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Marine trains at Dover, guns for '09 Senior Olympics

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
What do the Marine Corps, senior citizens and the Olympics have in common with Dover Air Force Base?

The answer is Bill Dawkins, a 79-year-old former Marine Corps private first class. The Marine, who served in World War II, practices and sharpens his racquetball skills at the Dover Air Force Base Fitness Center to prepare for the National Senior Games 2009 - Senior Olympics.

"Two people from each state are eligible to compete at the national level," said Mr. Dawkins. "I've been competitive all my life, and I'm determined to represent Delaware at the nationals."

Mr. Dawkins proclaims himself as die-hard for three things: racquetball, Delaware and the Marines.

Although the Marine resides in Smyrna, his story started in Maryland as a child surviving the Great Depression.

During childhood, Mr. Dawkin's father passed away and his mother was forced to find a way to feed her children on her own. Responding to an ad in the newspaper, his mother landed a housekeeping job, which brought her and the family to Delaware. Out of necessity, Mr. Dawkins dropped out of school in the ninth grade to help his mother provide for their family.

At 17 years old, Mr. Dawkins was 145 pounds and looking for steady work. Later that year, he raised his hand and swore an oath that took him to South Carolina, where Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, transformed him from the young Bill Dawkins to disciplined Pvt. Dawkins, he said.

He said his drill instructors played a big part in his success.

"There's no other place like Parris Island in this world," said Mr. Dawkins. "I was the smallest, scrawniest guy in my platoon and yet, our DI (drill instructor) made me the platoon leader."

It was in the capacity of platoon leader, that Mr. Dawkins got his first taste of discipline - Marine Corps style.

"I remember one cold and foggy morning when we were marching through a rocky area," Mr. Dawkins said. "This one kid up front fell out - he just passed right out and fell flat on the rocks. I told my guys to march around him and keep moving. Well, my DI had another plan."

Mr. Dawkins described how his DI, "lit him up and tore him down," but for a reason he wasn't expecting.

He enlisted during World War II, and he knew the instructors were set on preparing the Marines for survival. He said, "I figured I should have halted the platoon but that wasn't the case. The DI told me you never break line and instructed my platoon to march over the unconscious Marine. So, we did - we all stepped on him as we kept our line and learned that in war breaking a line would get many Marines killed, and we don't alter for one."

The determination he learned at Parris Island has stuck with him throughout the years and affects every facet of his life, said the nearly 80-year-old Mr. Dawkins, who to this day, eats every apple to it's core, seeds and all. 

Mr. Dawkins described how his determination and motivation led him to compete in gymnastics in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1949. Laughing, he described how persuading his newly-wed wife to go to Denmark with him was more of a challenge than the actual competition.

"I married at a young age and didn't have a lot of money," he said. "When I went to Copenhagen, my ticket was paid for. Still, I sold my brand-new '48 Chevy Coupe to get enough money to bring my wife along for the ride."

Mr. Dawkins shared many fond memories of his late wife, who unfortunately did not survive long enough to witness him take on his current challenge of representing Delaware on the racquetball court in the Senior National Games.

"I live, eat and breath racquetball now," said Mr. Dawkins, who recently visited a doctor to have his tear ducts 'punched' to keep his eyes from watering up during play. "I am motivated and ready for this challenge - and, now I have a place to practice."

For Mr. Dawkins, motivation was never an issue; however, until Col. Steven Harrison, 436th Airlift Wing commander, authorized him to use Dover Air Force Base facilities to practice, he had to travel further and was able to practice far less.

"I really appreciate the colonel and Dover team giving me the chance to come on base to practice," said Mr. Dawkins, who takes pride in his near daily meetings to play some of the base's 'young folk' on the courts.

"Colonel Harrison was there when I needed him," he said. "His gesture reminds me of a term I hold dear, 'once a Marine - always a Marine.' The phrase really rings true to uniformed servicemembers in general."

In the present day, more and more operations are joint service. Mr. Dawkins did not experience this as much in his day, but said even in the most obscure places and times servicemembers stuck together.

"I really have a great deal of respect for the Air Force - though I've never had the opportunity to serve in the Air Force," said Mr. Dawkins, who joked that the closest he ever came to serving in the Air Force was a few years earlier in his life when he owned an old Cessna.

"I'd have joined the Air Force - and still would - in a heartbeat if they'd take me," he said. "But, I don't think there is much need for 80-year-old Cessna pilots in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"You know, I misspoke earlier," said Mr. Dawkins about the three things in life he is die-hard about. "I've found affection for a fourth."

The former Marine now proudly lists the Air Force in his top four likings.

"Now I have Dover behind me, these young Airmen challenge me every time I step out on the court," he said. "It will be a combination of my wife, my life, my Marines and my new friends at Dover that are holding me up and pushing me to my gold-medal victory in 2009."