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Cpl. Richard E. Rehbein never had to sleep with his rifle.

He avoided the typical Marine instructor-ordered punishment for failing to either treat the weapon right or qualify on a shooting range as a "boot" in the Corps.

Born in LaPorte in 1928, the Michigan City teenager qualified as a sharpshooter with his M1 at Camp Lejeune and developed a skill with a variety of weapons that would serve him well later.

Just three days out of high school, Rehbein and friends had enlisted in the Marines in June 1946, and quickly became part of Operation Beleaguer in northern China.

The attempt to repatriate the more than 630,000 Japanese and Korean military personnel still in China nearly a year after World War II's end put them in the middle of the country's civil war, pitting communists led by Mao Zedong against Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek, a U.S. ally.

The Marines guarding an ammo dump six miles from Tangku were involved in a skirmish with some 300 to 350 communist guerrillas on April 4-5, 1947, known as the Hsin Ho Incident.

The communists, arriving on donkey carts intent on stealing ordnance, greatly outnumbered the Americans, but Rehbein, serving as a radio operator called for reinforcements. Unfortunately, the relief column was ambushed.

The firefight that ensued with communists throwing potato masher grenades left five Americans dead and 16 wounded.

"There were about 80 communist casualties," Rehbein, 86, of Valparaiso, recalled, "but it's hard to know for sure because they carry them off."

He estimated in a story he wrote later for a military periodical that his friend, Bill Rabb, of North Carolina, personally accounted for 10 or 11 of those communist casualties.

The ammo dump was given to the Chinese Nationalists two weeks later with the Marines sent to Guam. There, Rehbein recalls seeing a two-man Japanese submarine, a leper colony and a U.S. Navy submarine base.

He was honorably discharged in March 1948, going home to work at the Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Co. and General American Transportation Corp. in East Chicago, but "Uncle Harry (Truman)" summoned him back to the Marine Corps in October 1950.

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A nation intent on demobilizing so soon after World War II was now rushing to prepare its military for the new war in Korea.

Rehbein, who had joined the Marine Reserves while on Guam, was sent to Camp Lejeune to instruct the latest round of "boots" in advanced arms training.

There, they learned to throw hand grenades, fire bazookas and flame throwers as well as the early rocket launchers in addition to qualifying with sidearms, the Browning Automatic Rifle and, of course, 30-caliber carbines.

Camp Lejeune, not so affectionately referred to as "Swamp Latrine," would be his home for the next 22 months as he and his fellow instructors evaluated their charges' readiness.

"We knew who needed more training, which kid was doing good and who was sloughing off," Rehbein said. "By the time we were through, they were pretty ready to go (to battle)."

Marine tough love ensured it. 

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