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Cultural Revolutions

Man of Honor

Ralph Walker Willis was a fireman, the author of five books, including My Life as a Jarhead (1999), and a contributor to Chronicles, but most of all he was a Marine.  He was related to the famous mountain man Joe Walker, and, like Walker, Ralph was a tall, strapping fellow with a booming voice.  He was born in 1921 in Redondo Beach, California, and reared in San Diego, spending his spare time on the sand and in the surf.  He played football in high school, but the thought of college paled in comparison to making his part-time job of lifeguarding a career.  By 1940 he was a beach lifeguard for San Diego, watching the pretty girls stroll across the sand and occasionally rescuing a swimmer swept out to sea by a rip current.  This all came to an end with the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.  On December 17, 1941, Ralph enlisted in the Marine Corps.  He graduated from boot camp at MCRD as his platoon’s honor man, which meant PFC stripes and a $2 increase in pay to $23 per month.  “I was starting my climb up into the big time,” recalled Ralph.

For the next two years Ralph trained at Pendleton, rising to sergeant and becoming part of the newly formed 5th Marine Division.  His only combat during that time came in Los Angeles.  He and a Marine buddy and their dates were accosted by a pack of Zoot Suiters.  The Marines...

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