.  I never regretted it.  The physical and mental challenges are a necessary part of accomplishing the building of a Marine and getting the end result that they need.

None of my sons went in the Marine Corps, but I had a Grandson that was in from ’94 to ’98.  It made a world of difference in him.  He was fresh out of high school and not sure of his direction.  The Marine Corps got him on the straight and narrow.  He did very well in the Marine Corps and when he got out.

What was training like?

The initial training, boot camp, was very challenging physically.  I was born with a club foot that was corrected in my youth, but the leg and foot is smaller than the other one.  Now I have one foot size 9 and the other foot size 12.  It didn’t keep me out.  However, in boot camp when they issued shoes and boots, they didn’t want to give me two pair of boots since I would only use half of them.  They gave me a pair that was too big for the smaller foot and would fit the bigger foot.  After about 8 weeks, we did some long hikes up to the rifle range.  We were there for 2 weeks.  Every day was a long hike out to the range and back to the tents.  The longest hike developed a blister on my heel.  I just put several layers of heavy tape over it and kept marching.  About half way through the second week on the range, it was just too much.  I went in and told the drill instructor I needed to go to sick bay.  He said, “What’s wrong with you?”

I said, “Sir, Privates heel hurts.”

He said, “Let me see it.”

So, I took my boot off and pulled that tape off for the first time in a week and a half.  It was just a big, black, bloody, gooey mess all the way down to the bone, because it had been kept in there for that whole time.  He looked down, and the first thing he said, “You make sure you tell them I let you go the first time you asked.”  He was afraid they’d think that he wouldn’t let me go until it got that bad.  I wound up in Balboa Naval Hospital for about a week and a half.  I went back to the MCRD for about a week waiting to hook up with a different platoon to finish boot camp.

While I was in the hospital, some officer came in and asked if I’d like a medical discharge.  I don’t think that’s what he wanted.  He just figured if I jumped at it then maybe I was malingering to let it get that bad on purpose.  I said, “No, I didn’t join the Corps to just drop out.”  After that incident with my foot, they put it in my record that all issues would be the correct sizes for each foot.

The training after that is Camp Pendleton for the second ITR’s, infantry training.  Every Marine is basically an infantryman, a rifleman.  After Camp Pendleton, you train in whatever specialty you choose.  The ITR training at Camp Pendleton was probably every bit as much, if not more, physically demanding as boot camp.

Next, I went to Twenty-nine Palms where I trained for FDC, fire direction control.  We didn’t have a computer to just push some buttons and have all your information.  We had to calculate the range, distance, deflections, quadrants and what have you using a slide rule.

In the reserves, your rank dictates where you serve and your job.  I was eventually put in charge of the armory where they kept all the rifles, pistols, and weapons.  I then became the supply chief even though I didn’t know anything about supply.  My rank was the right rank for the job at the right time.

Next, I got promoted to Gunnery Sergeant in charge of the guns even though I never cleaned, worked on, or fired guns.  Fortunately, I had a platoon sergeant who kept the gun crews in line doing what they’re supposed to do.  In artillery, you have a first sergeant who is kind of the administrative chief, and the Battery Gunnery Sergeant is running things in the field.  After a couple years as Gunny, I made Master Sergeant, so I moved into the administrative slot. Normally, it would be a First Sergeant in that slot, but Master Sergeant and First Sergeant are equal ranks – just one is administrative and the other is specialized.  That is where I retired.

You enlisted, right?  What was your experience like with enlisting?

They just signed you up.  They gave some tests and a physical.  That’s the first time I’d ever had something wrapped around my arm for blood pressure.  I didn’t know what it was, and it kind of made me nervous.  They told me that my blood pressure is too high to enlist you.  Lay here in the dark for about 20 to 30 minutes and relax.  We will come back and take it again.  It was okay.  They also detected a heart murmur.  They had me exercise.  It went away instead of getting worse, so they said that was nothing to worry about either.

I enlisted with two high school friends.  We actually enlisted while we were still in high school but had delayed deployment to boot camp.  We went to reserve meetings as what they call a Poolee.  We had a couple of former drill instructors that gave you the run around and an introduction to what boot camp was going to be like.   We did a lot of PT and Rifle PT.  There was one guy in our poolee group who was just graduating from CU in Boulder.  He was a football player, a big burly guy.  Even he had trouble lifting his arms up after a day of lifting rifles up and down on your shoulders.

What specifically was your job in the military?

Started out as fire direction control in the heavy artillery unit and moved to other elements.  I wound up doing just about everything except motor T and maintenance.

Did you build good friendships?

Yes, lots.  I joined with several friends.  I still have friends today from the reserve unit I was in over that 20 years.  One of the ways we’ve maintained close friendships is through our involvement in the veterans’ organization called the Marine Corps League. It is the only congressional chartered marine veterans organization.  I’ve been very happy with that.  I joined in late 1970.  I have been very active in all local levels.  The Marine Memorial approached the League as a sponsor.  They needed to be connected to something right away that had nonprofit status so they could go after donations and had insurance.  We adopted them – the Marine Memorial Association is a subsidiary of the Department of Colorado Marine Corps League.

The League has considerably expanded my family and friends.  Being involved at the national level, I probably have friends in every state of the union.  Some of my closest friends today are some that I’ve met through the league.  I think, if you have something on you that identifies you as a Marine, and you walk into any place where there is somebody else that is identifiable as a Marine, you’ve got a friend, a brother.  You know you share the same values.  I was at my brother-in-laws funeral in Holly, Colorado. I was walking into a store in a town that I’ve probably been to 5 times in my life when walking in at the same time is another Marine who says Semper Fi.  He saw my license plates.  That happens all the time.  You bump into another Marine, and you know you have a kindred spirit.

What does your family think of you being in the military?

I don’t think it has ever been a negative.  Even though they didn’t say anything and I never felt anything from them, sometimes I wonder if my kids might have felt that I put so much time in to the military that maybe they didn’t get all the time they should have had.  I don’t remember thinking that maybe I put so much time into the Marine Corp League to make up for not having been in combat.  I don’t remember ever thinking that I needed to do that, but sometimes I wonder if subconsciously that might have been a little of my motivation.  I enjoyed every bit of the Marines.  But diving in head first as strong as I did for as long as I did, I just wonder if there might have been some subconscious thing going on too.  Since I didn’t contribute by actually being in the war, that I’d contribute all I can by doing more on the veteran’s side.  None of my kids ever expressed any displeasure or regrets, and I know I never had any.

Were there any moments you were afraid?

I guess there are probably a few times over the years.  When I was reenlisting and they kept saying it’s not a matter of if just a matter of when we would be activated.  I would think of leaving the wife and the kids.  At one point, I was Retention NCO.  During that period, there weren’t a whole lot of people who wanted to reenlist with the prospect of being called to active duty.  When I was trying to recruit people to reenlist, I told them that if things really hit the fan, everybody’s going to go anyway.  If you stay in the reserves, you keep your rank.  If you get out and they call you back, you might go back in as private.

Did you serve in a war?

No.  I was in during Vietnam, but I was never actually in Vietnam.  My active duty time was before it got started.

Did you feel like your career with the military was a successful and fulfilling one?

Yes.  Even though in the back of my head, I’ve always felt just a hair below those that did serve in combat.

Any stories you’d like to share?

Twenty-nine Palms artillery base is almost 900 square miles in a desert.  There are a lot of shooting ranges.  I remember driving in the middle of the night in black out conditions trying to find the battery with a set of coordinates.  All you have is longitude and latitude and a map you can’t see because there’s no light.  At the time I was the supply chief which included the mess. When I left the night before, they were in the middle of the desert.  They said they were going to be moving to a new place over night and gave me the coordinates.  I went back to base.  At 4 o’clock, I picked up their chow and took off out into the desert.  I pulled in to the new position right about the time they were just getting there themselves.  They had been driving around all night in the desert looking for the place they were supposed to be shooting from the next day.

Do your kids ask you questions about when you were in the military?

No, because they were in it with me.  Once every couple of years at the Fort Carson artillery ranges, they’d have a family day where the family could watch the shooting.  Those were direct fire shoots because it’s not very exciting to see the gun go bang, and that’s the end of it.  They’d have old trucks or something set up about 1000 yards away with a hill behind them.  They’d direct fire, so you could see the explosion.

Different people handle it differently when they came back from war.  Some didn’t want to talk about it at all. They just wanted to forget about it.  It was too painful to think about and a wide variety of things.  I counseled some of the Dessert Storm and Iraq troops coming back.  I would tell them that nobody can be in that environment without being impacted.  Some people it impacts more than others.  Some people it impacts sooner and some later, but it is going to impact everybody at some point in time.  Being Marines, you’re twice as vulnerable about getting help because your supposed to be so macho.  That’s the worst thing you can do.  At whatever point in time the feelings hit you, that’s when you need to go looking for help.

There was a young man in the reserves who said he was having a hard time dealing with the different thought processes of the people he met in the civilian life as opposed to the military.  He commented on the attitudes.  I told him I knew what he meant.  When my family came to the family days, they would see me in front of the platoon barking and shouting.  They didn’t even recognize me, because I was always basically pretty easy and soft spoken.  You have to adjust.  When you put on a different hat, you have to act like what that hat calls for.

The final two questions below gives the interviewee the opportunity to share their voice in the issue “Connecting & Protecting” is addressing.

Do you feel like there is a disconnection between the military and the general public?

Yes, to some degree.  Less now than when the guys were coming home from Vietnam.  That was horrible to have served and come home to that reception.  It was a total disconnect back then.  Things got better, but now they seem to be getting worse.  I think the biggest disconnect is sad to say the Commander in Chief.  The Marine Corps did a number of studies with experiments about women in combat roles.  It was determined that it would significantly reduce the effectiveness of a unit in combat to have women in combat.  The President ordered them to do it anyway.  It seems he is doing everything he can to totally disconnect the military and their ability to accomplish their mission.

Aside from that, there’s still people that appreciate the people that serve, and they are doing what they can to show that appreciation.

Do you have any ideas on how this issue can be fixed?

To fix the current disconnect I spoke of, you’d have to start at the top.  (Voting.)  I am surrounded with like minded people and not the general populace.  The papers are not going to report it.  I think what you’re doing can help in establishing a history and background for people in the coming years.  Hopefully that, along with other things, will make a difference in the future.  Come November, we will find out if all is lost or if we have some hope.  (I hope that’s not too political.  I didn’t name any names, political parties or point any direction to which is which.)

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