Editor's note: This is the first installment of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
By JOE GORMAN
Vietnam veteran Joe Applegate discusses what the first few days of basic training were like.
CORTLAND - Joe Applegate was not feeling very friendly toward his best friend during boot camp.
It was the 1960s and the Marine recruit was going through the intense basic training course Marines undergo at Parris Island, S.C., and wondering how he let his friend talk him into joining under the ''buddy system.''
Applegate said he was a student at Champion High School but was not the best behaved, so his principal suggested he consider the joining the military.
Tribune Chronicle / Joe Gorman
Joe Applegate of Cortland discusses his service in Vietnam as a member of the 3rd Marine Division. The Champion native served six years in the Marines and additional time in the Air National Guard.
''I thought it'd be nice to be in the same outfit as my buddy,'' Applegate said recently at his Cortland home.
But after undergoing the rigors of basic training, Applegate says he was having second thoughts about a lot of things, including his choice of friends.
''We never spoke to each other for eight weeks,'' Applegate said. ''I was really mad at him for talking me into joining the Marine Corps.''
HOMETOWN: Cortland, originally from Champion
BRANCH OF SERVICE: U.S. Marines Corps
AWARDS: Purple Heart
OCCUPATION: Retired from Delphi Packard Electric
FAMILY: Wife, Susie; seven children
Applegate started out as an infantryman but when he arrived at Camp Pendleton in California for more advanced training, he was trained to be part of an 81-mm mortar crew before being shipped out to Vietnam.
As a member of a mortar crew, Applegate was up close to the infantry units they were to support, and while there were plenty of targets, Applegate said he also knew he was a target as well.
''We were right out there with the infantry,'' he said. ''Anything around us was fair game. There was always something to shoot at.''
Applegate said he knew coming out of boot camp he would serve in Vietnam. He said when he was going through basic training the course was shortened from 12 weeks to eight weeks in order for the Marines to meet the demand for personnel in Vietnam.
He said his father, Frank Applegate, was in the 1st Marine Division in World War II and saw action in the island campaign on Guadalcanal.
''He said I would come back because he came back,'' Applegate said of his father. ''He said 'Keep your head down and your spirits up.'''
Applegate said it took him two and a half weeks to get to Vietnam in late 1966 as he and his company traveled by ship.
He said he spent the majority of his tour in the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ as it was known in GI lingo. And most of that time was spent in ''the boonies,'' slang for the jungle.
''We were always out in the field,'' Applegate said.
Of course, being out in the field meant being in constant danger from the enemy all around them.
''It becomes a way of life for you,'' Applegate said. ''Your mindset is to survive in the terrain that's around you. You do your best to stay on your toes.''
Applegate was wounded about three fourths of the way through his tour as he and a friend, Gary West, were building a bunker for one of their mortars. The two were outside their perimeter when a sniper in a treeline about 1,000 yards away shot one round that hit both men.
Applegate said the round went through West's arm, giving him a wound that qualified him for a 100 percent disability and then into his leg, which broke a bone. It happened so suddenly he was in shock.
''I couldn't figure out what happened,'' Applegate said. ''I just heard a crack.''
He did, however, give a grudging compliment to the sniper: ''That was a good shot.''
Applegate and West were flown out on a helicopter to be treated for their wounds, with Applegate coming back to the United States, where he was treated at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Chicago.
He served time as an MP in the U.S. Navy brig and was stationed at Cherry Point, N.C., just before his enlistment was up. He thought about reenlisting and went to see a sergeant in charge of the reenlisting process and asked what his chances were of going back to Vietnam. When he was told he would probably go back to Vietnam within six months, he decided against it.
''I was pretty lucky the first time,'' Applegate said.
Later, Applegate joined the Air National Guard and was stationed out of Warren, where he served as an MP with 324th Military Police Company. He was also a heavy wheel mechanic and also served in Akron.
Two of his grandchildren are now Marines. Gunnery Sgt. Michelle Mullen has been in the corps since 1998 and just returned from Afghanistan. Her brother, Sgt. Brian Mullen, also served a tour in Afghanistan.
''It makes me feel very good because it keeps the family tradition going,'' Applegate said of his grandchildren.