There’s no such thing as a “former marine.” Just ask Don Barton, a Marine Corps Veteran living in Goose Creek.
“Once a marine, always a marine,” Barton often says.
The 84-year-old grandfather of three seeks out ways to support other marines, through the group, Marine Corps League, Low Country Detachment 803. Barton and dozens of other veterans meet on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fleet Reserve Building, 99 Wisteria Road, in Goose Creek. Members organize fundraisers that support local causes and veterans. For Barton, participating in the league allows him to continue feeling the camaraderie that he experienced as an active marine.
“If a Marine needs my help, I’ll be there,” Barton said.
It was 1957 when Barton, an athletic college student from New York, joined the U.S. Marine Corps. At the time he was pursuing a degree in physical education from The College at Brockport, State University of New York.
“I knew that it was going to be physically challenging but fortunately I was in good shape at that time and I had some pretty good advice from fellow classmates that were a year ahead of me,” Barton said.
Their advice was to “do what they tell you and keep your mouth shut.” Barton did. He found he adjusted well to regiment life.
Initially, he wanted to fly jets but the fillings in his teeth prevented that route. At the time, it was feared that high altitude and a loss of pressure would cause fillings to pop out- an incapacitating injury.
Barton was placed in the field of communications, he trained at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. In 1960, after his training was complete, Barton and his fiance, Anne, eloped and three weeks later he received orders to leave for Japan.
The newlyweds were separated for 15 months while Barton was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, where he served as a communications officer for 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. Barton was one of the many U.S. military personnel assigned to serve in Japan during the decades following Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II.
In today’s world of smartphones, Barton said many people cannot imagine the technology he worked with while in Japan. He oversaw the placement of radios throughout the region; soldiers climbed poles with spikes and installed wiring.
“We had the AN/PRC-6, these are radios that you probably better go to church and hope and pray they’re going to work for you kind of thing,” Barton said. “You were lucky if you had two mile or five mile communication..we could get more dead spaces than cats have kittens.”
He worked with a variety of radios; each one had its own purpose. Some were used by company commanders, other radios were used by higher level military personnel. While he was stationed in Japan, he spent time in Korea setting up single-sideband radios that communicated between the two countries.
“I would love to go back today to a battalion and see what kind of communications equipment they have,” Barton said. “What I had would have been so antiquated that museums probably have it now.”
Throughout his 15 months in Japan, Barton had the chance to visit Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Yokohama. He even climbed Mount Suribachi; a 500-foot-high mountain on Iwo Jima. Barton learned as much Japanese as he could and was frequently invited to eat meals with the local Japanese families.
Barton shared a Quonset Hut with another marine, who happened to be about 6’7. He remembers all of the Japanese children playfully circling his roommate, in awe of the man’s height.
Not too long after his tour ended, Barton’s active duty time also came to a close. He chose to resign and leave the Marine Corps in order to further his education and begin another career.
He became a school teacher, teaching science and math while obtaining a masters degree in school administration. Later he worked as assistant superintendent, then superintendent in Beaufort. He received a doctorate in education administration from the University of South Carolina.
After retiring as superintendent, Barton went to work for the Department of Education as a tester for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. After about 16 years of that work, he retired again.
Anne, who was also a teacher, said her husband made a lasting impression on many of the young people he taught.
“Even though he was a wonderful marine, I think he made a bigger difference in education because he had a good rapport with his students and his faculty,” Anne said.
While Barton enjoyed his career in education, he said sometimes he still thinks about what it would have been like to continue his service in the Marine Corps.
“I made a lot of friends, that’s the one good thing about the marines- you make friends and you keep them,” Barton said.
The Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, meaning “always faithful,” rings true for Barton.
“We are all close and we have no qualms about backing up our fellow marines.”
To learn more about participating in the Marine Corps League, Low Country Detachment 803, call 843-816-2867.