They Messed With Marines
Thomas Calabrese –The seven-month baby was lying in his crib and looked up at his parents and began making a series of strange sounds.
“That is not normal,” His mother said, “Our other children never made those noises.
“At times he sounds like a cross between a possessed victim and a gremlin,” joked the father, Major John Rocklin, a MV-22B Osprey pilot, assigned to the Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-263 at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. He had two other children with his wife Rene, a daughter, Katie and another son, Travis. The family was currently living in San Luis Rey Base housing.
Major Rocklin received orders to Cherry Point, North Carolina. The family left California for the east coast six months later. They were there for four years, where Major Rocklin was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. From there he received his next set of orders for Kaneohe Air Station, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
While Katie was a senior at Havelock High School in Cherry Point, she applied to a dozen schools and UCLA was one of the seven that accepted her. Her goal was to major in mass communications and this university had an excellent program. The Marine Corps always endeavors to transfer military families during the summer months so that children do not have to start a new school in mid–semester. The Rocklin family decided to include in their itinerary a stop off in Los Angeles in late June, on their way to Hawaii, to help Katie get settled in her new apartment.
John told his daughter, “If you have any problem, call us. I’m also going to give you the names and numbers of a couple of pilots that I used to fly with who are stationed at Pendleton. If you need something in a hurry, you call them, understand?”
“I understand, don’t worry about me,” Katie stated, “I’ll be fine.”
Upon arrival in Hawaii, the two brothers quickly acclimated to the area. Travis went out for his high school football team and he made the starting tight end on the varsity squad as a junior. Ron met some of the other military dependents and began hanging out at the beach, where he was introduced to some of the locals. He was blessed with a six octave vocal range and to put this in context, most singers would be happy to have even a three octave range.
When Ron heard some people singing on the beach, he began to harmonize with them. What really impressed the Hawaiians was his ability to imitate the sound of the hano, a flute made of thin-walled bamboo, when played properly has a soft sweet sound. He could also emulate the ukeke, a winged instrument made from a bent piece of koa wood and three strings of coconut fiber.
Katie Rocklin didn’t last long at UCLA. She was in her second year and walking across the grounds toward one of her classes when she saw an anti-military protest. She approached closer and noticed that several of the protesters were burning the American and Marine Corps flag.
When she intervened to stop them, things got physical, she ended up putting two of her radical classmates in the hospital with minor injuries. Katie was expelled under the zero-violence tolerance policy of the university and her family was notified of the punitive action. Katie found a part-time job and remained in her apartment until the end of the school year.
Travis graduated from high school then left Hawaii to help his sister move to Oceanside where they had family friends. They found a small apartment and both began attending Mira Costa Junior College in the fall quarter.
Hawaii would be Lt. Colonel Rocklin’s last duty station if he didn’t make full Colonel. He had 21 years in the Corps and had enough time in to retire. His plan was to move back to Gardnerville, Nevada where he grew up. His brother Fred had offered him a full partnership in his construction business and trucking firm any time he was ready. His wife was fully supportive of his decision and they would build their retirement home on a section of the 100- acre horse ranch in the Carson Valley that his parents owned.
John Rocklin submitted his paperwork to leave the Marine Corps when he was approached by the Wing Commander on the tarmac of the airfield. Brigadier General Dean McMurray said. “Good morning John, how are you?”
“No complaints, How about you, sir?”
“Another day in the Corps. I know you’re planning on retiring, but if you could make Colonel, would you stay another hitch?” General McMurray asked.
“Colonel Greenwood had a flight accident. He broke his right leg and dislocated his shoulder. I talked to him this morning and he’s decided to take medical retirement. So I need somebody to take over the squadron. It’s your old unit.”
“Exactly,” General McMurray smiled, “Back to Pendleton.”
“My daughter and son are living in Oceanside. I think my brother will understand. I’ll run it by Rene and if it’s alright with her, then you have your man.”
“I’ll need your answer by no later than 1200 hours tomorrow,” General McMurray said.
“Roger that, sir.”
Rene was a military wife and traveling to another duty station was part of her job description. The fact that her husband would get a promotion and she would be close to her daughter and son, made it an easy decision for her, “Of course.”
John told his son, Ron, “I’ve got a new assignment. I’m going back to take over my old squadron.”
“Congratulations, you deserve it,” Ron said.
“Looks like I’m going pick up ‘full bird’ too,” John said.
“Congratulation again…you’re on a roll,” Ron grinned.
“You made a lot a friends here…is it going to be a problem leaving?”
“I can always come back and visit. It will be nice to see Travis and Katie, but the main thing is the family will be back together again.” Ron replied, “Besides, I kinda’ like Southern California.”
The Rocklin family moved back to Oceanside and rented a large house with a granny flat near the backgate of the base. Katie moved into the guest quarters and the boys took separate bedrooms on the ground floor while John and Rene took the master suite and the upstairs. The Rocklin family was back together…at least for the time being.
While attending Mira Costa Junior College, Katie had the opportunity to talk with Professor David Randall, her instructor in her animated film studies class. She mentioned about her younger brother’s talent for voices and sounds, “He’s really good.”
“Many actors have made a very good living doing voices in the entertainment industry.” Professor Randall said.
“Would you be interested in hearing him?” Katie asked.
“I don’t know.”
“If it’s a waste of your time, then you can fail me,” Katie offered.
“Okay, you talked me into it,” Professor Randall said.
Katie brought her younger brother to Mira Costa the next day and introduced him to her professor who commented, “Your sister says you have a special talent.”
“She might be a little subjective,” Ron answered.
“What do you want to do?” Professor Randall asked impatiently.
“You pick something.”
“Are you familiar with cartoons?”
“I am, I sometimes mouth along with the characters whenever I see one,” Ron said.
Ron did a perfect imitation of the cartoon character’s voice. Professor Randall went down a list of other animated characters that included Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, Taz the Tasmanian Devil. When he finished doing cartoon characters, Ron imitated Kirk Douglas, Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra, then did several musical instruments. “Is that enough…or do you want me to do more?”
Professor Randall was stunned by what he had just heard. “My dad was an animator with Warner Bros and I had the opportunity to see the legendary Mel Blanc at work. He was called the man of a thousand voices and 400 distinct characters. I’ve also witnessed Rich Little and Frank Gorshin do celebrity impersonations and Michael Winslow do inanimate objects in his act. I have never seen someone who could do all three voice manipulations with your level of expertise.”
The Mira Costa Professor introduced Ron Rocklin to his contacts in the entertainment industry and before long he was picking up work. His sister Katie became his manager and he signed on with Endeavor, the largest talent agency in the world. Rene Rocklin took care of her son’s finances and his brother handled security and travel arrangements. Ron never considered what he did as work, because it came so naturally to him. To be able to help his family was the best part of this newest venture. Ron began getting some publicity and the Vista Press, Carlsbad Tribune and several local television stations all did interviews or stories on him.
After one interview aired, Major Tim Roland approached Colonel Rocklin, “Excuse me, sir, I was wondering if I could have a few moments of your time?”
“Of course, Major, what can I do for you?” Colonel Rocklin said.
“It doesn’t pertain to the Corps, It is more personal than professional. Never mind, I shouldn’t be bothering you.” Major Roland turned to walk away.
“Standfast Major, permission to speak freely,” Colonel Rocklin ordered.
“My daughter Julie is an aspiring singer. She’s wanted me to ask…”
Colonel Rocklin guessed what was coming next and saved his subordinate the embarrassment of finishing his statement, “If she could talk to my son?”
“Exactly,” Major Roland sighed.
“I don’t like to speak for Ron, but I’ll definitely run it by him and get back to you,” Colonel Rocklin said.
“I can’t ask for more than that,” Major Roland smiled, “Thank you sir.”
When John Rocklin approached his son that night, Ron replied without hesitation, “I’ll be glad to talk to her. You already knew that before you asked.”
Major Roland and his daughter drove over to the Rocklin home that weekend. Julie was nineteen years-old, long brown hair and green eyes. Ron was momentarily caught off guard by her natural beauty.
“Thank you very much for seeing me,” Even when she spoke, Julie Roland’s voice had a melodic tone to it.”
Ron was at a lost for anything creative to say, “So you’re a singer…huh?”
Julie smiled, “I’d like to be.”
Ron offered, “We turned one of the bedrooms into a makeshift sound studio. Do you mind singing something?”
Julie Roland chose the song, I Will Always Love You, as her selection. When she was finished, she asked, “Be honest.”
Ron said, “You are very good.”
“I don’t have your range,” Julie said.
“You don’t need it, not when you sing like you do.”
Ron contacted his agent at Endeavor and told her about Julie Roland and he responded, “I’m not taking on any new clients.”
“She’s really good and I would consider it a personal favor,” Ron continued.
Trevor Blake did not want to disappoint one of his most marketable clients so he said, “I’d be happy to meet with her.”
After hearing Julie Roland sing, he agreed with Ron’s assessment, “Yeah, she’s good, but I’ll need a hook to market her, otherwise it’s going to be a slow hard grind.” Trevor pondered the situation, “What about you?”
“What about me?” Ron was confused.
“Have you ever thought about being a singer?”
“Never,” Ron replied.
“You’ve got the voice. Look at this way, you are two children of Marines and you’ve already got some name recognition. I’ve got a couple country western songwriters under contract. I can put you together with them if you consider being a duet. What’s her name?”
“Julie Roland,” Ron answered.
“Ron Rocklin and Julie Roland…I couldn’t have come up with better names if I tried. This is what they call in the business a fortuitous event. Rocklin and Roland, I love it. You know what they say, nothing says America more than the military and country western music and children of military are even better. Combine the two and I see great things happening. ”
Ron could visualize the wheels spinning in Trevor’s head as he leaned back in his chair and listened while his agent went through a whole range of scenarios. When he approached Julie with the opportunity, she leaped at the chance. Two weeks later, they were in the recording studio with the songwriting team of Bargeman and Klingle. Soon afterwards, their first single, Code, a patriotic ballad was climbing up the country western charts.
Ron and Julie performed at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, and three USO shows in the area. Ron did impersonations as part of the act. Things were going well professionally for him, but Ron wasn’t without his issues. He was sitting alone in the home studio, looking off into space when his mother leaned in, “Are you feeling alright?”
It took Ron a few seconds to return to reality, “I was just daydreaming.”
Ron asked, “Why would you say that?”
Ron knew that he might be able to fool everybody else, but not his mother. “Do you think anybody else has noticed?”
“Probably not, so what’s your plan?” Rene asked.
“Don’t have one. We’ve got a good friendship and I don’t want to ruin it,” Ron said.
“You probably also thought that if you did say something about how you felt you wouldn’t know for sure if she was just expressing gratitude or affection.”
“Aw hell, Mom. I never even thought of that,” Ron slapped his head.
Rene encouraged her son, “In situations like this, there always come a moment of truth…just be patient. I can’t tell you when or how it will come about, but you’ll know it. In fact, the feeling will be so strong that you’ll have no choice, but to tell Julie. One harsh lesson that you will learn in life is just because you care about somebody, it doesn’t obligate them to care about you. If she gives you the opportunity to be truthful about your feelings, then take it. But if you do, then find the inner strength to accept her truth…even if hurts like hell.”
Ron thought for a moment, “I can’t figure out if that was a pep talk or a warning.”
Rene kissed her son on the forehead, “A little of both, and a little mother to son facts of life talk, thrown in for good measure.”
Ron told his sister and agent, “For the time being, I need to work more on my singing.”
Katie and Trevor warned Ron that passing up on commercials and animated film jobs would be a serious mistake. Ron finally relented, “Okay, I’ll do both.”
There was a crisis in the Middle East and air units from the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine Corps were called up to deal with the threat. VMM-263 was one of the flight squadrons that was deployed to Kuwait.
After the Iranian Republican Guard was soundly defeated and mop-up operations were almost completed, American units began returning stateside. Colonel Rocklin called his wife to let her know about his status, “We’re trying to make sure that all squadron personnel are out of here by mid-December, so they can be home by Christmas. I’m going to be one of the last to leave. My flight departs on the 28th. Sorry about that.”
Rene said cheerfully, “No problem, we’ll just celebrate Christmas and New Year’s on the same day. It will be more efficient that way.”
“I can always count on you to turn a negative into a positive,” Colonel Rocklin said, “I better get to work, I need to make sure that everything is ready to ship home…love you.”
“Love you too, keep me posted,” Rene said.
Rene disconnected with her husband and contacted her three children, “I need to see you.”
While Katie, Travis and Ron were sitting in the kitchen, Rene said, “I want to put together a New Year’s Party for your dad and the squadron. Will you help me?”
Katie said, “Whatever I can do,”
Travis then chimed in, “Count me in too.
“It’s unanimous then,” Ron said.
Billie Joe Longworth, Ross Swallwell, Freddy Garson and Ted Dugan met in Folsom Prison and reconnected when they were released from confinement. They organized into a gang and specialized in home invasion robberies. They had a large gray van and changed the lettering on it on a regular basis to divert suspicion. They also used a plain looking brown Ford Sedan in their endeavors. With two individuals in each vehicle, they scouted targets of opportunities in upper class neighborhoods throughout Nevada and Southern California.
They were efficient and ruthless and often beat their victims after robbing them, just for the pleasure of it. They would rent public storage in whatever city they were at and when their storage unit was full, they would move on. They usually came back two months later when the heat cooled down and took their loot to a large warehouse in Otay Mesa, where an international fence would buy their booty for 15 cents on the dollar. He, in turn, would either ship the products to discount stores throughout Mexico and the Southwest or sell the high end items to individual buyers.
The Christmas season had been good to them and they had already robbed homes in Poway, Rancho Bernardo and Escondido in San Diego County. They were cruising the side streets that intersected Pacific Coast Highway near Tamarack Avenue, and made a note of two residences in Carlsbad that looked especially inviting. From there, they sets their sights to Oceanside.
Back at the Rocklin home, Katie told her mom, “I’ve called every place in the area and they were all booked up for New Year’s Eve.”
“Some of the parties were reserved months ago,” Travis added.
Rene said, “That’s disappointing,”
“Well, we have another option,” Ron said.
“Don’t keep me in suspense,” Rene said.
“A party rental company. We can get a large tent, tables, chairs and outside heaters. They will furnish everything we need, and give us a military discount.” Katie added, “We can even put Christmas trees inside the tent, with presents and combine both holidays like you wanted.”
Ron said, “We can put it in the cul de sac. I’ve already checked with the neighbors and the police. Since it’s for Marines coming home…they are fine with it.”
“Let’s do it!” Rene exclaimed.
With the help of the rest of the squadron families, things came together in a hurry. Many people brought presents and placed them under a half dozen Christmas trees inside the tent. Decorations were placed around the entire area.
Not far away, the home invasion gang turned down Via Del Corona, the street that the Rocklin family lived on. They saw the large tent and the upper middle-class neighborhood and their eyes lit up in anticipation. They saw a lady walking down the sidewalk and Billie Joe called out, “What is happening?”
The lady responded with enthusiasm, “A big New Year’s party!”
The gang parked and watched the activities for 45 minutes. Finally Freddy Garson said, “If we’re going to hit this place, we need to come up with a plan.” After taking photos with their camera phone, they drove back to their motel. While inside their room, the four individuals devised their scheme inside their motel room.
Billie Joe explained the first part. “We’ll hit all four houses at the end of the street and the party at the same time. To distract the police, we’ll start a brush fire on the hills two miles away. It hasn’t rained in a few weeks so it should burn fast and hot. You’re up, Ross.”
Ross Swallwell continued, “We will have 15 minutes to complete the job and use the cell phone signal blocker to block incoming and outgoing calls while we’re there. Freddy, your turn.”
Freddy Garson followed up on the next part, “There is an area by Highway 76 by the airport where the homeless like to hang out. We’ll leave the loaded van there and drive back in the car to the motel. Two days later, we’ll come back for the van. If it looks good, we’ll take it to the storage facility and unload it. When it is empty, we’ll take the van to a RV storage lot on Oceanside Boulevard and pay two months in advance. We’ll take the Ford to Barstow, pick up our other van and head to Vegas. How long we stay there will depend on how well we’re doing.”
“Sounds good, any questions?” Billie Joe asked.
Back at the Rocklin residence, Julie and Ron were rehearsing the songs that they were going to sing at the party. Ron decided that he was not going to start 2021 without telling Julie how he felt about her.
The Squadron members and their families began arriving at 7PM and by 9PM, the party was in full swing.
Further up the street, Billie Joe and Ross were sitting in the van watching the festivities. Ross picked up his cellphone and called his cohorts, “Start the fire.”
Ted and Freddy got out of the car, opened the trunk and took out two five gallons cans of gasoline. They poured the contents down the hillside and lit it on fire, then drove to meet their partners on Via
After finishing their song, Ron turned to Julie, “Let’s take a break, I need to tell you something.”
“Sure,” Julie turned on the recorded music in their absence.
They walked behind the Rocklin house and sat at the patio table. Out front, the four home invasion robbers came in from different directions with their guns drawn. Billie Joe called out as he grabbed one of the military wives as a shield, “Do like you’re told and nobody gets hurt!”
Freddy and Ross ziptied the hands of the guests while Billie Joe and Ted kept their guns at the ready. The Marines would have fought back without hesitation, if their families weren’t in harm’s way. The robbers quickly loaded all the gifts into the van and took jewelry and cash from the guests. Freddy and Ross made a quick run through the houses in search of small valuables.
Just as Ron was ready to express his feelings, he sensed something was wrong when he didn’t hear the recorded music coming from the tent. He walked around the corner of the house and saw the four men and the van backed up inside the tent. He told Julie,” Call 911.”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cellphone, “No signal.”
In the distance, Ron saw the reddish hue of a blaze illuminating the sky and heard sirens blaring in that direction. He had no idea that the incident out front and the fire were related, but he knew he had to do something. He began running around behind the houses while imitating the sound of a voice through a bull horn, “Drop your weapons, you’re surrounded!” Ron then emulated the sound of sirens and muffled gunfire.”
The four intruders didn’t know what was going on. Billie Joe spun around in confusion, “I don’t see anybody!”
“Neither do I,” Freddy panicked, “Let’s get out of here!”
Ron kept calling out as he changed locations around the cul de sac, “We’ve got you in our sights, we will shoot you! I’m going to count to three…one…two…” His voice sounded extremely menacing as it echoed through the still night.
Ron inconspicuously made his way to the tent and cut the wrist restraints off of his father with a pocket knife. He in turn freed several other Marines. Ron ran down the street while making siren and gunfire sounds to confuse the robbers and delay their escape. This gave the freed Marines just enough time to approach their attackers from both flanks and overwhelm them.
Julie came rushing up from behind and put her arm around Ron’s waist, “What did you want to tell me?”
Ron said without hesitation, “That I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Julie responded by giving her singing partner a long passionate kiss on the lips.
By the time Oceanside Police arrived on scene, the four badly beaten home invaders were lying face down on the pavement. Colonel Rocklin explained what happened to the officer in charge, while Ron and Julie got back on stage in preparation for their last set. When they looked into each other’s eyes, they instinctively kissed again.
Rene called out to the Marines and their family members milling about, “A minor interruption. Let’s not let a failed attack ruin a great party! Let’s do some Rocklin and Roland!” She pointed to Ron and Julie to cue them. As the clock ticked down to midnight, Ron and Julie voices blended in perfect harmony in their heartfelt rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
Sergeant Liam Harmon and the other police officers were intently watching the performance when two paramedics arrived and saw the badly beaten four men. One of them asked, “What the hell happened to these guys?”
Sergeant Harmon responded without taking his eyes off the stage, “They messed with Marines.”
Happy 2021 to all!