During his junior year of high school, Frank Livingston began mapping out his future by joining the United States Marine Corps. Despite being told by many of his friends that he could not make it as a Marine since he was not an athlete, he told his girlfriend he was not only going to be a Marine, but he would make a career of it.
Several weeks after graduating from Monmouth, Illinois, High School in 1964, Livingston traveled to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego to embark upon a military adventure that would carry him through the next two decades.
"While I was in bootcamp and during my initial infantry training, I was placed on duty in a mess hall," Livingston said. "One of the cooks had to go on emergency leave, and I took over his duties because I had worked in a bakery in high school. After that, I was basically assigned to food service."
After completing his initial slate of training, he briefly returned home for leave and then reported to Camp Pendleton, California. A short time later, he was boarding a ship destined for service in Vietnam to support what was being called a "police action."
"Our first stop was at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, and we spent several weeks there opening up that base," he said. "Then, we made a landing with a group of about 30 ships south of Chu Lai in Vietnam."
For the next month and a half, they remained on the beaches and conducted patrols in the area. It was then that they were moved north to a base at Chu Lai, remaining there for the next four months until transferring the base to the U.S. Army.
Livingston recalled, "Our next move was up to Marble Mountains near Da Nang. My primary duty was working food service in the mess tent, but we did everything -- pulling security, patrols, etc."
Returning to the states in August 1966, Livingston was assigned to an amphibious tractor battalion at Camp Del Mar located on Camp Pendleton. The following month, he married his fiancée and high school sweetheart, Mary.
Throughout the next few years, he and his wife became parents to a son and a daughter. In 1970, Livingston was sent back to Okinawa, where he worked in food service for the next year. This was followed by a second deployment to Vietnam in 1971.
"I was stationed with the Marine Air Wing in the Da Nang area and worked mainly in food service but had some other duties, too," Livingston said. "Again, I had to pull guard duty and even went out on some river patrols in support of infantry units."
When his deployment ended in 1972, he was transferred to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, spending the next several years as a food service instructor at the school in addition to serving as a career planner. He returned to Okinawa in 1976, becoming a food service manager followed by his return to the food service school at Camp Lejeune.
"I was sent to Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii in the late 1970s and worked at the mess hall on the Marine Corps base for the first year," he said. "Then I was asked to become the military liaison at the commissary because they were experiencing some financial issues and part of my job was to report back to the base commander."
He added, "I was there a year and a half or so, and we ended up getting the commissary back in operating range after a couple of civilian employees were replaced."
Approaching the twilight of his military career, Livingston was transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa. He made a marginal career change by working in the S-4 (logistics) office on base. During the last four months of this assignment, he fulfilled the role of command sergeant major for an air squadron.
The final step in his military career came with his transfer back to Camp Pendleton in 1984, where he ran a mess hall and briefly served as an S-4 officer. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1987 after 22 years of service and having achieved the rank of master sergeant.
The veteran was soon offered a job as a weights and measures inspector with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, spending the next five years working in St. Louis. In 1991, he was recalled to active duty for potential service in the Persian Gulf War, but was discharged about 30 days later.
"I decided to become an over-the-road truck driver, traveling to 48 states and Canada," he said. "I then retired for good in 2012 after having done that for 20 years."
Livingston and his wife moved to Jefferson City in 2005 to be near their daughter and to help with their grandchildren. His wife of 50 years died in 2016.
In recent years, Livingston has remained active with the Marine Corps League and has supported activities such as the "Toys for Tots" program. He has also been involved with the Central Missouri Honor Flight, helping establish a "flag line" to honor fellow veterans returning from their flight to Washington, D.C.
"Thinking back, I really don't know why I decided so early that I was going to have a career in the Marine Corps," he said. "But it gave me the opportunity to learn the best way to work with others is not to dictate orders, but to lead by example and work with them to accomplish the necessary tasks.
"And since then, working with the Honor Flight has also had its blessings, like seeing the changes that occur in the veterans coming back from the flight, who are more open to sharing their own experiences and demonstrating a renewed pride in their service."
Jeremy P. Ämick is the author of the military compilation "Show-Me Veterans."