Susan Smith Parrish served in the US Marine Corps on Active Duty and reached the rank of Corporal (E-4). With a long military history in her family she followed her father’s example into the military. He served in the Navy and her three older brothers were served for 20 plus years. At the time of her service the military required her to leave the service when she became pregnant with her first child. After leaving the military she worked for 30 years at the Veterans Administration and is now retired.
Why did you decided to join the military?
My Dad was a Navy Chief and my three older brothers were all “lifers” so I thought it was the only thing to do.
What was your career field/job?
I was an Aviation Storekeeper stationed at Fleet Marine Force Atlantic in Norfolk, VA. Small base, Camp Elmore. It was my job to prepare requisitions for equipment, one bolt at a time. LOL
What type of equipment?
Since I was an Aviation Storekeeper my job was to prepare requisitions for anything related to Aviation. This included all types of aircraft, ammunition or any equipment needed by one of our Marine Air Groups. The running joke was that we started with nuts and bolts and ended with an airplane or helicopter. Most of the airplanes back in the good ol’ days were propeller driven and not as sleek as the jets of today.
Did you face any struggles while serving in the military?
No. I was fortunate to serve in small group. The male Marines were very accepting of the females and treated us with a great deal of respect.
How did being in the military affect you as a person?
Did it change you? Did you learn anything about yourself? Since I was raised in a military environment I did not relate to being a civilian. I did not know there were female nurses until I was discharged. I had been seen by corpsmen most of my life. I don’t think the military changed me much. I learned I could be an independent female responsible for her own future.
What would you tell girls who are considering joining the military?
I would tell them it is one of the best ways to become a woman who is in charge of her own destiny. My great-granddaughter is currently in AFJROTC and I have encouraged her to follow this course for the future.
What is your favorite memory from your military experience?
There are many. I think the most outstanding memory was receiving the Eagle, Globe and Anchor (EGA) and knowing I was one of the few. I was the only Marine in our family and I never let my brothers forget it.
What does EGA stand for?
EGA is Eagle, Globe and Anchor, the Marine Corps emblem. When I finished Boot Camp, standing in formation with my sister “Boots” I was given the emblem and during that one second became a Marine. I do not know how to adequately describe that feeling. I really think you have to be one to know one. I think it is something instilled in us during Boot Camp. We are truly the few.
Why did you choose the Marines after having a long line of military service in the Navy?
Since my formative years were spent on Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, I knew very little of civilian life. I thought it was natural to be in the military. So, when I visited the recruiting office with my Dad the discussion was “what branch”. After taking the exams the recruiter, who knew my family history, suggested the Marine Corps. He said my test scores qualified me and told Dad he would have a child in four different branches. He thought my oldest brother was still Army. Our hometown newspaper ran an article headlined as “Chief Smith gives last child to Uncle
If you are married, did your spouse serve while you were in/is he serving now?
I married a fellow Marine who was soon to be discharged. When we became pregnant I had no choice to remain in the Corps as that was not allowed at the time. The day my discharge came through, the CO told me my orders to Hawaii arrived also. My husband said he would have reupped if I could have stayed in the Corps as his MOS would have probably warranted a billet in Hawaii also. But, we both returned to his hometown, raised three children and remained married until his death 42 years later.
When you served in the Marines you were forced to leave when you had children?
Females were not allowed to remain in the Marines if they were pregnant. I do not know the date this was changed. I cannot answer for my husband but I certainly would have stayed if I had been allowed to.
How did you meet your late husband?
My future husband was also stationed on the small base, Camp Elmore, Virginia. There was a small club, The Slop Chute, where we all visited almost every night. Beer was cheap, the burgers were good and it was easier to go there than to make the long trek to main side Norfolk or to go downtown where the civilians hated the military. He was a great dancer and one of the few who could still be on his feet after several beers. He was in Motor Transport and I was in Service Command so the only time we saw each other was at the “Chute”. So, we spent most of our evenings together.
Did you struggle with the transition to civilian life after leaving the military?
When we arrived at his hometown after discharge, he returned to his former job and I became a Mom. We bought a house and I worked as a grocery cashier and doctors’ receptionist until I took the Civil Service Exam which ultimately lead to my job at the VA. I do not think I had a struggle with returning to civilian life. Actually, I do not think I was ever really a civilian. Since he was also a Marine, our life still seemed as regimented. And, at that time, the VA seemed to be more like military employment.
What was your experience working in the VA after serving in the military?
I started with the VA as a Clerk Typist, GS-3. This was a great job at that time with excellent pay and benefits as compared to the private sector. I was fortunate to advance in this career. I became a Veterans Claims Examiner and then a Rating Specialist, GS-12. From there I was promoted to Rating Board Section Chief, GS-13 and retired from that position because my husband has already retired from his job and wanted me to join him at our fish camp.
Have your kids followed the military tradition your family has?
My son had considered joining the Corps but his best friend was a Marine brat and told my son he would be making a big mistake. When he told me that I realized he was not really a candidate for the Marines. My oldest daughter occasionally spoke of going into the Air Force because they offered a career field in which she was interested. Since she did not press the issue I felt she was not really serious about it and that she was not a good candidate either. My younger daughter married soon after High School so she had no interest in leaving her husband for any reason. However, she did interest and aptitude for work at the VA. So, she started as a Clerk Typist, GS-4 in the Finance Division. When I retired she was able to transfer to the Division from which I left. She worked her way up to Rating Specialist and is looking forward to her retirement in 2 years.
The only grandchildren of “The Chief” who joined the military were the son and daughter of my youngest brother, also a Navy Chief. Son joined the Marines, Daughter joined the Navy.