Marine Corps veterans spends his days as a proud grandfather. Photo courtesy Ed Krostal.
PN Online celebrates the Marine Corps 240 years of service and the men and women who served
The Marine Corps is known as the elite fighting force of the United States, but many Marines go their entire enlistment without having ever set foot on foreign soil or fired their weapons in conflict.
Marine veteran Ed Krostal is one such Marine having missed World War II by 10 years; the Korean War by two and the Vietnam conflict was just getting started by time his enlistment ended in 1959.
That bit of luck didn’t change his desire to serve his country, train to fight and earn the title of Marine. In our continued celebration of the U.S. Marine Corps 240th birthday, PN Online visits with some of The Few.
PN Online: When did you first realized you were going to enlist in the military and why the Marine Corps?
Krostal: In my last year of high school I decided to be a Marine and enlisted three days after graduation. At eighteen years old, I believe my ego motivated me to join the Marines, which I saw as an elite military branch.
PN Online: Was it your intention to make the military a career or did you have other plans?
Krostal: I was young, just beginning my adult life, and I did not plan ahead. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life, but a first step was joining the Marines.
PN Online: Where did you attend Marine Corps boot camp?
Krostal: I went through boot camp in 1955 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif.. We had three months of discipline training and then transferred to Camp Pendleton for three months of combat training. We were not allowed to leave base or have visitors during this time. There was no type of relationships with the drill instructors, like today. The DI was the instructors and disciplinarians. I do not believe my boot camp experience was noticeably affected by the Vietnam era. In 1958, we became aware that Marines went from amphibious landing craft to helicopters. In early 1959 the change in rifles from the M1 to M16 began. Escalated U.S. involvement occurred in 1961-62, so my boot camp was over when the Vietnam Era had any major influence that trickled down to boot camp experience.
In 1955, we trained hard in boot camp, and on free times “played hard”. Many of us joked around, pranked one another, as well as had contentious relationships, unavoidable with such a variety of personalities. There were racial tensions, as we came from all areas of the U.S., representing diverse experiences, histories, attitudes and values.
Marine Corps veterans spends his days as a proud grandfather. Photo courtesy Ed Krostal.
PN Online: Talk about your military occupation.
Krostal: After boot camp, I attended communication school, serving as an infantry radioman for a year. Over the next three years, I served with 5th Marines Communications Company and drove a UHF radio jeep, communicating with high performance aircraft to determine ground targets. I studied karate, enjoyed lifting weights and learned to mountain climb. I also found time to get scuba dive certified.
PN Online: Where did you serve?
Krostal: My entire four years were served in California. I was very blessed not to have been sent into combat during my hitch. The Marines wanted me to ship over and promote me to Staff Sargent; I had a good record and was ready to go, but I ultimately separated from the Marines in 1959.
PN Online: Talk about how the military helped shape the person you are now.
Krostal: In the Marine Corps. I learned respect, self-discipline and became aware of the diverse perspectives and values held by Americans. I learned about loyalty, duty, hard work, perseverance and self-confidence.
PN Online: Regarding your injury. Briefly share the details of how you were injured.
Krostal: Receiving an honorable discharge after 4 years of service, I was returning to my home state of Illinois. I was traveling at night through the desert in New Mexico and in those days the speed limit was 75 mph. An individual had abandoned his vehicle on the highway, rather than push it to the shoulder. There were no lights [on the vehicle] to alert me and by time I realized this, it was too late to avoid hitting the car. I swerved, one of my tires blew out, and my car rolled over. When I landed, my skull hit the ground with full impact, crushing the nerves in my spinal column. At 22, fifty-seven years ago, I became a person with a C-4/5/6 spinal-cord injury.
PN Online: What was/is your profession after your service in the military?
Krostal: I went back to school and graduated with a degree in accounting and business management. For seven years I worked for a corporation, then I was self-employed.
Some of the most meaningful moments of my life occurred as a volunteer (training and serving) with social service agencies over a period of 30 years. Later, I became involved with the lives of my children and now, grandchildren. Over the last 14 years, I drove them to and from school and their activities, attended school functions, sports events, dance, swimming and horseback riding classes to give my support. For the last 4 years, my home-maker/companion and I have cared for our youngest grandchild, five days a week, since she was 7 weeks old. This keeps me in touch with the beauty of a child’s view of life and nature.
PN Online: What do you miss most about the Marines?
Krostal: I miss the camaraderie among the men. We truly made wonderful memories, while still training hard and fulfilling our responsibilities. I was able to develop personal abilities and interests including karate, mountain climbing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. I miss the relationships I developed with fellow Marines and their families.
PN Online: How do you feel when you see other Marines (prior service and/or active duty) in public?
Krostal: When I had seen Marines in uniform, immediately I feel like part of a family. Recently, I have started wearing a cap with USMC on it. It is a wonderful feeling to have people stop and say, “Thank you for your service.” Also, it is such a great experience to be at a public place as church, or a local business, and be included when tribute is given to those who have served or are serving in the military.
PN Online: For many of our readers, they do not understand the Marine bond. How would you best explain it?
Krostal: The Marine bond is a unity that grew during my years in the Corps. The common experience, training, slogan (Semper Fi), emblem, anthem and uniform are all tangible expressions of our Marine bond. The bond is part of an identity both individual and as a Corps.
PN Online: Do you feel your military service helped you better deal with the results of SCI?
Krostal: There is no doubt in my mind that my Marine Corps training and experience gave me the strength, courage, discipline and basic “grit” or fight to face the daily challenges accompanying a spinal-cord injury.
PN Online: For young people interested in enlisting in the military, what would you tell them?
Krostal: If you want to grow, expand your perspective, experience exposure to the diversity of our country, develop self-esteem and self-respect, while valuing the common well being of your group; the military can provide you with a most valuable opportunity.
The military life gives you some added time after high school to learn what you are interested in, while you don’t have to worry about room and board. Also, the military gives you valuable job training and helps to pay for college.
PN Online: Your injury occurred long before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. What changes have you seen over the years?
Krostal: Homes and businesses are more accessible today. There was no consideration for accessibility in 1959. When I reported to work, I had to get into the building through the loading dock, and then go up to my office from the basement. There was no disabled parking at the time so I had to park blocks away from the office. Eventually, I started my own business to avoid the discrimination of the time.
PN Online: How did you learn about PVA and how have they have helped you.
Krostal: When I was first hospitalized after my accident, representatives from the PVA came to tell me of their goal to be supportive of me.
PN Online: What PVA services or programs do you take advantage of and what would you recommend to new members?
Krostal: I’m a member of the Wisconsin chapter and believe that it’s very important to become a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. PVA representatives are our voice in Washington, related to VA benefits. The knowledge and experiences of older members can help new members make the transition required to live with a physical challenge, smoother, easier and more successful. Additionally, knowing others have gone through and surmounted challenges, difficulties, change and obstacles reminds each of us we are not alone. It is important for us to choose not to become isolated.
PN Online: What advice would you pass along to a newly injured person to help them on their journey?
Krostal: I would tell other SCIs that anyone can fall into anger, resentment, discouragement, bitterness and all the other negative attitudes and emotions known to humans. However, I am living proof that you don’t have to stay there. The distinct human uniqueness is the ability to choose what we think, say, and do. Over time, each individual decision about handling a challenge adds up to the overall attitude, values, and approach that you and I have to and about life. What you choose to think repeatedly in your mind, how you choose to approach challenges, how you choose to view yourself – as a victim or a person who thrives – these choices create the person you are and will become. Take responsibility for living a good, positive life that brings you fulfillment and makes the world a better place. Find a purpose for your life. Volunteer in any capacity to enrich our world, give meaning to life and experience great opportunities to meet wonderful caring people.
My journey would not be complete without mentioning that, for me, faith in God’s love and presence in my life each minute gives meaning and empowers me to get up daily and try again, with all the joy available to me. I never want to bring more anger, pain, misery, or negativity into this world. I will continue being happy, as daily; I know I bring joy, kindness, caring, and love to my friends, children, grandchildren and all the many people on my path.