ROVIN' AND RAVIN' WITH MIKE
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Well, it has been over thirty-two years, I was never contacted, I am still waiting, and I remember it well!
Hero "Too Short" To Be Fireman
Tampa Tribune, 1968)
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.)
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
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.
recounted his Marine service of six years and citations, including two Purple
Hearts for wounds in Vietnam.
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.
Chief Lawrence Lehmann said he has discussed more flexibility in hiring
but has drafted no plan.
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
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
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