My father, Zach Davis Cox, graduated from the Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School at Quantico, VA in the midst of the biggest peace time military buildup the United States had ever experienced. Thanks largely to the foresight of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who recognized the inevitability of our entry into World War II, American industry became the Arsenal of Democracy and the first peace-time draft was instituted.
Shortly after his graduation from OCS, Dad was stationed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with the Fifth Battalion of the First Marine Brigade. However, within a few weeks, the First Marine Brigade was reorganized into the First Marine Division. Dad, still a Second Lieutenant, was reassigned to Company A, First Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, First Marine Division. He packed his bags and walked over to battalion headquarters. There he checked in and after the paper work was completed was told where Company A was quartered. Dad once more shouldered his seabag and struck out in the direction of Company A.
Dad walked into the headquarters tent and immediately heard the command, “Attention!” In an almost automatic response, Dad snapped to a rigid stance of attention while darting his eyes around the tent to see who had walked in. After a few awkward moments, Dad realized that everyone else in the tent was an enlisted man and that his entrance was what had prompted the call to attention. Dad relaxed, turned to the Senior Gunnery Sergeant who had barked the command and asked, “Why did you do that?” Gunny replied that a buddy of his at battalion had given him a head’s up that the new company commander was coming. Dad inquired as to who that might be. Gunny answered, “It’s you, sir.” Then a spark of recognition came into Gunny’s eyes and he repeated, “It’s you!” only this time with a completely different meaning.
At almost the same time, Dad recognized Gunny as having been his Platoon Sergeant and chief instructor during his days at OCS at Quantico. Dad imploringly asked, “You can’t mean the Marines are so short of officers that they made me a company commander?” Gunny just shook his head, reminded Dad that he had just finished a tour of duty at Quantico, and assured Dad that the Marines were indeed that short of officers. Dad then inquired, “Well, what are we going to do?” Gunny reassuringly responded, “You do what I taught you at Quantico and do what I tell you to here and we’ll have the best company in the battalion.” And then Gunny contemptuously added in the style of all sergeants, “Not that there’s much competition!”
So Dad and Gunny started off together in command of Company A. At first, as per his recommendation, Dad let Gunny run the company. To occupy his time, Dad served as the Company’s chief scrounger. He discovered that one of his men had been a butcher in civilian life. So he scrounged some unneeded equipment (at least it was unneeded by his company) and went out into the Cuban countryside to trade for some beef on the hoof. A deal was made and some cows were driven back onto base where they were butchered, roasted, and eaten. It does wonders for a soldier’s morale to be eating steak while his comrades in other companies were eating some unidentifiable goop out of a can.
While Cuba was Dad’s first experience in the tropics, because he was born and raised on the torrid coastal flats of North Carolina, he had some experience in the debilitating effects of hot and humid weather. As a result, Dad came to believe that the men falling out during the long hikes in Cuba were not suffering from sun stroke, as was commonly believed, but rather dehydration. So, the next items on his scrounge list were extra canteens. In a short time, every man in Dad’s company hiked with two canteens on his web belt. This amazingly simple remedy (simple in hindsight anyway) greatly reduced attrition on hikes. And from that point on, when Dad and his company arrived at a new duty station, his first order of business was to obtain an extra canteen for each man who didn’t already have one.
Slowly, Dad and Gunny switched positions and Dad assumed greater and greater responsibility for running the company and Gunny started doing all those things that a company sergeant was supposed to be doing.
But for all his days, Dad was grateful that he was allowed to ease into the mantle of command in the peace and quiet of Guantánamo Bay rather than in the sturm und drang of battle.