Thousands of Minnesota Twins fans stood watching as 150 men and women walked across the field, stopped and raised their right hand in an oath of enlistment into the United States Marine Corps. Many of them were straight out of high school, apprehensive and not knowing exactly what they were getting into. This scene played out originally 44 years ago at the old Metropolitan Stadium, and again Sept. 5, at Target Field.
“The day we took the oath out there it felt like you had quite an honor bestowed on you,” said Charles Baker, a member of the original Twins Platoon who served in Vietnam.
The original group was known as the Twins Platoon and now 44 years later a new group of 24 local young men and women raised their right hand in front of thousands, carrying on the legacy of the original platoon.
“They’re following up behind us; the younger generation is picking up,” Baker said. “We’ve all gotta progress, you know.”
The Twins Platoon was a group of men and women from the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. On June 28, 1967 they were sworn into the Marine Corps during a pregame ceremony before the Minnesota Twins faced the Boston Red Sox. During the fourth inning of the game, the group was taken to buses waiting for them outside and sent to Marine Corps recruit training. The one platoon at the game was actually split into two platoons at boot camp. They all attended boot camp together and most subsequently attended the same military occupational specialty school. Many of the Marines remained within a 10 mile radius of each other while deployed to Vietnam, according to Christy W. Sauro, a member of the original Twins Platoon.
Sauro always wondered what had happened to the rest of the platoon’s members. His interest eventually led to years of searching for the rest of the platoon and an idea to write a book, following some of the members from before they were recruited through their return from Vietnam. The book, “Twins Platoon: an epic story of young Marines at war in Vietnam,” revived the stories of the Twins Platoon members in vivid detail, according to Sauro.
During that time, the draft was in effect. Young men who did not attend college were more than likely to receive a notice to serve in the military. Although the draft was for service in the Army, the Marine Corps remained a volunteer service.
“I enlisted,” Baker said as he chuckled. “No draft was involved in this Marine.”
Baker joined immediately after high school with a friend. He joined under an incentive called the buddy program. He and his buddy went through basic training together but were separated in Vietnam.
Within their first year, they were sent to Vietnam. Some returned from the war with medals ranging from the Silver Star to Navy Achievement medal with combat “V” for valor, and some never made it home.
Because of public opinion on the war, returning veterans were advised to remove all of their medals and to never speak of their experiences, according to Sauro. Thus their stories faded with time.
“Until I read the book, I didn’t even know we won the game that night,” Baker said as he laughed.
Men and women have since been enlisting in the Marine Corps with a distinctive pride to serve their country. Many have left behind other dreams and aspirations to become part of “the few, the proud.” The tradition carries on to this day.
“The biggest thing is the opportunity to serve,” said Torrey Tiedeman, 19, from Rochester, Minn., member the current Twins Platoon. “There is a kind of curiosity I have with the Marines. I have Tim Walz’s nomination to the Naval Academy but I chose to leave it to enlist in the Marines.”
Tiedeman believes the opportunity to stand next to the original platoon is exceptional, especially in front of thousands of people.
“I am honored to have been selected to be taking part in the Twins Platoon, especially with members of the original 1967 platoon on the field,” he said. “I am honored to be in the gentlemen’s presence.”
He not only felt ready for boot camp but also to serve in the Marine Corps. Tiedeman enlisted for a position in the Marine Corps infantry.
“I think being a part of the infantry is the best way I can serve my country,” he said. “I had other opportunities outside the Marine Corps, but I don’t think any of that would have given me the opportunity to give back to America what it’s given me.”
All of the members of the Twins Platoon, past and present, all agree about their mixed feelings when deciding to serve in the Marines. All participating in the ceremony Sept. 5 joined directly after high school. All between 17 and 19 years of age. All ready to put their life on the line for their country. And all “apprehensive” of going to boot camp. The first thing the former Marines talked about when they met the recruiters and poolees was MCRD San Diego and their experiences there.
“I was really apprehensive (to joining). First I signed up and then I thought maybe I didn’t want to,” said Baker. “My friend linked me to his father who had served in Iwo Jima. After some drinks and a good conversation, he gave me an emblem he wore during the fight. I’ve worn it ever since.”
As was the case for the Marines in the 1967 Twins Platoon, there is a war being fought overseas. The battle field is no longer heavily vegetated jungles but dry deserts, with temperatures varying from scorching hot in the day time to near freezing at night. Despite the conflicts in the Middle East, men and women still choose to serve in the Marine Corps.
“You get guys like Torrey Tiederman who come in through the door and want to do this. Who get accepted to Anapolis and say ‘I want to be Marine Corps Infantry.’ I want to go enlisted because I understand the foundation that I’m trying to build for a better life,” said Staff Sgt. Jackie Culbertson, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Recruiting Substation Rochester, Minn.
Following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of thousands of Americans decided they wanted to fight for their country.
“I was dropped off at grandma’s house and she came out and said ‘some really bad people crashed into a building,’” recalls Zachary Ratzlaff, 18, from Buffalo, Minn., referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. “Ever since then I have wanted to join the Marines.”
Although time separates the 1967 platoon from the new platoon, their reasons for joining still remain the same.
Sgt. Timothy A. Riffe, a recruiter out of Recruiting Substation Rochester, Minn., attributes successful recruiting to the willingness of Americans to serve in the military.
“Fortunately for us right now with the amount of young men and women that are interested enough to come and talk to us, we have the ability to look through and pick out the best of those individuals and the amount of time that we spend with them,” he said. “From my experiences, people have more of a willingness to serve than I expected. It eases my mind knowing the younger generation has given up their desires to serve their country and serve in the Marine Corps.”