General Anthony Zinni Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Military's Role in a Changing World: Conversation with General Anthony C. Zinni, United States Marine Corps (ret.) and former Commander in Chief of the Central Command; 3/6/01, by Harry Kreisler.

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Background: Becoming a Marine

General Zinni, welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you, Harry.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in a small town outside of Philadelphia called Conshohocken, and raised there.

How did your parents shape your character, do you feel, in retrospect?

They both immigrated to this country -- both very young when they came, actually, with my grandparents -- from Italy. We had a very warm and close family. My parents taught me a lot about the values that carried me through life, and that close family relationship and their sense of values, the importance of integrity in your word and all of that, I carried with me.

Were there any professional military in your family as you were growing up?

Not professional, but all the men in my family had served in one way or another. My grandfather in the Italian army; and my father was drafted in World War I here, in the United States, and he went over to France; my brother in Korea; cousins in the Pacific and Europe during the Second World War. So they had all served.

When you were growing up, any books that you read that you remember even now that influenced you in terms of choosing your career?

You know, I don't think it really came down to books that I read, but I remember some movies that I saw. I really felt like I wanted to do something different. I wanted to not do what normally was done in my small hometown -- get a job in the local mill and hang out at the local firehouse and everything else. I wanted to seek adventure and get out. And the military, because I saw a number of movies, especially the World War II vintage movies, seemed like a place to strike out, seek adventure, and define yourself.

Did you have any mentors or schoolteachers that you remember in retrospect who helped influenced you?

I went to a Catholic College, Villanova, and we had several priests who had been chaplains, some with wartime experience in the 82nd Airborne and chaplains in the Navy. And I think they had a great deal of influence. And my brother was a hero of mine, my older brother that had served in Korea, and my father. The stories I would hear from uncles and cousins, especially those that had served in combat, always fascinated me and influenced me.

From this sense of tradition in the military, you say in a retirement speech that you gave, you developed a sense of the military as a calling, as opposed to a vocation.

I did. And I think the Marine Corps instilled that into me right away, that this wasn't a job or a profession; that, really, it was a calling. I mean, it was akin to the priesthood. I think Marines tend to think about it that way. It's a real commitment and it's not done for material motivation at all, obviously.

So when did you say, "That's it, I'm going to do this"? Later, when you were an undergraduate? Or, even younger than that?

No, even younger than that. Actually, my first day on campus, I was what we call a day-hop. I commuted to college.

And where were you at school?

I was at Villanova. A friend of mine said, "Well, most people join some sort of military organization while they're here." We had an ROTC program on campus. And the first day I wandered around and found these Marines standing in their dress blues in our local coffee shop there, and with a recruiting poster, and I joined something called the platoon leader's course. We went away in the summers for training at Quantico, and really had no program on campus. It was really summer training. You were a reservist, then an unlisted reservist. But upon the graduation, you were commissioned to Second Lieutenant, and went off to officer training.

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