Island veteran still grateful for opportunity to serve
At the age of 17, just six months before graduating from high school, Bruce Livingston joined the Marines. It was 1944, WWII was winding down and Livingston had decided to give four years of his life to the military and to his country.
But, he wasn’t going to do it halfway.
Livingston’s four-year stint stretched to 30 years of active duty.
A snapshot of his military career includes scouting out Japanese soldiers and searching for American POWs in Chi-Chi Jima. He also provided security for the coal mines and railroads in Peking, China, cleaned up an ammonia nitrate explosion at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Earl, N.J. and taught marksmanship at Parris Island, S.C. Livingston also studyed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. and at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. He served as an advisor to the South Korean military during the Korean War commanded Marines aboard a cruiser in the Mediterranean and studied at the Naval War College in Newport. He served as executive officer of the command center for the third Marine Amphibian Force during the Vietnam War, served as contingency plans offi- cer for the Allied Forces Northern Europe in Oslo, Norway, served as deputy director of training and education at Marine headquarters in Washington, D.C. and rose from private to colonel.
Livingston, a 30-year Jamestown resident, brushes the incident aside, acknowledging the injury, but unwilling to have his military career defined by it. In his eyes, and in his heart, his military career was a gift and an honor – an opportunity too good to pass up.
“It’s been everything to my life,” he said. “I have no idea where I would have been without WWII and going into the war.”
Livingston realizes that some may find it hard to relate to his sentiment, but to him, it’s crystal clear.
“I’ve had experiences all over the world. The people you associated with were qualified and competent and cared about their work. And the Marine Corps permitted me to get an education,” he said. “The Marine Corps set the whole pace of my life. I’ve been involved in everything. It hasn’t been boring at all.”
While he’s been to countless countries, weaved through numerous cultures and put his own life at risk, it seems that of all his experiences, Livingston is most amazed by the educational access his military career afforded him.
He never graduated from high school, but after returning from WWII and completing several short-term military assignments, he was transferred into the reserves. Through the military, he was sent to Severn School, a prep school in Severna Park, Md., “to give me some level of education,” and to allow him to qualify for more advanced learning.
Without the Marines, he said, his chances of going to college were almost nonexistent.
“Oh, no...too difficult,” he said.
Livingston, who was born in Richmond, Va., grew up during the Depression and moved around a lot as his father went where the jobs were. College “just wasn’t common. Not in those days,” he said.
During his military career, Livingston studied at two Naval academies, briefly studied engineering at Johns Hopkins University before being called into service for the Korean War and earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s of science degree in international relations from George Washington University.
“The G.I. Bill made all the difference in the world. It’s hard to believe,” said Livingston, who is married to Anne Maxwell Livingston and is the father of three daughters and a son. “I remember you could walk into the bookstore, sign your [G.I.] paper and it was yours.”
As a veteran, he also received $75 a month for living expenses.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” he said.
The times and military conflicts may have changed since Livingston retired from the Marines at age 47 in 1974, but the reasons to join the military have not, he said. For example, the G.I. Bill is still a benefit, he added.
The government “is beefing it up now,” he said. In fact, a draft or required national service could benefit individuals as much as it benefits the country, he said.
“All of us should take a turn,” he said. The military “has all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people.”
Livingston said that the military is a way for young people to escape dangerous neighborhoods and unhealthy lifestyles, and is also a way to enhance one’s future through education. After his military career, Livingston went into the boat business in Jamestown as co-owner of the former Wharton Boat Yard, and then turned to consulting after selling his share of the business to his partner.
“Think of some of the neighborhoods kids live in. With national service, you’d get kids from all kinds of neighborhoods talking, having a beer, connecting,” he said. “They wouldn’t make a career out of it. They’d go back home and be eligible for an education. A whole different world would open up for some of these kids.”
Just like it did for Bruce Livingston.