The Central Virginian

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Once a Marine, always a Marine

Posted on Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Donald MacKenzie

Donald MacKenzie

Deep within the confines of Louisa County, there lives a hero, and although his uniform collects dust these days, he is still very much ready to help.

“I’ve got a T-shirt back in the bedroom that I often wear,” Donald MacKenzie said. “On the front it says, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,’ and on the back it says, ‘Not as mean, not as lean, but still a Marine.’”

More than 40 years have passed since MacKenzie donned a uniform, but he still proudly considers himself to be a Marine.

“That’s the way I feel,” MacKenzie said. “It’s loyalty that you have.”

Originally from Manchester, New Hampshire, MacKenzie joined the Marine Corps in 1949 at the age of 17. Next thing he knew, he was in Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp.

Donald MacKenzie

Donald MacKenzie

“It was a hell-hole,” MacKenzie said. “When I started out in boot camp, we had 72 in our platoon. We graduated 45, the rest of them didn’t make it. One of them committed suicide. Several of them dropped out of our platoon because of injuries.“

Upon graduation, MacKenzie was transferred to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, shortly followed by a tour of duty in the Mediterranean on board a ship.

“We got back to the states and Korea broke,” MacKenzie said. “The unit that relieved us in the Med [Mediterranean], they went down through the Suez Canal to Korea.”

That unit and many other Marines were sent to fight in the Korean War, but MacKenzie was left behind in the states.

“The Lejeune was the home of the second Marine division,” MacKenzie said. “They went to Korea, and because I was temporarily in schools battalion, supposedly learning something, I didn’t go with the division…I was in that division, but I was [among] those that they didn’t take. Somebody had to run the base.”

MacKenzie held down the fort while his fellow Marines fought in the war. Eventually, his opportunity came. First, he transferred to a unit at the Millington Naval Air Station in Memphis.

“While I was there, I reenlisted early because I could then pick another duty station, and I volunteered for them to send me to Korea,” MacKenzie said.

In 1953, he finally joined his fellow Marines in Korea. MacKenzie’s optimism about going to Korea quickly dissipated though.

“I did find out that if you get into combat, you can get hurt,” MacKenzie said. “They picked three pieces of shrapnel out of my left hip. [North Korean] Grenade.”

Injured during a cease fire, MacKenzie was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

To read the entire story, see the Nov. 12 edition of The Central Virginian.