Visiting the USMC Museum in San Diego: I Needed A Piece For My Uncle’s Shadowbox and I Was Determined to Get It.

USMC logo 1

The United States Marine Corps 1968-1970


Marines PI 1964

Boot Camp 

Marines grad 964 PI


Click on above image to enlarge it.


_3rd_Marine_DivisionService with 3/26 in Vietnam (DMZ)

USMCPlatoon 1

Combat Platoon 

My uncle served with the 3/26 Marines in Vietnam. When he came back from the war, he would tell me stories about what he had experienced in the jungles near the DMZ. I was fascinated with hearing these stories so much so that I took the bus to the various public libraries in the Denver area to learn more about what had gone on “over there.” Remember, the war wasn’t exactly popular at that time and I struggled to learn all I could about it. At the time, Vietnam vets weren’t exactly speaking freely about their service; they would be stigmatized by unsympathetic civilians who viewed the war with disdain. 

It took awhile before I learned about all my uncle did in Vietnam, and to learn what his decorations meant. He had served in the DMZ region fighting NVA regulars as opposed to fighting further south, where the battles mainly involved combat against the Viet Cong (VC). As it turns out, he had been wounded in ground combat when his unit suffered casualties as a result of a VC ambush. He had been evacuated to Japan to recuperate where he spent the rest of his enlistment at Camp Butler

Purple Heartmarine medals 2

Service Decorations

Marine medals

After the mid-1980s, it finally became socially acceptable for Vietnam veterans to proudly admit that they had served in the Vietnam War. Finally, the general public could learn about what really happened “over there” when movies like Platoon were released. Thus, by the early 1990’s I decided to make a shadow box to commemorate my uncle’s service in Vietnam. 

Platoon tag

As I was compiling my incle’s service items, I realized that I was lacking some very important pieces. It turns out that one of my uncle’s sergeants had given him a Drill Sergeant’s campaign cover. However, after it had been handed down between several family members, it was missing the leather strap that secured it to the wear’s head. I needed one of those DI campaign cover straps and was determined to get one. The challenge was on! 

The DI cover with the missing strap


A complete DI cover set


A Visit to USMC San Diego



During grad school, I was in San Diego attending the Pacific Sociological Association conference. That’s when it came to me; I was near the Marine base. I thought to myself, “Perhaps I could get that missing strap I needed.” When the other conference attendees visited Sea World, I would took a short trip to the Marine base to see what I could do about obtaining the strap. 



As I devoured the base, I drove near the area where the recruits barracks were located. I pretended that I was “lost” so that I could get close to a drill sergeant and “scope out” his uniform up close and personal.


I managed to drive almost all the way to the Quonset huts where the recruits were getting smoked. The DI who approached the truck to tell me to leave the area could barely speak. His voice was horse from yelling at the recruits. It didn’t really matter though, I wasn’t really listening to him. I was intently making note of the items on his uniform.

Next I drove to the USMC SD Command Museum. Perhaps I could get some ideas on what I needed to do from viewing the displays.



The USMC Command Museum was awesome! It took me the better part of three hours to completely view the stunning displays and dioramas. Those displays only made me more determined to get that leather strap.

While walking around the museum, I noticed that the museum curator and NCOIC was a Gunnery Sergeant named “Archuleta.” I spotted the name on the door to his office. And believe it or not, I spotted GYSGT Archuleta entering the museum on his return from a lunch break. As he passed near me, I made eye contact as he greeted me. That was opportunity knocking and I intended to answer.


I greeted Sergeant Archuleta then immediately launched in to a conversation about HIM. I noticed an impressive display of “fruit salad” on his chest. Those ribbons told me that he had served in Desert Storm. So, I asked him where he earned his Combat Action Ribbon.

combat action ribbon

To make a long story short, Sergeant Archuleta invited me to his office and we chatted for some time. He told me all about his experience in the first Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm). After that,  heout a memorbook he pulled out a memory book about his experiences in the Gulf. We paged through that gem for at least forty-five minutes.

Eventually GYSGT Archuleta asked me what I was doing at the base. I told him I was researching Marine uniforms for my PhD dissertation. My real motive was to acquire one of those leather DI campaign cover straps.

di strap

After talking for what must have been about anther hour, GYSGT Archuleta found a way for me to gain entrance to the base clothing store; wink, wink. Thanks to GYSGT Archuleta, I left USMC San Diego with a DI campaign cover leather strap.





 pete padilla real world sociology

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