Five decades of Marine Corps music come together at Boot Camp Challenge
By Lance Cpl. James Green
| | October 13, 2006
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
The depot opened its doors for the annual Boot Camp Challenge Oct. 7, which drew many people together for a Marine Corps experience.
Paul Durso, a Vietnam War veteran and former Marine Corps bandsman, competed in the depot’s challenge, while three of his friends stood on the sidelines and cheered him on. The four men reunited at the depot to relive their memories of being stationed here.
"We used this event as an excuse to come together," said Durso, who lives in the San Diego area.
Durso competed in the three-mile obstacle run while he was rooted on by former Marine Corps bandsmen Steven R. Schweitzer and Donald Versaw, and former depot drill instructor Bill Miller.
Schweitzer, Versaw and Durso represent more than 50 years of music in the Marine Corps.
From 1939 until 1959, Versaw served in the Marines as a French horn player and bugler. He was a member of Marine Band San Diego in January 1940 before deploying to China in August of that same year.
When World War II broke out, Versaw fought for six months with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines before being captured by the Japanese. He remained a prisoner of war for the next 40 months.
"Had we known more of what ordeals were yet to come, the danger and terror of being prisoners of war, we might have elected more bombs and shells instead," said Versaw, who also wrote about his experiences in his book "The Last China Band."
After the war, Versaw stayed in the Marine Corps until he retired as a master sergeant in 1959.
In 1948, Miller came into the Marine Corps at the age of 15 by altering a baptism certificate, which was a proof-of-age document, so that it stated he was of age to attend boot camp. Throughout his service in the armed forces he was one of the original martial arts
instructors responsible for the manuscript of the hand-to-hand combat training manual, said Durso.
During his time in the Marine Corps, Miller, a Korean War veteran, served a tour as a drill instructor with Recruit Training Regiment’s 1st Battalion, performed duty as a Marine security guard in Bangkok, Siam and Southeast Asia and spent two tours as a recruiter.
During recruiting duty, Miller was stationed in Bayonne, N.J., where he met and started to train the 15-year-old Durso for the New York, New Jersey High School Marine Corps Physical Fitness Championship.
"Paul walked into my judo-gym at Bayonne Naval Base, Bayonne, N.J., and six months later he was the New York, New Jersey High School Marine Corps Physical Fitness Champion," said Miller.
Although his time in the Marines expired at the age of 35, Miller’s passion for martial arts did not. Today at the age of 73, he is an active martial arts Grandmaster and 10th degree black belt and teaches military and civilian martial arts.
Durso, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1962, served initially as an infantryman before transferring to the band and discharging as a corporal in 1966. During his enlistment, he was a 3rd Marine Division band member and a depot band member.
Durso later became the Far East All-Marine Judo light-weight Champion in 1965 while stationed in Okinawa. While stationed at MCRD he became the runner-up All-Marine light-weight division in 1966 and Los Angeles heavy-weight karate champion in 1967 after discharging from the Marine Corps.
Still active in martial arts, Durso consults and teaches karate and judo when he is called upon for his services.
Schweitzer, the most recent active duty Marine of the four, joined the Marine Corps in 1978. Not only was he in the Marine Corps Band, he was the bandmaster on the depot. Throughout his more than 27 year tour, he served here on the depot as well as Iraq, and many other places before retiring as a master gunnery sergeant in 2005.
After retirement he was a member of the Red Cross Operations Disaster Relief and was recognized by the governor of Louisiana and the Vice Admiral of the Coast Guard for his actions.
His most recent accomplishment was on April 4 when he donated blood platelets for the 100th time. A long time blood donor, Schweitzer donated platelets once a month for the last nine years, with the exception of his time in Iraq and the 18 months he was deferred upon his return.
Schweitzer is the president of the Marine Corps Music Association, where he first met Versaw and Durso during a musicians’ reunion.
Four men, connected by nothing more than music and the Marine Corps, came together on a quest for adventure through the three-mile obstacle run. They left the depot with yet another memory and plan forward for the next annual Boot Camp Challenge.