Mother, Daughter Go ‘Semper Fi'

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We often hear of a son following a father into military service.

This story is about a mother and a daughter who chose to join the Marine Corps.

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Karis Thompson-Morris (white hat) and her mother Karis Brown at a USMC Birthday Celebration in 2005 or 2006 a year or so ago.

They are Karis Brown and her daughter Karis Thompson-Morris.

Twenty-seven years apart, they were sent to boot camp at the Marine Base at Parris Island, South Carolina.

"In 1973 I was in the same barracks my mother had been in the 1940s. That tells you how old the building was by the time I got there," Thompson-Morris said.

Thompson-Morris' father had been a GI in World War II.

"He was G.I.," she said, pointing to his name on his honorable discharge paperwork -- Cpl. Gerald Ivan Thompson.

"He was at Tarawa, Japan with a tank division," she said.

The Second Marine Division fought against Imperial Japan on the islands of the Tarawa Atoll Nov. 1943.

Her brother, Jim, joined the Marines, served in Vietnam and later was a Presidential guard duty for Richard Nixon.

"I decided to go into the Marines because of my Mom," Thompson-Morris said.

In the mid-1970s, opportunities for women in the Marine Corps were limited. At that time, women were not trained to use rifles or pistols, yet during WWII, women Marines did train with weapons.

Thompson-Morris served her country from 1973 to 1976.

"My last year in, they were starting to open more fields to women, such as military police, mechanics and air traffic controllers," Thompson-Morris said.

Only during her first week of boot camp did Thompson-Morris wonder what she had gotten into, then she made friends with the other women in her barracks. They learned to work together, "almost right off the bat."

Women trained in the field, but not to the extreme extent that men did.

"We marched, we ran, but there were no ropes, no climbing," she said.

Thompson-Morris did recall gas chamber training, where she learned to breathe nontoxic tear gas with and without a mask.

After passing muster at Parris Island, she was assigned to the Corps' Air Station at El Toro to process separation papers for Marines leaving the service.

There were several thousand men and perhaps 200 women stationed at El Toro, she estimated. It was a challenge to work in an environment with so many men.

"Some men never agreed with women in the military. They had to be careful not to be outright insulting, but you could hear it in their voice," she said.

‘If you want to leave, you'll obey her,' a sergeant had to say, once in a while, to back up Thompson-Morris's orders to men, as she checked their billets and processed their paperwork.

The toughest discharge she processed was for a Marine from Bulgaria. He had a little over three-and-a-half years in the service and at that time, the requirement for citizenship was four years of service.

"It broke my heart. I remember, he had an outstanding record. He was the eldest son and he had to go home when his dad died suddenly. He had to become the breadwinner for his family on the farm," Thompson-Morris said.

She hopes there was a senator or congressman who pulled strings to get him and his family U.S. citizenship.

The only regret Thompson-Morris has is that she did not stay in the Marines after her enlistment term ended.

"That 20 years until retirement would have gone by fast," she said.

Her mother agrees.

Karis Brown lived with her mother and five sisters in Toledo, Oh. near the Maumee River and the Naval Base when WWII began.

"I can remember listening to the radio. It was in the morning. President Roosevelt was talking. I remember looking out the window and the sailors just about stopped in their tracks, turned around and ran for the base," Brown said.

One of the family's neighbors was a WWI Marine who gave her his pin from Camp Lejeune.

Too young for the WACS and the WAVES, Brown tried to join the Marines at age 16.

"I kept getting turned down. I couldn't lie about my age," she said.

When she turned 18, she filled out paperwork to join the Marines, then mustered up the courage to ask her mother to sign.

Brown served America in a secretarial capacity for a single year in 1945. Marine women's divisions were disbanded in 1946.

"So many women wanted to stay or go back in that in 1948, they opened it back up," Brown said, but she had a family of her own to take care of by then.

Brown is still in contact with Calista, her "bunkie" from Parris Island and Viginia, a Marine she worked with later.

Calista and Brown attended the 50th Anniversary Party for the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1998.

Karis and Karis agreed that young people and their parents should investigate the educational opportunities each of the five branches of the service has to offer.

"Don't just talk to the recruiters. Go to the VFW, the American Legion, talk to veterans, listen to their stories," Thompson-Morris advised.

"It takes care of those troubled years," Brown said.

"Serving in the military is more than war. It is an education that will stay with you for the rest of your life and the discipline you learns will carry you through life and every job you'll ever have," Thompson-Morris said.

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