Marine Corps veteran served for 20 years at home and abroad | Journal-news
Editor’s note: The Journal’s Unsung Heroes series spotlights a local veteran each Monday from Memorial Day to Veterans Day. If you would like to nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org. 37 years
HEDGESVILLE — First Sgt, Lawrence (Larry) J. Condon, USMC, and now Hedgesville resident, served his country for almost 21 years, surviving Vietnam. He has continued to serve the communities in which he has lived since his retirement.
Condon joined the Marines in January of 1968 at the age of 17 and retired in September of 1988, wanting to be with his wife and veteran of the Air Force, Carol Rhan.
After running away at the age of 15, Condon returned home and asked for his parents to sign the paperwork to join the military.
“I chose to join. I had run away from home when I was 15, actually I started when I was eight and multiple times after that, but was finally successful at 15,” he explained. “I left Southern California and went to Seattle, Washington because that is as far as the bus money would take me. I came back right before I turned 17 and went down to the Marine Corps. recruiter office. When I came back, my father said go back to school, get a job or get out. So I went to the recruiter and got the paperwork together for my parents to sign. My mother cried, my father had some very unkind things to say.
“I tell people that I talk to when they ask me about it that I was a snot nose kid and thought I knew better than the rest of the world and joined the Marine Corps when I was 17. I never regretted a day of it. And in my counsel to young Marines — who were on the verge to re-enlist or get out and go home — you answer two questions, you love it and you stay in or you don’t and you get out. That’s it. It does not matter if they are offering you some kind of fancy bonus or a fancy duty. You just do it because it is what you want to do.”
Over his years of service, Condon explained that he never had the same job twice.
“After boot camp, I went to aviation mechanic school as a Hydrolicsman, and because I was only 17, I could not go right to Vietnam with the rest of my graduating platoon,” Condon explained. “I wound up in C-130 school on the East Coast. As soon as I turned 18, immediately I had orders to go to Vietnam.”
In January 1969, Condon went to Vietnam where he was put on helicopters. He served as mechanic and part machine gunner.
“For the year that I spent in Vietnam, I flew about 300 missions maybe more,” he explained. “I earned my combat aircrew wings, lost some friends as everybody did during that time, and then I came back and was with the Reserves Training Unit in Virginia. I trained the reserves to work on helicopters.”
In 1974, Condon went to Parris Island to drill instructor school, where he would become a drill instructor.
“I did that until August of 1976, and I went to Japan for a year to a helicopter squadron,” he continued. “Then I came back and went to HMX-1, which is the presidential helicopter squadron. After my clearance was granted, I started working with presidential helicopters and was eventually quality insurance instructor for all the maintenance on the aircraft.”
In 1980, he was given orders to go to school with the Marines Security Guard Batallion at Quantico, Virginia.
“I was assigned to be in charge of the Marine detachment at the Embassy of Budapest, Hungary. I stayed there for two years, and then in January 1982 I moved to the American Consulate in Istanbul Turkey and ran the consulate detachment there,” he said.
Later in 1982, Condon had the opportunity presented to him to go anywhere in the world that was open.
“I said I was tired of learning languages,” he laughed. “I would stay in Turkey and go to the embassy in Ankura, Turkey, and I ran that detachment for a year.”
In 1983, Condon went to California back to a helicopter squadron, where he picked up First Sergeant shortly after that. As a new First Sergeant, Condon went to run the staff NCO Academy at El Toro Base in California.
“Then I was assigned from there in 1985 to Infantry Rifle Company Lima Company, 3rd battalion 5th Marine in Camp Pendleton California, and we made trips back and forth across the pacific a few times. Then I was in Korea and Carol was in California. I had an opportunity to call home and Carol said she had orders to go back to Turkey and I said ‘okay I am out of here.’ Too many separations, so in 1988, I came back and retired, and I went to Turkey with her. That is where we met.”
Now married for 37 years, Condon said he met Rhan shortly after he got to Ankura, Turkey.
Since his service, Condon said he has had five back surgeries at Walter Reed Hospital after he retired.
“I have a piece of metal that runs all the way from (my neck) down to my hips,” Condon explained. “I walked away from three helicopter crashes in Vietnam and one in the United States.
“I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for anything.”
Condon described himself as “very fortunate” not only due to surviving those crashes, but also to have received his special duty assignments.
“I did very much, and I was extremely fortunate in terms of promotions,” he said. “My assignment to Parris Island as a drill instructor was very fortunate in terms of building my leadership skills. I also tell people that that assignment was the worst and best that I had. The best job because it taught me a lot about people and myself, and the worst job because I had 17 months without a day off. There was no time off as a drill instructor. The assignment I had with the presidential helicopter squadron, that was another special duty that most Marines never think about getting.”
These special duties helped him grow from the “snot nosed kid” to a man who dedicated his life to community service and serving others. He was able to receive his GED later in life.
Rhan said in addition to her husband’s overseas combat and Marine Security Guard assignments, he served in Okinawa. He also volunteered with the Orange County Sexual Assault Network as an external speaker and on-call advisor.
“After he retired in 1988, my very special husband continued to serve in the communities where we lived,” Rhan said. Some of those include: Executive Director, Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Tn; Dolly Parton Imagination Library Coordinator and fundraiser; Girl Scouts of the USA: Council Board Member, fund developer, adult training facilitator and local Girl Scout Troop cookie manager, to name a few.
“Larry has been a youth Sunday school teacher, organized church Christmas dinners for several hundred people, made and served meals at a homeless shelter, substitute teacher in Heidelberg, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Girl Scouts Overseas as an auctioneer,” Rhan said of her husband.