October 02, 2013:
Bernard Makowski was given a choice by his mother—high school or the Marines. He chose the Marines and joined the Corps in 1946 when he was 16.
“I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into? You people are nuts,’” Makowski said.
Makowski’s first enlistment was an eventful one. On the way to Hawaii, the plane started smoking. He said a pilot told one of the Marines to start chopping a hole in the plane to expose the black wires underneath. When Makowski and the other Marines got back on the plane, the wires had been changed to white ones.
“I like to call that experience the plane ride from hell,” Makowski said.
During his first enlistment, Makowski was also promoted to corporal by Lt Col Harold G. Schrier, who was the officer in charge of leading 40 men to the top of Mount Suribachi to raise the flag on Iwo Jima.
“I didn’t know that he raised the flag until later . . . I saw his picture in a magazine and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s my boss,’” Makowski said.
Makowski would leave the Marines in 1949, but would be called back later during the Korean War. Makowski traveled during his second enlistment. He went to Portugal, Sicily, Crete and Africa performing combat exercises.
“It was to show the people of the world that the Marines still had the skills and readiness to fight anywhere,” Makowski said.
After being discharged a second time, Makowski went on to become a police officer.
In 2006, his local VFW told him to come down to the hall in his uniform. When he arrived, there were eight U.S. soldiers waiting for him. They called him up to the podium and gave him his high school diploma.
“It was really nice of the government to give me that,” Makowski said.
Today, Makowski lives with his son in New Jersey. He said he collects the money he gets from retirement and donates it to various organizations, including the Marine Corps Association Foundation.
“It’s the least I can do . . . I get money every month, and it builds up because I don’t pay any rent,” Makowski said.