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Best of homes, worst of homes Jul 2017

Published 01 July 2023

Sergeant Harvey Walden joined the US Marines to escape the gangs of Southside Chicago, and found sanctuary in the Bucks countryside

The mean streets of Chicago's Southside, where Sergeant Harvey Walden IV was born and grew up

The worst place I’ve ever lived is Southside Chicago, without a doubt. I was born there in 1966, and grew up in Southside. I hated it and just couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. That’s why I joined the Marine Corps as soon as I turned 17.

I originally wanted to join the US Army but the recruiters wouldn’t come round where I lived. Only the Marines came visiting, so I let them sell me the Corps and I’m still there 22 years later.

It was so good to get out of Southside. There were gangs hanging around on the streets, people were getting mugged and beat up. There were shoot-outs and drive-bys. I saw all that stuff when I was young and I didn’t want to see it anymore.

I’m glad I left when I did, because it’s even worse now. Back in the 1970s the kids used to have little 9mm handguns. Now they’ve got automatic weapons. I remember when the gangs used to fight using their belt buckles. They’d just whip off their belts and start laying into each other. Now they use huge knives. It’s no place to be now and I didn’t want to raise my kids there. After I joined up, my Dad moved out to the suburbs, which are safer.

I stayed in the US for the first eight years of my Marine service and was deployed on a couple of cruisers and then posted to Okinawa in Japan.

After that, I was sent to London for five years and that was the best duty station I ever had. If I had to pick my best home then it would definitely be the house I lived in with my family in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, during that five-year posting. I loved it. Compared to other places I’d lived, the house in Wycombe was like a palace. It was a proper family home. There was plenty of space in the house for my wife and two kids and there was a big backyard. There was also a public footpath just outside the base so I could go running through the countryside.

I was stationed in Eastcote, West Ruislip, and I also had an office in Central London. I was in the security forces and our job was to guard the US Embassy and the US Navy European headquarters building in Grovesnor Square. I really enjoyed the culture in London and I got to travel all over the place. Every month, we’d go on family trips around the area and I got to go to the British Open every year. It didn’t get much better.

I’m back in the US now and am with a tank unit doing a lot of training. I’m not a foot soldier any more and am getting ready to retire from the Corps after 22 years. I’ve been doing this for half my life. It’s going to be tough to walk out on it, but I’ve got some things lined up to keep me busy.

Sergeant Harvey Walden IV is a US Marine and star of Celebrity Fit Club