“This is Pvt. Ketcher,” the voice on the phone yelled, not quite overcoming the sounds of drill instructors shouting in the background. “I’m safe. I love you. Good-bye.”
And thus began the next chapter in the life of 18-year-old Jonathan Ketcher, who recently embarked on Marine boot camp as well as following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather. Jonathan is the son of Jon and Hollie Ketcher and the brother of Savannah.
The trilogy began in 1967 when John Ketcher, Jr. was a teenager.
“Two things influenced my decision to become a Marine,” he said. “Watching John Wayne in the Sands of Iwo Jima and my history teacher in school.”
John’s history teacher, James A. Griffin, showed his students a reel to reel film of Marines during the Korean War.
“It was actual war documentary footage of his unit,” John said. “He said Marines are the best and I wanted to be the best.”
With his desire to be a Marine solidified, John and a friend went in search of the Marine recruiter in town. They found him in a local bar.
“We saw the Marine recruiter truck at a bar on Highway 69 and Fifth Street. I think he was making time with the barmaid,” he said with a smile. The two boys made entry and drug the man outside to tell him they wanted to enlist.
“He asked my friend how old he was. My friend said ‘17’ so he told him to go back to school,” he said. “When he looked at me I said, ‘I’m not going back.’”
John’s dad, an Army man himself, said he’d sign to grant permission for his son to enlist on two stipulations.
“I had to get my G.E.D. after boot camp and he wouldn’t sign for me to go into combat,” he said.
But John wanted combat. He wanted to go to Vietnam and bugged his superiors for the chance.
On his 18th birthday, his commanders granted his wish and he served in the Vietnam War.
After his three years in the Corps, John wanted to re-enlist, but his wife at the time had other plans.
“She was pregnant with my son, Jon, and she didn’t like the military life. She wanted to come home, so we did,” he said.
He spent two years away, but the pull to return was strong and relentless as was his desire to convince his wife.
“I guess I finally broke her down,” he said. “One Sunday as she left for church, she hollered at me to just do what I want. I had a recruiter there by the time she got back.”
John returned to the Marine Corps and retired after 20 years of service, serving as a drill instructor at the time of his retirement.
“My passion was the Corps,” he said. He passed that love onto his son, Jon.
“I made him a Marine uniform when he was two years old and from that day on, that was it for him.”
Bit by the bug at an early age, Jon wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and enlist early, but his mother would have none of it.
“She completely refused to sign consent,” he said. So he did a delayed entry program, allowing him to enlist while in high school and then ship off to boot camp after graduation.
His reasons were simple.
“I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to be just like my dad,” he said. He enlisted his senior year.
“On Sept. 24, 1988, my 18th birthday, I was in Oklahoma City swearing in,” Jon said. He returned to finish high school and left for boot camp on June 6, 1989. At that time, his dad was working at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as a drill instructor.
Jon was no stranger to the area, having spent summers with his dad after his parents divorced.
“When Jon was a senior, I tried to get him to look at other branches and universities. I wanted it to be his decision,” John said. “He finally said, ‘Dad, don’t you want me to be part of your family?’”
“It’s a brotherhood,” Jon echoed. “Whether you are a new recruit or old, you are a part of that lineage, that heritage. Besides, they have the best looking dress blues.”
When Jon graduated from boot camp, his dad retired.
“They let me attend his retirement ceremony before my graduation,” Jon said. “That was real special to me.”
Jon served as a Marine in the Gulf War in 1990. He returned to the area in 2004 with the National Guard, serving in the Iraq War. Their group was attached to a Marine Corps Division, a sort of homecoming for Jon.
Now Jon’s son, Jonathan, is following in the footsteps of two generations before. It is a source of great pride for father and grandfather.
“I feel great about his decision to enlist,” John said of his grandson. “It is an honor to have him follow our path. I’m really proud of my son and my grandson.”
“I’m proud and excited,” Jon said of his son. “Even though I miss him, I’m very proud of his decision. Welcome to the brotherhood, son.”
After the hurried phone message to his folks, Jonathan is currently in boot camp in San Diego.
His story is still unwritten.