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Marine Hero Too Short to Be Fireman

Copyright © 2000 by Kenneth Leland, All rights reserved 

I'm pleased to welcome Ken Leland with his story of one of his experiences looking for a job after returning from Vietnam.  Now retired, Ken speaks in  schools about his experiences and the experiences of our country during the Vietnam War.


I joined the Marines in 1961 at age nineteen, served four years, and was discharged at the rank of Corporal in 1964. Approximately nine months later, in 1965, at age 23, while working for the State of Florida, I received a letter from the Secretary of the Navy asking me to volunteer for Vietnam: "You have been asked to respond to the need of our country. Many have willingly offered their services, often at great personal sacrifice. It is now anticipated that you will respond again with the zeal imbued in all Marines."

I re-enlisted for two years and was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, for intensive training in guerilla warfare. I was promoted to the rank of sergeant and assigned as leader of a sixteen-man infantry squad, First Batallion, 26th Marines. We arrived in Vietnam in early August 1966. Near the end of 1966, the fighting had reached major proportions. Cries of escalation and dissent echoed throughout the United States and abroad. President Lyndon Johnsonís popularity was at an all-time low, and we were aware that we did not have the support of many people back home.

Most of our operations were along the D.M.Z. (Demilitarized Zone).  I Corps, the Marines who fought there, were called the finest instrument ever devised by mankind for the killing of young Americans.

During my tour of thirteen months, I saw more young men injured and killed than I care to talk about. When it comes to killing another man, whether or not he is your enemy, I can only say that dying is not the worst thing that can happen to someone in combat.

After my thirteen months of continuous combat, I was sent home, back to the real world. I wanted to put the death and destruction behind me, and after six years in the Marines, I would have to work hard to catch up with my peers.

I saw a full-page ad in The Tampa Tribune for openings for firefighters for the City of Tampa. When I went to City Hall to apply, I walked up to a young woman and asked for an application. She smiled and asked me how tall I was. After I replied five feet, six and a half inches, she left a minute to talk with someone else, returned, and said, "No need to apply. Youíre too short. The minimum height requirement is five feet, eight inches." I was shocked, to say the least.

Through a friend of mine, I met Lloyd Copeland, a Tampa city councilman who invited me to appear before the City Council to ask why I could not take the civil service exam for fireman. I simply told the Council that I thought the height restriction was unreasonable. I told them when I volunteered for Vietnam, the mayor of my hometown, the governor of my state, and the president of the United States did not ask me how tall I was.

After the meeting, all the City Council members shook my hand. I was told the Chief would get in touch with me to see if anything could be done in my case.

Well, it has been over thirty-two years, I was never contacted, I am still waiting, and I remember it well!


Semper Fi!


Marine Hero "Too Short" To Be Fireman

(The Tampa Tribune, 1968)

The City of Tampa wants firefighters,  and Kenneth Eugene Leland wants to be one. But, he canít.  Leland, a former Marine platoon sergeant, is an inch and a half too short to meet height requirements. (A minimum of 5 feet, 8 inches.)

"Courage and strength should have something to do with this," said Councilman Lloyd Copeland. Copeland had invited Leland, 26, to appear before City Council to explain why he could not take the civil service examination for firemen, although  the city desperately needs firefighters.

Leland simply told the councilmen that  he wanted to be a firefighter and thought    the height restriction unreasonable. Then Copeland prodded him to discuss his military background.

Leland recounted his Marine service of six years and citations, including two Purple Hearts for wounds in Vietnam. Copelandís fellow councilmen agreed that perhaps the height minimum could be waived in some cases.

Councilman Manuel Fernandez and Sam Mirabella suggested that physical ability, as well as height and weight standards, be considered when looking at applicants for the fire and police departments.

Fire Chief Lawrence Lehmann said he has discussed more flexibility in hiring but has drafted no plan.

"I would not recommend lowering requirements," the chief said. He explained that he would be against any requirement being waived by the Civil Service Board, except at the request of the department head doing the hiring.

Lehmann said he agreed that at times a person excluded by standard requirements would make a good firefighter. He also agreed that such things as experience, courage, physical ability, and education would at times make up for an inch in height.

The chief said he would talk to the ex-Marine to see if anything could be done in his case.


You can read about another of Ken's experiences--

"A Memoir for Memorial Day"

Rovin' and Ravin' with Mike

Guests Worth Ravin' About

Rovin' Through U.S. History 



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