These are my earliest memories. This was Oklahoma City in the year 1948.
My mother married a man seventeen years her senior named Ben William Querry in, I think, 1949. My earliest memories of him include my mother and me together high in a gondola of a Ferris Wheel rocking it wildly and laughing because Ben Querry—alone in the gondola behind us was hollering for us to stop. I couldn’t do that today, so anxious am I about heights. And I remember a kitchen with a table in the middle where we were seated to eat supper and my mother throwing a serving dish or casserole and hitting the refrigerator—our supper running in clumps down to the linoleum floor. I do not recall what angered her so. I know I was six years old when, later, my half-sister, Ann Marie was born—I remember riding in the back of an ambulance with my mother and Ann Marie when they were brought home from the hospital, the streets of Oklahoma City that day being icy and dangerous. I was seven when half-brother Christopher Lynn came along, his first trip home less memorable.
I cannot recall a time when I did not want to write. And while I have vague memories of my mother reading to me, another of my earliest clear memories is of coming home from school and reading to my mother in that odd way in which one first read in those days:
“Look. Look. See Spot. See Spot run.”
The first story I ever wrote that was published appeared in 1959 in the magazine section of the Sunday Oklahoman newspaper. I was sixteen-years-old (a fact that I withheld from the editors at the Oklahoman) and I was paid seventy-five dollars for that piece. They illustrated my work and it was the cover story. It was a very long time, you may be sure, before I was again paid seventy-five dollars for anything I wrote.
I suppose it was easier at the time that I go by the name Querry as soon as my mother was married. It was not until I was about to graduate high school—I had enlisted in the Marine Corps and its rules dictated that I had to go by my “real” name—that Ben Querry went through whatever paperwork was required to formally and legally adopt me. I don’t recall that I cared one way or another—the fact is, I never cared all that much for the man—but it made it all easier than having to explain and adjust records to reflect that I had been named, at birth, Ronald Downer Burns. I believe I can recall seeing a birth certificate that listed me as Ronald Downer Burns and my father as Woody Burns. Perhaps I imagined it. I have a “Birth Certificate” testifying to the fact that I was born in Washington, D.C., on March 22, 1943, to Beverly Querry (no middle name) (all true), and Ben W. Querry (not true). An official document that, essentially, lies. I still don’t understand how that works.
When he died, Ben Querry’s last will and testament stated that, as I was not his offspring, nothing whatsoever of his estate was to be left to me. And, as an aside, I’ll tell you that the man whom my mother married some years later stipulated in his will that I was to receive an equal share of his estate divided among his five adult children by a previous marriage and my mother’s three adult children whom he, of course, had never adopted. His name was James Corbett, and I wish I’d been kinder to him while he was alive. Not that I was unkind, just impatient, I think. Jim liked to listen (and talk back) to talk radio hosts the likes of Rush Limbaugh. He thought Richard Nixon was just a fine president.
But as I said, I officially and legally became Ronald Burns Querry when I joined the Marine Corps.
I flew out of Oklahoma City for boot camp in San Diego, California, on August 3, 1961. An underlying principal of the United States Marine Corps is summed up in the oft- repeated saying: “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” If that is the case—and I believe it is—then I have been a Marine for more than fifty years. I was/am a Rifleman (MOS 0311). I served on Active Duty for slightly less than three years (I applied for an early release in order to begin my freshman year at San Francisco State College—the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, General David M. Shoup, granted me that early release for what was termed the “Convenience of the Government”). I had only one permanent duty station while I was on active duty. I was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Coral Sea (CVA 43) for two years, two months, and twenty-two days where I served variously as brig guard, Commanding Officer’s and Executive Officer’s orderly and driver, nuclear weapons guard, Sergeant-of-the-Guard, and shore patrolman in Japan. I was released from active duty on July 20, 1964 with a lump-sum payment of $84.40, thank you very much. A Non-Commissioned Officer, I had achieved the rank of Corporal (E-4) in under two years. I never heard a shot fired in anger, nor did I ever fire a shot at anyone. I was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, an “E” (for Efficiency) as a gun crew member aboard the USS Coral Sea that was awarded me by the U.S. Navy, and a fancy certificate stating that I had, at precisely high noon on 22 April 1963, crossed the Equator exactly at the 180th Parallel and thus could proclaim myself a “Golden Shellback—a rare title reserved expressly for those few seafaring men courageous and skillful enough to direct themselves to this precise location on the surface of the earth.” (This was, of course, before the widespread and common use of handheld Global Positioning devices—there’re probably a lot of people who could find that spot today.) I possess no other government-issued medals, ribbons or commendations.
I consider my time of active duty in the Marine Corps to have made up a significant and crucial part of my life. As I said, I knew no father and so believe, to this day, that—while later than most of my generation, to be sure—most everything I learned about honor, loyalty, and truth, I learned as a United States Marine.