Happy 65th Anniversary to The D.I.!

“Private Owens! Was the sand flea you killed male or female?”

“Male, sir!”

“Then this ain’t it. Keep looking.”

Technical Sergeant Jim Moore is a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina. Every 12 weeks, he’s handed a new collection of lads (mostly) just out of high school, and he’s given a straightforward task: Mold them over the course of those 12 weeks into basically trained, Mark 1-Mod 0 United States Marines.

Every training platoon usually comes with at least one individual who proves more challenging than his fellow recruits; someone who seems unable to do anything correctly despite what may or may not be their best effort. The D.I.’s job is to push through all of that resistance and help that recruit meet their goal of earning the title, “United States Marine.”

Some days, the job seems impossible. Some days, the recruit seems like a lost cause. Some days, it just seems easier to sign the papers.

D.I.’s don’t take the easy way, even when their latest challenge is Private Owens.

Continue reading “Happy 65th Anniversary to The D.I.!”

Happy 35th Anniversary, Heartbreak Ridge!

The Marines are looking for a few good men. Unfortunately…you ain’t it.”

Holy crap! Heartbreak Ridge, the 1986 film starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, turns 35 today.

After all of these years, this film remains one of my guilty pleasure flicks, possessing two things I can never have enough of: movies about Marines, and movies featuring Clint Eastwood. As much a fan as I am of Eastwood the actor, it’s Clint the director who’s also given me a healthy number of films I enjoy revisiting. I started to really take notice of his directorial talents with 1985’s Pale Rider, which for me signaled a shift in my appreciation of the man as a filmmaker. At some point several years ago, I realized the older Clint was getting, the more inclined I was to like a movie he was in. That went double if he was directing. Of course, he’s directed a few in which he did not appear, and those usually have been worth checking out, too. Indeed, this past year has seen a sharp increase in my desire to watch Western films and sample more Western fiction, and Eastwood’s contributions to that particular genre have been well-represented during my various revisitations.

Meanwhile, there’s this not at-all Western, Heartbreak Ridge.

It’s a familiar formula: A hard-assed, battle-tested veteran is put in charge of a group of malcontents or otherwise underperforming troops and has to whip them into shape before they head off to combat. Of course they hate him at first, doing their best to side-step or undermine the salty vet’s efforts until he finally earns their respect and they come together as a cohesive unit just in time for the bullets to start flying.

In this case it’s Eastwood as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway, a grizzled Marine who’s this close to being sent out to pasture, having nearly reached mandatory retirement. Before he was a Marine, Highway served in the Army during the Korean War, and awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic action during the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.

As for the movie? The plot is pretty simple: In 1983, Highway is a decorated, battle-tested warrior without a war to fight. Rather than ride quietly off into the sunset and retirement, he opts for a transfer back to a combat unit; in this case, a Force Recon battalion attached to the 2nd Marine Division. It’s the unit in which Highway served many years earlier, so it’s a bit of a homecoming. The battalion sergeant major is a familiar face, a buddy with whom Highway served going back to Korea. The recon platoon Highway is tasked with leading is another matter, filled as it is with a bunch of slacking loafers who’ve been allowed to lapse into a state of utter shambles thanks to Highway’s inept and ambivalent predecessor. Highway’s task: make the young Marines combat ready, with their first test coming as President Reagan sends troops to Grenada.

Gunny Highway, getting to know the troops.

I have a few fond memories of this movie. When it was filmed in the spring and summer of 1986, several scenes were shot at Camp Pendleton, California (which stood in for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina), and at the time I was a lowly private first class stationed there. I got to see some of these scenes being filmed, though unlike other Marines I didn’t get to serve as an extra in the background or anything like that. One scene in particular near the movie’s beginning shows Eastwood as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway walking across a collection of amphibious landing vehicles, which are/were a sort of outdoor museum showing the evolution of such craft. That area was just a couple of hundred yards from the barracks building where I was living at that time.

In a later scene when Highway steps outside and salutes the flag as it’s lowered for evening colors? That was the headquarters for the 1st Marine Division (standing in for the 2nd Marine Division, in this case). Several of the training areas shown in different scenes where Highway is getting his men into shape? Been there, done those.

One of the other memories which sticks out about the film is how roundly disavowed it was by pretty much anyone high up in the Marine Corps chain of command. Upon seeing an advance screening of the film, Marine officials denounced it, even going so far as to issue directives prohibiting Marines from going to the theater in uniform to see it. According to them, Eastwood’s portrayal of Highway–a rude, crude, throwback “salty vet,” forged in the fires of combat from Korea to Vietnam–was not in keeping with the image the Corps wished to convey as being commonplace among its ranks.

I’m pretty sure none of the folks raising objections ever met my drill instructors, or any seasoned senior enlisted Marine. At that point in my young career, the upper enlisted ranks still teemed with Vietnam vets, and most of them were like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” upon hearing about the condemnation of Eastwood’s Gunny Highway. I distinctly remember an editorial cartoon from the local newspaper showing a Marine general covering the eyes of a young private to prevent him from seeing Eastwood’s grizzled image.

None of this stopped me and my friends from hauling ass to town from the base on a Friday night to check out the flick for ourselves, of course.

(Yes, I’m keenly aware that I am, of course, 35 years older than I was that night. I’m choosing not to dwell on that right now, thanks very much.)

This isn’t to say the film isn’t without its problems. There are several inaccuracies of varying degrees, most of which will not bother “regular” viewers one whit. The notion of a Force Recon platoon harboring so many completely useless losers for longer than one day is something that’s hard to swallow, of course. As arrogant and super-confident as Marines can be so far as their being the “best of the best of the best” and all that jazz (It’s true, you know.), Force Recon Marines occupy their own level of badassery with even fewer peers. In the unlikely event a couple of shitheads infiltrated the ranks, you can be sure the rest of the platoon would see to such “deficiencies” in short order.

That Highway could unleash live ammo over the heads of his Marines during a training exercise isn’t out of the question, but just doing it without clearance from four or five different links in the chain of command is a tad unrealistic. Also, there’s very little chance anyone would talk to a Medal of Honor winner the way Highway’s commanding officer treats him during the course of the film. Okay, it could happen, but my money’s on the MoH winner stomping a new mudhole in the other guy’s ass and then walking it dry. Come to think of it, how does a supply weenie get put in charge of a combat battalion in the first place?

Anyway….

Despite these and a few other flaws, Heartbreak Ridge has its share of good moments, most of them involving Eastwood. As is the case with almost all of his films, Eastwood himself is always great to watch. His gruff, war-weary Tom Highway is pretty convincing, at least to me. Several of the other characters tread a bit too close to the line of caricature, but even then the performances by actors such as Mario Van Peebles, Boyd Gaines, Everett McGill, Marsha Mason, and so on are pretty solid. The story also suffers from a couple of logistical hurdles, in that the “Heartbreak Ridge” battle that gives the film its title (and where Highway earns the Medal of Honor for his actions) was actually an engagement involving the Army rather than the Marines. The script solves this problem by having Highway in the Army during the Korean War, then changing to the Marines at some point after that conflict. The Army also handled most of the heavy lifting in Grenada, though Marine elements also were involved.

Why the weirdness? Well, the script as originally written featured Highway as a Soldier, with the action taking place at an Army base and leading up to Grenada. When the Army expressed reservations and declined to offer their support–technical or otherwise–for the film’s production, Eastwood and his people took the screenplay to the Marine Corps, who were all about this thing…until seeing that aforementioned advance screening.

So, yeah. It plays fast and loose with historical fact and Marines in general. Eastwood is – to put it kindly – a “throwback” to what is largely (but not completely) an outdated old-school military stereotype, something far more obvious today than when during the film’s original release. On the other hand, I’d argue there are, among a certain generation of those who’ve served in uniform during the past two decades, individuals who’ve since come to know if not become themselves a more modern version of the uncouth, no-nonsense hard-charger whose methods don’t count for much with dinner parties and recruiting films but represent just the sort of warfighter you want by your side when shit gets real.

With all due respect, sir, you’re beginning to bore the hell out of me.

Happy anniversary, Gunny Highway!

Happy 246th Birthday, Marines!

On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United States Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.

— from The Marine Officer’s Guide

———

Today marks the 100th anniversary of General Lejeune’s original birthday message, which to this day is read aloud each year at Marine Corps celebrations around the globe. I’ve even had the privilege of doing this myself, at a birthday ball or two.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi!

October 23, 1983. Semper Fi.

In early 1983, the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit was deployed from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to Beirut, Lebanon. They were sent as part of the peacekeeping force originally inserted the previous year into the conflict raging there between Christian and Muslim factions.

On the morning of October 23, 1983, 38 years ago today, an explosives-laden truck driven by a suicide bomber destroyed the headquarters building of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, killing 241 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers and wounding more than 100 others. Minutes later, a second truck drove into a barracks building housing French peacekeeping forces and detonated, killing 58 French paratroopers and wounding 15 others.

The bombing resulted in the highest single-day death toll for the Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II, and the costliest day for U.S. military forces since the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The harsh lessons imparted on that fateful Sunday morning in 1983 resonate today. They remain relevant even as American military personnel continue to stand in harm’s way around the world.

The following poem is cast in bronze at the official national Beirut Memorial near Camp Lejeune:

THE OTHER WALL

It does not stand in Washington
By others of its kind
In prominence and dignity
With mission clearly defined.

It does not list the men who died
That tyranny should cease
But speaks in silent eloquence
Of those who came in peace.

This Other Wall is solemn white
And cut in simple lines
And it nestles in the splendor
Of the Carolina pines.

And on this wall there are the names
Of men who once had gone
In friendship’s name offer aid
To Beirut, Lebanon.

They did not go as conquerors
To bring a nation down
Or for honor or for glory
Or for praises or renown.

When they landed on that foreign shore
Their only thought in mind
Was the safety of its people
And the good of all mankind.

Though they offered only friendship
And freedom’s holy breath
They were met with scorn and mockery
And violence and death.

So the story of their glory
Is not the battles fought
But of their love for freedom
Which was so dearly bought.

And their Wall shall stand forever
So long as freedom shines
On the splendor and the glory
Of the Carolina pines.

— Robert A. Gannon

Happy 245th Birthday, Marines!

On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United States Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.

— from The Marine Officer’s Guide

usmc-colors

Happy Birthday, Marines! 245 years old today. Semper Fi!

Happy Birthday, Stars and Stripes!

One of the cool fringe benefits of volunteering at the National World War I Museum and Memorial here in Kansas City is that as I continue my learning journey about the war itself, I pick up bits of knowledge and trivia about all manner of subjects. Some are directly tied to the conflict, of course, and others have only tenuous connections. Even those serve to increase my understanding not just of the war but also the world and events which spawned it.

Among the little infonuggets I’ve happened across while perusing one of the many artifacts and didactics filling the museum’s galleries is this: Today, February 8th, marks the 102nd anniversary of Stars and Stripes, the first officially sanctioned military newspaper to carry that storied name.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Stars and Stripes!”

There’s no sandwich like a tactical sandwich.

On our flight from Tampa to Kansas City on Monday, I took a few moments to peruse the brand-spanking new copy of Spirit, Southwest Airlines‘ in-flight magazine. A one-page article highlighted one of the more recent innovations on the military meal front. Are you a soldier on the go? A Marine on a mission with no time for a full-blown sit-down MRE with all the trimmings? Uncle Sam has thought of you, too, GI Joes and Janes!

SpiritMag.com: The Numbers – Barbecue Sandwiches

Basically, we’re talking about a pocket sandwich designed with packaging that – with proper storage – has a 2-3 year shelf life. Your mouth’s watering already, isn’t it?

After doing a little research, I discovered that in addition to the barbecue beef and chicken options cited in the article, there also are bacon cheddar and Italian sandwich variants, as well as something called “Pepperoni Stick.” Pass the Tums, please.

MREsandwiches

Having consumed my share of — we’ll just call them “prepared meals that have passed their freshness date” — in years past, I’m pretty sure I know what to expect after biting into one of these bad boys. Translation? I’m both leery and oddly curious at the prospect. MREs have improved by leaps and bounds since my day, so while I’m sure these new jobs might not represent the finest military dining experience, they’ll keep our boys and girls in uniform moving.

(Their bowels are a whole other story, though….)

And if they could come up with a variant featuring Gates sauce? I’m so there, dudes.

Any of my brothers and/or sisters in uniform who’ve eaten these things care to comment?

ReWard: “Singin’ lo-righta-lay-ho…”

Earlier this evening, I Tweeted about the sauna that was my daughter’s Taekwondo dojang:

The A/C at my kid’s Taekwondo studio is broken. The main room smells like parboiled armpit, with a hint of old jockstrap.

This generated a handful of comments from my friends on Twitter and Facebook, including this one from friend and fellow word-pusher Rich White:

I was thinking that should make you nostalgic for boot camp.

To which I replied:

I can’t imagine anything making me nostalgic for boot camp. When folks say they’d do it over again given the chance, I just look at them and imagine what they’d look like getting a 2×4 across the face.

So, nostalgic for boot camp, I ain’t. 🙂

However, I’m often nostalgic about other aspects of my time in uniform, which made me think of a post I’d written a couple of years ago. In this case, I had been asked a question if there was something particular I missed about my military days. After pondering that query for a short while, I offered up my thoughts in a blog entry originally posted on May 22, 2011 on my old LiveJournal blog: “Singin’ lo-righta-lay-ho…”


I had an interesting conversation today with one of my Facebook friends, during which the topic of my time in the service came up. She asked me a question that I’ve fielded more than few times: “What do you miss?”

The answer varies very little; I missed the travel, of course, and the opportunity to learn and do things I likely would never have done had I opted to pursue a different path than joining the military. First and foremost, though, I miss the people with whom I served. Well, most of them, anyway. Military friendships are an odd thing, given that most of the time you go in knowing that it’s understood to be — in large part, at least — temporary, and I’m not even talking about one or both of you dying in combat or anything like that. Sooner or later, one or both of you is going to be transferred somewhere else, and though you might end up at the same place at some point down the road, more than likely you’d never see each other face to face again. Back before the internet, e-Mail, webcams, Skype, and all that jazz, the latter scenario was the more prevalent one. On the other hand, the introduction of those things into the mix have allowed me to reconnect with people I’d not talked to in years. Another thing about military friendships? When you do finally get back in touch, it’s like no time at all has passed.

Anyway, those were my answers, but my Facebook friend wasn’t letting me off the hook that easy. I couldn’t get away with the simple, predictable answers. She challenged me to name something else – something unexpected – and I had to think about it for a minute. Then it came to me.

I miss the singing during formation runs.

If you’ve never done it, you’ve likely seen it on TV or in a movie (the boot camp scenes during Full Metal Jacket, for example). A group of soldiers or Marines is running in a group, with one guy singing a ditty (or song, or chant…whatever you want to call it), one line at a time, and the group repeats what he says. Repeat. The whole idea is to provide a cadence to keep the unit in step, running at the same pace, and motivated throughout the run’s duration. If you were able to take your mind off of maybe puking all over your shoes, that was a bonus.

I used to love that shit.

Not always, you understand; it was something I learned to appreciate. During my first duty assignment at Camp Pendleton, I would be running with the group while senior NCOs sang the cadence and we barked it back as loud as we could. By the time I moved on to my next assignment on Okinawa, *I* was one of the NCOs expected to do that sort of thing. So, I learned fast, taking pointers from those who did it better than I did, and in short order I began piecing together my own little batch of songs to sing as we did our regular early morning runs. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I really wasn’t all that bad at it. More importantly, I really dug doing it.

As I moved to later duty stations, my relative seniority among my unit’s NCO cadre saw to it that I was one of those tasked with leading PT (physical training) sessions, and if I wasn’t the one who started us off on one of those runs, then it didn’t take long for me to get called out to sing my little songs. By this point, doing the cadence on a run was something I anticipated and even relished. A typical run of this sort normally was three miles, and I had enough material to cover about half that distance if push came to shove. The idea was to spread the wealth, though, so I’d sing for a bit then call someone else. Still, there were occasions where I’d be called out again during the same run.

What I really got a kick out of was when I’d get tapped to lead things as the unit ran into a populated area like down the main street on base or in public as we took part in some kind of parade or other function. For whatever reason, I was always able to kick things up a notch and really get the group singing loud and ornery, to the point where I’d swear we were rattling windows as we ran past. Though our specific unit never numbered more than 50-75, it was when we got to run with the company or battalion that the fun really started. There’s a definite rush to having your every word repeated by several hundred Marines as you run down the road, the songs echoing off buildings or hillsides or whatever you happen to be passing.

Yeah, that was a lot of fun.

I’ve given thought on more than one occasion to assembling some kind of book filled to overflowing with such chants, with sections for each of the services (as much as typing that might make me twitch ;D). I’ve seen one or two such books over the years, and found them lacking. Then the idea gets filed as I move on to something else, and I forget about it. Ah, well. Maybe one of these days.

Anyway, there’s a bit of ramblin’ for a Sunday night.

The best Marine Corps recruiting poster. Ever.

After posting the picture my sister sent me the other day, I started thinking about Parris Island, and boot camp, with one thought leading to another as I bounced around the web looking for pictures and whatnot. Then, I stumbled across what still is probably my all-time favorite Marine Corps recruiting poster, and my vote for best such poster, ever:

Anybody who’s ever been to boot knows that look.

This poster was actually the first to employ the well-known “The Marines are looking for a few good men” recruiting slogan, which was used on pretty much every poster, pamphlet, and bumper sticker the Corps produced from 1971 to 1984. I remember seeing it and several others adorning the offices where my father worked as a Marine recruiter in the 1970s. There also was a version with a female Marine drill instructor and the captions “We don’t promise you a rose garden, either,” and “The few, the proud, the women Marines.” While I do have copies of a few favorites, I haven’t seen either of these in years. I may have to hunt down a copy of the original one…perhaps when I take that tour of Parris Island I’ve been promising myself as research for a future book.

Speaking of which: while poking around the intrawebz, I discovered some cool infonuggets. The D.I. from the original poster, former Sergeant Charles “Chuck” Taliano Jr., worked for several years as manager of the gift store inside the base museum at Parris Island, decades after his original tour of duty and following a 30-year career in the publishing business. Apparently, you can buy copies of the poster there, and he signed about a bazillion of them over the years once people started recognizing him. I was saddened to learn that Mr. Taliano passed away just a few years ago, though I couldn’t help smiling as I read that his services were held at the Recruit Chapel at Parris Island.

Semper Fi, Chuck.