What happens when a unit of Marines throws a wild party in an L.A. County barrio?
After returning from the Vietnam War in December 1966, I went home on leave for 30 days to my parents’ house in Southern California in the San Gabriel Valley south of Los Angeles, and then reported to my next duty station, the 4th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. If you know anything about the 4th Marine Division, you might be thinking that couldn’t be right, because the 4th Marine Division was a reserve unit in the 1960’s.
If that’s what you thought, you’d be right, because the 4th Marine Division has been a reserve division since February 1966 to the present, but in 1966, the headquarters battalion was stationed at Camp Pendleton, not New Orleans, Louisiana where it is located today, and it was staffed by active duty Marines who were all Vietnam combat vets. Our mission was to train and support the reserves and to be ready if the division was activated.
In World War II, the 4th Marine Division saw action in Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. It served again in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and that probably explains why the division headquarters battalion moved to New Orleans to be closer to the east coast and the wars in the Middle East.
That’s enough history.
Back in 1967, a few months after returning from combat in Vietnam, I asked my brother if my unit could borrow his house in San Dimas near Los Angeles for a party, and he said yes. His wife volunteered to invite all of her single girlfriends and any single girls they knew.
A few weeks later on a Saturday morning, we drove in a caravan of cars more than 90 miles to San Dimas where we filled the entire block on both sides of the street with our parked cars.
We also brought trays of food from our unit’s mess hall because all of the enlisted men were invited, all ranks, but no officers. The previous weekend, I’d driven to Mexico with money collected from everyone in the unit to buy enough booze to fill the trunk of my car. While crossing the border on our way back, the booze was confiscated and my car was impounded. It was 2 a.m., and I made one phone call to the duty sergeant, who woke everyone up and collected enough money to get my car out of impound and replace the booze we’d lost but from a liquor store in the U.S.
My brother worked the graveyard shift so he wasn’t there for most of the party, and to make room for all the Marines and women my sister-in-law had invited, we moved all of the furniture out of the house to the garage and changed all of the light bulbs in the house and on the front porch to red ones.
The party launched about 9 p.m. and roared through the night with loud music, dancing, food, drinking and other activates that will go unmentioned here. Use your imagination. What happens when you mix dozens of Marines, booze and broads, who are all in a party mood?
About one a.m. I was sitting on the curb with two other Marines sharing a fifth of Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey, and we weren’t feeling any pain when a car rolled to a stop in front of us. There were several other cars, bumper to bumper, behind it. All of the cars were lowriders with hydraulics that lowered the chassis to the ground, and they had expensive paint jobs. Each car was crowded with tattoo laden gang bangers looking tough with their dark glasses on.
The window was down and the passenger in the front seat, who was wearing a white T-shirt with a red bandana tied around his forehead, said, “We come to party.”
I smiled. “This is a private party, and you and your friends weren’t invited, and I think you should stop and think about who’s in that house. Look at the rear bumpers of all the cars parked on both sides of this street before you do anything.”
The fancy lowrider in front of me had a spot light on the driver’s side in front of the rearview mirror. The spot came on and the beam sliced through the dark and settled on the bumper decal of the nearest parked car that revealed it was a parking permit for Camp Pendleton and belonged to a Marine. The car pulled up and the spotlight moved to the next car’s rear bumper and then the next one and the next.
A few other Marines had come out of the house. One had a cast on his right arm and he held an empty vodka bottle in his left hand. It was obvious he was tanked when his glazed, glassy eyes glanced left and then right as he counted the cars filled with obvious gangbangers. He smiled and broke the end of the empty bottle against a tree leaving a jagged glass weapon in his hand.
The lead car drove away and the rest of the gang followed. They never returned.
The loud music continued along with the dancing and some hot sweaty romance when some of the girls coupled up with a few of the Marines.
At 2 a.m. I was still sitting on the curb with a few other Marines nursing another bottle of Jack when a sheriffs black-and-white squad car turned the same corner with its spot light on inspecting the rear bumpers on all the parked cars. It moved slowly down the street, did a U-turn at the stop sign and came back inspecting all the rear bumpers on the other side. We watched the squad car stop at the opposite stop sign and idle. We heard one of the two officers on his mike calling their dispatcher, but we didn’t hear what he was saying.
With the call finished, the squad car made another U-turn and came to a stop in front of me. The two officers were not wearing dark glasses and the uniformed sheriff in the passenger seat asked, “Our shift ends at three and the entire squad wants to join your party. Is that okay?”
I shrugged. “It’s okay with me.” I looked at the Marine on my right, and then on my left. Without saying a word, they both nodded.
“We’d appreciate it if you turned the music down about halfway,” the officer said. “We had several complaints called in.”
By 3:30, more than a dozen off duty sheriffs in their civilian clothes joined the party that didn’t end until dawn. By noon, the house had been cleaned, the furniture returned and we were on our way back to base.
Two marriages resulted from that party and one of the girls was pregnant when she said yes to her Marine boyfriend that she’d met there. My brother came home from work about the time the sheriffs arrived, and a few minutes later he threw one of the Marines through a closed window, breaking the glass, when he discovered him in the back bedroom breaking the rules we’d agreed to before he’d said yes to the party.
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.
His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
This is a love story that might cost the lovers everything—even their lives.
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