WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Marine said Camp Pendleton was a pretty big place for a small-town Kansas boy.
Jim Dennis is a native of Claflin and was a very talented athlete but said even though he got a scholarship to college, his parents couldn’t afford to send him.
He said it all worked out when he ended up in the Marines.
“We are the first in and the last out,” Marine Jim Dennis said.
Dennis is a collector. When you step into his home you will find lots of collections, from lots of hardware won in his fast car, to Coca Cola coins given to the troops after WWII, to pins from his five decades of service to the Lions Club, even photos of real heroes, like this one of his father from WWI.
“He ran off and enlisted when he was 17,” Dennis said.
Dennis’ father served in the Army, and both his older brothers served.
One survived the invasion of Normandy, the other gave 30 years to service.
“I didn’t pick the Corps, the Marines picked me, and I am so proud that they did,” Dennis said.
He was one of eight chosen out of 50 recruits.
“I think mine was either the second or third name, that he called off of the list, that was going to the Marines,” Dennis said.
He said he made some dear friends in the Marines, and he laughed when he talked about how they would trade things.
“I’d get my cigarettes, and I would trade them to some of the troops. They would give me a beer or something,” Dennis said.
His platoon did something few others had done before, they had a perfect competition drill so they figured their sergeant would give them a little more freedom.
“He made us shine our shoes and polish our belt buckles, he said you are an Honor Platoon, and you are going to look like one,” Dennis said.
He also recalled how hot it was while they were training at Twentynine Palms.
“You’d go out early mornings, and you would shoot at drones, pulled by planes and stuff,” Dennis said.
He said they had to stop by about 10 each morning since it was too hot to function.
“Twentynine Palms made you kind of think of hell on earth,” Dennis said.
He still has the little scorebook of his record in boot camp and said he thinks he was picked to train others because he was a marksman.
“A bayonet is a weapon that never misfires, and the water don’t bother it,” Dennis said.
Nearly 70 years after he was preparing troops for the Korean War, he can still show you how to use the bayonet.
“I hadn’t had it out for so many years,” Dennis said.
He said his sergeant was an amazing teacher.
He said some recruits picked up the key moves quickly but that wasn’t always the case.
“Some of them got kicked out of bayonet training,” Dennis said.
He said all those who came through their camp benefitted, especially those who were headed to combat.
“I could contribute to the success of something of the troops that was going, and I feel like I contributed some to the success we saw in Korea,” Dennis said.
He says he has always been so proud the Marines drafted him.
“Anytime, I showed someone my old car that just happened to be there,” Dennis said.
He said of all the things he has on display in his home.
“There’s one thing you can’t see, (points to his heart) it’s still in here,” Dennis said.
Dennis’ heart for service continued to be strong far after his time as a Marine.
He went on to work for the Haskell County Sheriff’s Office and was also the mayor of Satanta and chief of police at the same time.
His high school sweetheart Beth was there for it all.
The two were married 66 years and traveled a lot of miles in perhaps their favorite collectible of all time.
“We never put that thing on a trailer,” Dennis said. “We had way too much fun driving it!”
Dennis laughed when he talked about the boot camp hair cut.
He said the barber would ask them how they wanted their hair cut, but no matter what they said, they left the barber bald.