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Student redefines creativity in writing assignment


Posted: February 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.

There were twelve of us in the creative writing class at the Newhall Senior Center and when the instructor gave us our assignment for the next session.

Write what you to have been your greatest challenge. I knew immediately how to proceed.

What follows is my story.

I'm sure it would be hard, very difficult, perhaps impossible for anyone who knows me today to believe that I was, in my youth, a pretty big guy.

Actually, when I was sixteen years of age, I was already five feet ten inches tall and a muscular one hundred and eighty pounds. I had a heavy beard and looked many years older than my actual age.

It was because I looked older that during World War Two, with my parents consent and cooperation, I lied about my age and joined the Marines.

The year was 1942 and to my astonishment, one of the first things that I and all the other recruits were told in boot camp was that they, the Marines, were sending a small number of recruits to England to join the British Commandos.

It was strictly voluntary and only a select few would be chosen. The pay would be the same. The only real advantage was that you would get into the war quickly. Anyone who could not pass the rigorous commando training would be reassigned to another English command.

I volunteered and soon found myself, with four other "Yanks" at Lympstone, in Devon, England. Training began.

The "civilian" was quickly knocked out of us. We learned to wash and shave in ice-cold water, to march great distances at incredible speed, to survive for long periods with meager or no food and water.

Royal Marine training was designed with a singular purpose: to develop self reliant human killing machines.

We learned everything we needed to know about the hand held instrument for the job--the rifle.

The Bren light machine gun, the standard British infantry weapon became well known to us, but the weapon, but the weapon of my choice, the one I would carry through Normandy and Holland was the Thompson sub-machine gun (the "Tommy Gun"). It was American made and especially issued to the Commandos. Although it could fire long bursts of .45 caliber bullets, it was best to fire short bursts and conserve ammunition.

We also learned how to survive without any weapon at all, how to tackle a knife-wielding adversary, how to disarm a weapon-carrying enemy at close quarters, and how to kill with our bare hands--luckily, a skill I never had to use.

Our physical fitness was tested to extremes in the Welsh hills and the Scottish highlands where we trekked mile after mile with full pack. We practiced night attacks by canoe on lonely lochs and "cat crawled" on a rope strung across rushing rivers.

In the end, three "Yanks" passed the training. I was one.

I remember what one war correspondent wrote for his paper because it seemed to define us. He wrote, "When I’m in the company of these men, these commandos, death seems close at hand." How appropriate. Death was our business.

When I think back to all the challenges I've met in my lifetime, there is no question that commando training was a great challenge. However, it was certainly not my greatest challenge.

My greatest challenge was to get my instructor and the eleven other members of my creative writing class at the Newhall Senior Center to believe my fabricated tale.

Now if you feel that you've been taken advantage of - look back and see that, at the outset, I said it was a "Creative Writing"class.


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