I don’t dip and I don’t chew
and I don’t run with those that do.
Both before and during World War II my father served in the United States Marine Corps with the 1st Battalion of the 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. The 1st of the 7th Marines was commanded by Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, who even then was a legend in the Marine Corps. Despite his fearsome reputation, Lewis Puller was very much the gentleman from a distinguished Virginia family. One of the very few vices which Puller allowed himself was chewing tobacco.
My father, along with every other junior officer in the battalion, thought the world of Lewis Puller and wanted to be just like him. So if Lewis Puller chewed tobacco, then every other junior officer in his battalion was going to chew tobacco too. However, in 1942 chewing tobacco was even more socially unacceptable than it is today. Therefore, Dad took great pains not to chew around his fiancée, Mary Gwin Oliver.
Mother and Dad were engaged to be married in June of 1942. On February 28, 1942, a Saturday, the wedding plans were well along, when Dad came to Mt. Olive on a weekend pass from Camp Lejeune. The first thing he did upon arrival in Mt. Olive, was to call on Mary Gwin and inform her that they had to get married the following Friday, March 6, 1942. Mother told him that was impossible. And then in what was to become an all too common reversal of roles in World War II, the prospective groom told the prospective bride that they had to get married right away. When questioned about the rush, all Dad could say was that he couldn’t tell her why. What Dad couldn’t tell her was that his unit, the 7th Marines was scheduled to sail for Samoa from Norfolk on April 10, 1942.
Well, Mother didn’t like it, but she understood. On Sunday afternoon, Dad returned to Camp Lejeune and Mother immersed herself into a flurry of activity that compressed three months of wedding plans into five days. On the following Friday, Dad was not scheduled to be released for his weekend pass until 5:00 p.m. However, at about 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning, Colonel Puller happened upon an obviously distracted Lieutenant Cox. Puller quickly ascertained that Dad was going to be completely worthless that day as a Marine and told Dad that he could leave early on his weekend pass.
Puller’s magnanimity was partially mitigated by Dad being fourteen miles out in the woods of Camp Lejeune. But Dad practically ran the entire distance back to the main base. Huffing and puffing, Dad finally arrived at his quarters about half past noon. Dad was bent over, hands on knees trying to catch his breathe, when he looked up and saw his father, R. L. Cox, driving up. Dad walked over to his father with a puzzled look on his face and said between gasps for air, “How did you know to pick me up early?” R. L. replied, “Oh, I knew that Lewis Puller wasn’t going to keep you here all day.”
Dad jumped in his father’s car and they raced to Mt. Olive. Mother and he were married at 8:00 p.m. that night. They then drove to Charleston, SC for their honeymoon.
The following Monday morning, Dad was back at Camp Lejeune. Because Dad would be sailing for the South Pacific so quickly, there wasn’t time to obtain married housing at Norfolk. Therefore, Mother continued to live in Mt. Olive, but took Dad’s car and picked him up on those weekends when he didn’t have duty.
On the first Friday after they were married, Mother drove to Camp Lejeune to pick him up. Dad went up to get a big kiss and Mother turned her face and redirected the kiss to her cheek. Dad was astounded and asked what was wrong. Mother very coolly motioned to the glove box in Dad’s car. Dad opened the glove box and there was a plug of Apple Chewing Tobacco. Mother said:
I never would have married you, had I known you chewed!
Dad quickly tried to explain that he really didn’t like to chew tobacco, he just did it because all the other officers in the battalion did. Mother’s response to this explanation has never been told, but my guess is that perhaps for the first time she used the analogy that we children heard so many times:
Well, if all the other junior officers jumped into a fire, would you too?