The Mascot’s Suicide

Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina is a spit-n-polish duty station.  Thousands of visitors pass through the main gate at PISC every year. They are mostly the families of newly minted U. S. Marines who make the journey to see their sons and daughters graduate from recruit training (also known as boot camp) [1].  There is a sign at the entrance to the base that reads, “We Marines do two things really well: we win battles, and we make Marines.”

PISC 001The term “spit-n-polish” means that the base grounds and its many buildings and facilities are maintained in top-notch condition.  Neither do Marine officers and NCOs allow any slouching, hand-warming, spitting, chewing gum, ear buds, umbrellas, or hand holding with the ladies while in uniform. The island is well guarded, and all permanent personnel are constantly on the lookout for some crybaby who thinks that recruit training is too tough and attempts to swim off the island in shark, barracuda, and snake infested waters.  Consequently, after hours, in addition to the military police, each battalion has a duty officer, usually in the grade of First Lieutenant, a duty staff noncommissioned officer, and a duty clerk.  The Recruit Training Regiment also employs a duty officer —the regimental commander’s representative after duty hours, usually in the grade of Captain, and a staff NCO and a clerk assistant.their

While the likelihood of terrorists or die-hard Japanese soldiers attacking MCRD is remote, Marine Corps units are 24/7 operations.  Battalion and regimental duty officers have their “special orders,” which occasionally cause them to leave their post and make periodic inspection tours through recruit training area.  When these officers are making their rounds, the staff duty NCO takes charge and listens for the phone to ring.  If it does, it usually means that something is going on that requires his or her immediate attention.

Now, what follows may be a Marine Corps sea story; I have no personal knowledge of it.  And, for clarification, the only difference between a Marine Corps sea story and a fairy tale is in the telling of it.  Fairy tales begin with “Once upon a time.”  Sea stories begin with, “Now this ain’t no shit.”

USMC BulldogOne late afternoon, the regimental duty officer, who was a very fine young captain, executed his first order of business upon assuming his post at 1600.  He directed the duty clerk to take the regimental mascot, a bulldog named Smedley, outside to the rear of the headquarters building.  Smedley led a charmed life.  He had a spiffy doghouse with his name stenciled on it, it was painted in the Marine Corps’ official colors, and it had a fine roof.  Taking the dog out was an everyday occurrence, needed of course to keep the animal from laying land mines all over the regimental headquarters.  Bulldogs are not known for their self-discipline.  The regimental commander liked his dog, but he didn’t like having to clean up after him.

According to this story, the Regimental Duty Officer’s (RDO) special instructions required that while out of doors, Smedley was to be fed, watered, and then brought back inside the headquarters building at or about 2200 hours, which is the official hour of Taps.  Why this was necessary when the dog had his own house is a mystery.  However, at about 2130, the RDO received a telephone call from one of the battalions on a matter that demanded his attention, and he shortly departed his post to attend to the problem, whatever it was.  Before leaving the command post, the RDO reminded his staff duty NCO bring Smedley in from outside at 2200 hours.

The issue that required the RDO to leave his post turned out to be a serious one, and the captain was busy for several hours.  No one had given much thought about the dog until somewhere between midnight and 0100 hours.  Sitting at his desk, the Captain turned to the NCO and said, “Damn, we forgot to bring the dog in!”  The duty clerk was sent to get the regimental mascot.  After a few minutes, the corporal came back inside the building and said that he couldn’t find Smedley.  Shit.  Breaking out a flashlight, the Captain his staff NCO went outside to look for the dog.  Eventually, they found Smedley — dead.

The animal had a history of chasing after things —typical of bulldogs, who in addition to lacking self-discipline, aren’t very bright.  What apparently happened was that the dog jumped up on top of his doghouse, and while seated there, spotted a car traveling on an adjacent road.  Smedley leaped from his doghouse, over a nearby chain-link fence, and promptly ran out of chain. Cause of death, strangulation.

Promptly at 0800 the next morning, the RDO made a report of his watch to the regimental executive officer (XO).  The XO was not pleased, of course, but the regimental commander was livid.  By 0815 the captain imagined that he’d seen his last promotion.  In time, the captain’s predicament would take a turn for the worse. The regimental commander directed his XO to press charges against the captain for negligence of duty.  With charges preferred, the captain had but two choices: he could either accept regimental nonjudicial punishment, or he could demand a court-martial.  After consulting with a civilian attorney in the nearby town of Beaufort, the Captain demanded a court-martial.

After evaluating all the facts surrounding Smedley’s death, along with those of the “incident” that called the RDO away from his usual post, the civilian attorney made an appointment with the regimental commander to see if he could persuade the colonel to drop the charges.  The CO could not be persuaded, and the matter progressed to scheduling a Special Court-martial.  Before the court convened, however, the civilian attorney (a southern gentleman) made another appointment with the regimental commander.

“Colonel,” said the civilian attorney, “my purpose in requesting this meeting is to again ask that you reconsider your actions this case.  I am asking once more that you drop all charges against my client.”

“Dropping the charges is off the table in this discussion, sir,” said the Colonel.

“Well, now Colonel,” continued the attorney, “before you make a hasty decision, let me acquaint you with the facts of this case, as I intend to present them to the court and to the press.”

“The press?” asked the Colonel.

“Indeed, suh.  This is a very stringent action you’ve taken against a very fine Marine Corps officer, and I intend to defend him as best I can, including, as I said, in the court of public opinion.”

“Well, you’re entitled to do as you see fit,” said the Colonel, “but press involvement is not going to persuade me in this matter.”

“That is as I suspected, Colonel,” said the attorney. “But let me just take a moment of your time, as I said, to acquaint you with the facts of this case —as I intend to present them.  We believe, and I shall argue this strenuously, that the dog . . . his name was Smedley?”

“Yes, that’s right,” the Colonel answered.

“That’s an odd name for a dog, don’t you think?”

“It’s a tradition,” said the colonel.

“Well, in any case, we believe that Smedley, being unhappy here at the regiment, and being unable to communicate that melancholy to you, began exhibiting a pattern of disturbing behavior.  Chasing automobiles, loose bowels … things of that sort.  We believe that in his final days, Smedley was a very unhappy mascot, not of sound mind, and possibly, clinically depressed.  I will argue that he committed suicide by throwing himself over the fence, thereby hanging himself to death.”

“What?” said the Colonel.  “That is preposterous!”

“Well, preposterous as it may sound, that is what we intend to argue before the court.  I have witnesses that will attest to the dog’s aberrant behavior.  And as I said, suh, the press is going to love this story.  I daresay people will be talking about this case up and down the entire East Coast of these United States.  And, uh, I do believe your Marine headquarters is located on the east coast, isn’t it suh?”

The charges filed against the captain were dropped that very day.

Endnote:

[1] There are two recruit training centers: Parris Island, South Carolina and San Diego, California.

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Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.

12 thoughts on “The Mascot’s Suicide”

    1. He disgraced himself, Koji. No self-respecting mascot will lower him or herself by chasing cars or trucks. Doing so, he brought shame upon himself, the Corps, and the naval service. Speaking of the naval service, at least the USMC mascot isn’t a goat.

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    1. That would put a whole different slant to the story, wouldn’t it? Trying to imagine the size of a third class’ cajones bad mouthing the Corps at Parris Island, though. 😀

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  1. Reminds me of an episode at the Fort Sill NCO academy that involved a goldfish that was kept in a toilet bowl in the latrine, an accusation of goldfish murder and a late evening trip off post to a Woolworth pet department.
    Luckily, there were no dental records and one goldfish looks pretty much like another.

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