Lieutenant Colonel C. Jack Lewis, USMCR

When he was just a little guy, Jack Lewis became separated from his mother in a large department store.  Anyone who’s been lost in a department store at the age of five or six knows that it’s a terrifying experience.  But then, two young men came to his rescue.  They were Marine Corps recruiters, wearing the dress blue uniform that makes Marines stand out among all other servicemen.  They returned him to his mom.  Jack Lewis never forgot those Marines.

So, in 1942, when it came time for Americans to stand up against fascism, C. Jack Lewis made his way to the local recruiting office and joined the Marines.  Now, for the uninitiated, there are only two kinds of Marines: live Marines and dead Marines.  You see, becoming a United States Marine is a lifetime endeavor.  My good friend Colonel Jim Bathurst titled his autobiography on this very concept: as long as Marines keep faith with one another, and with the code of honor to which we all subscribe, then, We’ll All Die As Marines.

I met Lieutenant Colonel Jack Lewis while assigned as the Adjutant, Marine Aircraft Group 46 in 1979-81.  Lewis was a reserve officer, then serving as the Reserve Liaison Officer for Southern California.  I suspect that there was no better-qualified individual to serve in that capacity than Colonel Lewis.  He served in World War II, the Korean War, and in Vietnam.  In each instance, after serving a tour of combat duty, Jack left the active-duty force and went back into the Marine reserve.  He did this, he told me because there was too much “chicken shit” in the active force … and if there was one thing Lewis could not abide, it was “oppressive regulations, careerist officers, and people who called themselves Marines but wouldn’t have made a pimple of a dead Marine’s ass.”

Like many young men of his day, the teenaged Jack Lewis became what he described as an “amateur juvenile delinquent.”  He was always in trouble.  The problem wasn’t so much Jack’s behavior as it was that he wanted more out of life than his circumstances would allow.  By the late 1930s, Jack was looking for something special in his life.  Something that would offer him a challenge, hold him accountable, and something that he could love with unbridled passion.  In this regard, the Second World War probably came along at the right time for Jack Lewis.  Jack Lewis joined the Marines out of a sense of patriotism, but in doing so, he found that “special something” he was looking for.  The Marines squared his ass away, gave him a reason to get up in the morning, inculcated him with the values so dear to anyone who has ever (honorably) worn the uniform of a United States Marine.  The U. S. Marine Corps became the organization that set him on the pathway of success for the balance of his life.

Jack was born in Iowa on 19 November 1924 but at the age of two, his family moved to Florida.  As a lad, he was a voracious reader and a writer and at age 14, he sold his first novel … The Cherokee Kid’s Last Stand.  The novel earned him five dollars.  Now, while five dollars doesn’t sound like a lot of money, one must recall that in those days a field hand earned a dollar a day for backbreaking work.  No, it wasn’t much, but he was fourteen years of age, and it was a start in a writing career that lasted the balance of his 84-years.

Following World War II, Lewis returned to Iowa, where in 1949 he graduated from the state university with a degree in journalism.  He was subsequently commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve.  A short time later he was assigned to help produce a Marine Corps training film, and then owing to his service in World War II, he became a technical advisor to the John Wayne film, Sands of Iwo Jima.  Of this later effort, Lewis said that he basically advised members of the cast on how to lace up their leggings.  He no doubt contributed far more than that.

When the Korean War erupted in June 1950, Lewis returned to active duty for six years.  He served as a combat correspondent and photographer.  Now this may not seem like much in terms of what Hollywood tells us about combat (which is mostly wrong), but every Marine — no matter what his occupational specialty, no matter what his rank — is first and foremost a rifleman.  Initially, Jack Lewis carried an M-1 carbine as his T/O weapon.  It was the first time he’d carried that particular firearm, considerably smaller than the M-1 Garand.  In one fire fight, Jack shot a communist Chinese soldier eight times, hitting him six times, without doing any noticeable damage to this enemy.  Another Marine standing nearby, who was armed with a Thompson submarine gun, stepped up and blew the communist into the afterlife.  Allowing that no matter where you hit a man with a .45 caliber weapon he’s going down, Lewis thereafter armed himself with a Thompson and would not part with it.  During a second combat tour of duty in Korea, Lewis earned a Bronze Star for his work filming Marine Corps aircraft engaging the enemy from an exposed position.

During the Korean War, Jack Lewis submitted over two dozen magazine articles to Marine Corps headquarters for publication in the Leatherneck Magazine.  HQMC returned the articles telling Lewis that they all sounded too much like Marine Corps propaganda.  Miffed, Lewis then sent the articles to his civilian literary agent who had them published, earning Lewis $200.00 each.  Lewis sent copies of the published articles to the individual at HQMC who had rejected them.  Knowing Jack, I can easily imagine that he sent these copies with a caustic note, but I don’t know that for a fact.

Following the Korean War, Jack commanded a rifle company in the 4th Marines at Camp Pendleton, California.  He was subsequently transferred to the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii where he served as a public information officer.  During this tour of duty, Lewis was assigned as a technical advisor on John Ford’s film titled Mister Roberts.  When no one could locate a stunt performer to drive a motorcycle off a pier, Lewis did the job himself.  Lewis later appeared in a minor role in Admiral Ford’s film, Sergeant Rutledge.

Marines, by their nature, are exceptional.  Jack’s stellar performance prompted his commanding officer to encourage Jack to apply for a regular (as opposed to reserve) commission.  Jack would have none of this, however.  He wanted to pursue a writing career and upon expiration of his active duty obligation, Jack Lewis returned to inactive service in the reserves.

In addition to writing screenplays for films, Lewis found work as a magazine editor in 1956; after three years of learning how magazines are done, he teamed up with Dean Grennell[1] to publish Gun World magazine in 1959.  He continued to author the monthly knife column until his death in 2009.  Lewis was highly critical of the capabilities of various weapons marketed to military and law enforcement agencies.  In fact, he was so critical that the firearms manufacturing companies refused to advertise in his magazine.  Lewis once told the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the M16’s only consistent effect was that it changed the world’s perception of the American rifleman.  Americans, he said, used to be sharpshooters, but after the M16, they were little more than “sprayers.”

Jack Lewis developed a story that he originally titled Year of the Tiger.  When Marshall Thompson[2] selected Lewis’ work for a 1963 film, he hired Lewis to write the screenplay and the title was changed to A Yank in Viet-Nam, which was filmed on location in South Vietnam in 1963, often in the midst of, or within range, of actual fire fights.

In 1966, Lewis published a novel titled Tell it to the Marines.  It is the story of a Marine officer who, during the Korean War, is placed in command of a band of misfits in a motion picture unit.  In the preface of this book, Jack penned, “Any similarity to persons, places, or incidents is highly plausible; only the names have been changed to avoid court-martial.”  The humor in this book may be lost among those who never earned the Marine Corps emblem, and among those born in the 21st Century, life in the Marine Corps during the Korean war may not resonate.  I have a copy of this book on my shelf.

He was also the author of White Horse, Black Hat: A Quarter Century on Hollywood’s Poverty Row; Renegade Canyon; Mohave; Massacre Mountain; and The Coffin Racers.

In 1969, Lewis returned to active duty to serve a full-length tour in Vietnam with the III Marine Amphibious Corps.  During this tour, Lewis earned his second and third air medal, signifying 50 air missions exposed to enemy fire.  Lewis retired from the Marine Corps in 1984, one day prior to his 60th birthday.

Colonel Jack Lewis was a man of many talents and many careers.  He did not suffer fools gladly; he was a maverick, not at all concerned about becoming someone else’s vision of a Marine —but his own vision was good enough for him and almost everyone who knew him.  He may have been a bit rough around the edges, and blunt, but he was a decent man whose professionalism was well-balanced with his friendliness.  He loved his Corps, and he loved Marines until his last breath.  In the company he managed for 37 years, he preferred hiring retired and former Marines. When Jack Lewis retired, he moved to Hilo, Hawaii, where he continued to write.  Colonel C. Jack Lewis, United States Marine Corps Reserve, passed away at his home on 24 May 2009.

Endnotes:

[1] Dean Grennell (1923-2004) served as a firearms instructor in the Army Air Corps during World War II and is remembered as an American firearms expert, writer, editor, managing editor of Gun World magazine, and the editor of the science fiction “fanzine” Grue. 

[2] Marshall Thompson (1925-1992) (a classmate of Norma Jean Baker) was an actor, director, and producer of films beginning in the 1940s of science fiction genre.  One film titled The Terror from Beyond Space in 1958 became the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien films.  A second Viet Nam era film was titled To the Shores of Hell (1965).


The Investigation

Another “Colonel Gresham” Adventure

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) sets forth Congressional instructions for the governance of criminal and civil laws and penalties for all Armed Forces of the United States.  However, each military department is empowered to implement these laws according to the peculiar needs of their services.  In the Navy and Marine Corps, the Manual of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy governs administrative and investigatory actions.

As one might imagine, there are several such processes and proceedings.  One of these proceedings involves command investigations, also referred to as Fact-Finding Investigation.  Before a Commanding Officer/Convening Authority can determine an appropriate course of legal action, he or she must review the facts surrounding an incident.  Hence a command investigation may be appropriate.

Command investigations are appropriate whenever an event or series of events might result in disciplinary action or later become the basis for a claim against the United States Government.  In any case, such an investigation materially assists commanding officers in determining how best to proceed in such matters.

Fact-finding investigations begin when a convening authority appoints an officer or NCO to conduct one.  It is usual for a convening authority to direct the investigating officer to provide “findings of fact, opinions, and recommendations.”  Opinions, of course, must be logically inferred from the facts presented.

As it happened, there was a regrettable incident at the command’s annual officer Christmas party.  There was a “gift exchange,” where people picked names out of a hat and were instructed to pick up a small gift costing no more than $10.00 for opening at the Christmas party.  The gathering was a mandatory social event; every officer assigned to the command element would participate.  Someone harbored resentment of being forced to exchange gifts.  The victim, in this case, was the person whose name the disgruntled person pulled out of the hat.

The Commanding General’s civilian executive secretary (I’ll call her Miss Smith) was a spinster lady of around forty years old at the time.  She was an introvert, ill-at-ease around others, exacerbated by a speech impediment — but by every account, she was a fast typist and a skilled record keeper.  Miss Smith was of medium height, slender build, and wore her hair the same every day — it was a sort of throw-back hairstyle to the early 1900s — a bun configuration on top of her head.  Despite her eccentricities, Miss Smith was a lovely lady whom the general wished to include in the command’s social gatherings.

The Christmas party was held at a local country club a few days before the beginning of the official holiday break — on a Friday evening, of course.  It was a coat and tie affair — somewhat typical for an officer’s social gathering.  Officers and their wives mixed with one or another group and made their manners to the Commanding General and his lady.  After a few hours of this sort of thing and several table servings of hors d’oeuvre (Marine officers never pass up free food — even if it is ‘beanie weenies’), it came time to exchange gifts.  This slavish duty fell upon the general’s aide-de-camp and his lady.  After opening presents, the officer/recipient would offer an inane comment, such as, “Oh wow … I’ve always wanted a pair of pink earmuffs.”

When the aide called for Miss Smith, she very self-consciously went up to the aide to receive her gift and then withdrew away from everyone as best she could … but of course, everyone waited for her to open the present and add to the growing list of inane comments.  The general and his lady stood nearby; they seemed pleased that Miss Smith had been able to join in the fun.

Miss Smith unwrapped her gift, found a box, which she opened to reveal a tube of lipstick.  And what do most ladies do when they look at lipstick?  They twist it open.  That’s what Miss Smith did, as well.  In sum, it was a foolish prank — particularly when one considers how fragile a person Miss Smith was.  The lipstick took the form of a phallic symbol.  The General was not happy to see his executive secretary being escorted out to her car, crying.

Sometime before the end of the evening, which occurred soon afterward, the CG turned to Colonel Gresham, his Chief of Staff, and said, “I want an investigation to find out who did this …”  I can’t say that I blame him; the prank was obviously the work of one of our officers, and it was hardly an act “becoming” of an officer.  Worse, it was unkind.  Gresham replied, “Yes, sir … I’ll get someone on it first thing Monday.”

“No,” said the CG … “I want you to do it.”

Handing this assignment to Gresham was probably an error in judgment.  Nevertheless, at promptly 08:00 on the following Monday, Colonel Gresham directed his trusty staff secretary, Major Karl Bueller, to (a) cancel the morning staff meeting, and (b) call the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA), Lieutenant Colonel Abrams (not his real name), and have him report immediately to the Chief of Staff.  The SJA was the command’s legal officer.

The first problem was that Abrams never arrived at work before 09:00.  Second, the word “immediately” wasn’t in Abrams’s vocabulary.  If Colonel Gresham was even partly aware of the habits of his staff, he would have known this.  By the time Abrams finally appeared in Gresham’s office, it was already 09:15, and the colonel was fuming.

Gresham was a loudmouth, someone who loved to hear the roar of his own voice.  People wondered about that.  No one likes being yelled at or spoken down to, but that was Gresham’s modus operandi.  So, everyone within earshot heard Gresham busting Abrams’s chops, and Gresham suffered under the misconception that Abrams gave a damn what Gresham thought.  Abrams was getting ready to retire anyway.

Getting down to business, Gresham filled Abrams in on what had happened the previous Friday evening, adding that the CG wanted someone to investigate the incident.  Abrams said, “Well, Colonel, let me talk to the General … this isn’t something …”

Gresham interrupted him.  “I’m not asking for your opinion, Abrams.  The decision has already been made.  I’m asking for your help.”

It had been twenty years since Gresham had conducted a fact-finding investigation.  He wanted Abrams to tutor him about how to proceed.  An hour later, Abrams returned to his office to gather the instructional materials Gresham would need to conduct his investigation.  He had one of his captains deliver to Gresham a copy of the JAG Manual, with appropriate sections paper clipped, a copy of the standard Miranda warning, numerous copies of statements forms, and a formal letter of appointment (which the CG duly signed).  After reading through these voluminous materials, Gresham was still a little confused, so he called down to the Abrams’s office to ask further questions.  Since Abrams usually went to lunch at around 11:00, Gresham would have to wait another two hours for his answers.

Abrams returned Gresham’s phone call at 13:30.  Gresham didn’t understand the Miranda Warning.[1]  The answer to Gresham’s question was, “No, sir.  You only give the Miranda warning to someone you suspect of an offense, misconduct, or improper performance of duty.  If you suspect that one or more persons committed a crime or is guilty of misconduct, you should not interview them until last.  If you give a Miranda warning, it must be given before you conduct your interview or ask them to make a statement.

Gresham spent the rest of the day organizing himself for the inquiry.  Bueller noted that Gresham’s organizational strategy was to stack his materials at one location on his desk and then move them to another site.  It was clear that Gresham didn’t want to conduct the investigation; Bueller opined, “He’s out of his depth.”

“Major Bueller,” roared Gresham, “get me a copy of the command officer personnel roster.  Line out anyone who was not present at the social gathering.”  The roster became Gresham’s “list of usual suspects.”

At promptly 08:00 on Tuesday morning, Colonel Gresham directed Major Bueller, his trusty Staff Secretary, to telephone LtCol Abrams and immediately report to the Chief of Staff.  As it happened, Abrams’s name was the first to appear on the personnel roster — because the roster was sorted alphabetically.

However, since Abrams didn’t arrive at work until a few minutes before or after 09:00, Gresham had to wait about an hour for Abrams’ appearance.  As before, Gresham was in no easy frame of mind when Abrams finally appeared.  The conversation on Tuesday began quite similarly to the one on the previous day.  Gresham loudly chastised Abrams: Abrams shrugged it off with a perfunctory “Yes, sir.”

With that out of the way, Colonel Gresham cleared his throat, sat down behind his desk, asked Abrams to take a seat.  Gresham then spent a few extra moments attending to the organization of his desk.  Bueller later opined, “He didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”

The Chief of Staff then looked intently at Abrams and said, “My name is Colonel George Gresham.  I am investigating an incident on (date) at the (name of country club) where the command’s executive secretary received a sexually explicit gift as part of the gift exchange program.  While you are not suspected of any wrongdoing at this time, it is my duty to inform you that you have certain rights.  You have the right to remain silent during my questioning; you are not obligated to answer any questions that might tend to incriminate you.  If you decide to answer questions, you must be aware that anything you do say will be taken down and used against you during a formal legal proceeding.  Also, if you decide to answer my questions now or make a statement regarding the subject of this investigation, you may stop answering questions at any time to consult with an attorney; if you desire to speak with an attorney, you may do so at the government’s expense, or if you choose, you may consult with a civilian attorney at your own expense.”

Gresham stopped speaking.  A long silence prevailed inside his office until he proceeded by asking, “Do you understanding these rights as I have explained them to you?”

LtCol Abrams, the command lawyer, replied, “Yes, sir.”

“Do you wish to make a statement now or answer my questions?” Gresham asked.

Abrams answered, “No, sir.”

Gresham’s mouth fell open.  “What?”

Abrams:  “I beg your pardon, sir?”

Gresham:  “I said, ‘What’ … you don’t want to make a statement?”

Abrams:  “That is correct; I do not wish to make a statement.”

Gresham:  “Why not?”

Abrams:  “Why not what, sir?”

Gresham:  “Why do you not wish to make a statement?”

Abrams:  “Oh.  Well, you aren’t allowed to ask me that, Colonel.”

Gresham:  “Why not?”

Abrams:  “Well, to begin with, the continuation of your line of questioning after I already informed you that I do not wish to answer any of your questions, including your question ‘Why not,’ would seem to contravene the entire purpose of the Miranda warning.”

Gresham:  “I see.  Well, in that case, would you care to make a statement to the effect that you do not wish to make a statement?”

Abrams:  “No, I would not.”

Gresham:  “Very well, you are dismissed.”

Major Bueller later reported that as Abrams departed Gresham’s office, he was shaking his head and chuckling to himself.

Colonel Gresham continued with his investigation … down the list of suspects he went.  Not even Major Bueller, his trusty Staff Secretary, wanted to make a statement.  It took Grisham several days to get through seven colonels, twenty-two lieutenant colonels, twenty-five majors, fifteen or so captains, and two lieutenants.

Not a single officer agreed to make a statement or answer any of Gresham’s questions.  Well, out of the entire staff of the headquarters element, only one person was “guilty” of conduct unbecoming, which means that everyone else was very likely insulted to have been questioned at all.

I would have narrowed the suspect list down to only a few, beginning with the Division Inspector, whom everyone called “Boss Hogg” on account of that’s who he looked like, and because he was known for his perversions in local New Orleans bars, and maybe one or two of the captains who routinely exhibited immature behavior.

Whoever played the mean prank on Miss Smith was never identified.  To my knowledge, there was never another Christmas party “gift exchange.”  No one knows what the CG might have said to his Chief of Staff when the official shoulder-shrug took place.

Lieutenant Colonel Abrams never did arrive at work on time; Colonel Gresham never again made that an issue. Major Bueller continued to wonder how Gresham ever made it to full colonel.

As did we all.

Notes:


[1] A Miranda warning is an advisory statement provided by police officials or lawful military authority to an accused or a suspect who is in police custody which reminds them of their right to silence, the right to refuse to answer questions or provide information to investigators.  It protects an accused/suspect from coerced self-incrimination.

Slop Chutes and Such

Old EGASome Background

The interesting thing about life in the Marine Corps is that it consists of a series of rites of passage that begin on the day a prospective recruit signs his name to an enlistment contract and lasts until a Marine receives his discharge papers; a continual series of leaving one group or period in his life, and joining another.  These rites of passage pertain to everyone who has ever worn the uniform of a United States Marine, irrespective of rank or position.

No one is called “Marine” until he or she earns that title.  One earns the title by successfully completing “boot camp” or Officer’s Candidate School (OCS).  There are two recruit training regiments (boot camps): Parris Island, South Carolina and San Diego, California.  Officers receive their rendition of recruit training at Quantico, Virginia.

Thus far, I have identified two distinct rites of passage: the migration from “scummy civilian” to recruit or candidate, and from recruit/candidate to United States Marine.  The latter is most significant because any feather merchant can convince a recruiter that he or she has what it takes to become a Marine.  Not everyone measures up.  Separating the wheat from the chaff is what boot camp and OCS is all about. Graduation is a significant event because, having earned the title Marine, it stays with you beyond death —with one important caveat: a Marine must always keep faith with his or her fellow Marines.  A Marine who is separated from the Corps by a less-than-honorable discharge is no longer entitled to be called Marine.  Of those who keep the faith, who serve honorably, there are only two categories: live Marines, and dead Marines.  Earning the title Marine, and keeping it, is a lifetime achievement.

The next rite of passage is the completion of infantry training.  Every Marine, no matter what his or her occupational specialty, is first and foremost, a rifleman.  This is a demand placed on everyone in the Corps, officer or enlisted, Commandant or private.

Marine pilots fly the world’s most sophisticated fighter/bomber aircraft, but they are first trained to serve as infantry unit leaders.  Cooks, bakers, and candlestick makers, pilots, supply officers, or personnel officers … all are trained and ready to pick up a rifle and join the fray whenever called upon to do so.  In my day, infantry training took place in Infantry Training Regiments (ITRs); one on the east coast, and one on the west coast.  Today, these organizations are called Schools of Infantry.  Basic infantry training for officers is conducted at the Officer’s Basic School, Quantico, Virginia.

Upon graduation from infantry training, Marines are normally granted “boot leave.”  This usually consists of a period from fifteen to thirty day leave of absence.  Not everyone wants to go home after initial training, but most do.  When the leave period expires, Marines will either report to their next level or training (such as aircraft maintenance schools, armor school, supply school, etc.) or their first regular duty assignment.  My first assignment was with the 8th Marines, part of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Life in the Regiment

8th Marines 001The lineage of the Eighth Marine Regiment (8th Marines) begins in 1917.  The regiment was deactivated following World War I, re-activated for service in the Banana Wars (1920-25), and re-activated again for service in World War II.  The regiment has a proud history of combat service, which was carefully explained to me and a few other newly assigned Marines by Sergeant Major Mason, who at the time served as Battalion Sergeant Major, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.

The 2nd Battalion (also 2/8) —nicknamed America’s Battalion— further assigned me to Company E (Echo Company).  Having reported to the company First Sergeant, who gave me “the word,” I was sent to the 3rd Platoon.  The platoon commander was Second Lieutenant Percy, who assigned me to Corporal Myers’ 3rd Squad.  I ended up in the 3rd fire team.

My fire team leader was Lance Corporal Graham, a 12-year veteran of infantry service.  At one time, Graham was a sergeant.  Apparently, the Navy and Marine Corps frown on enlisted men making threats to the health and safety of their officers.  As I understood the situation, the only reason Graham was still on active duty is because few Marines in the company knew more about platoon tactics than he did.  That and the fact that he’d won the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts during the Korean War.

Lance Corporal Graham was not “friendly” to anyone in the fire team.  He was strictly professional.  He served as our leader, our mentor, and our teacher.  He noted when we were deficient, corrected our mistakes, and assessed our proficiency under a myriad of circumstances and conditions.  He brooked no insult to himself, any member of his fire team, our company, our battalion, our regiment, or our Corps.

2:8 001Getting settled into the company routine was relatively simple.  LCpl Graham assigned me to a rack, a wall locker, and a footlocker.  As a very young private, I only had to do what I was told.  Simple things, actually … in garrison it was essentially reveille at 0530, make up the rack, head call, don the uniform of the day, fall in, march to chow, morning police, company formation, get the word, execute the plan of the day, chow formation at noon, continue the plan of the day, evening formation and chow call, and then company area, on-base, or off-base liberty might be offered.

When we went to the field for training, we usually stepped off after morning chow on Monday mornings at around 0630 and remained in the field until sometime late in the afternoon on Friday.  This meant that the weekends were spent squaring away our gear (clothing, equipment, cleaning our rifles, shining our boots) and getting ready for the following week’s training plan.  Simple.

During my first few weeks, LCpl Graham kept a close eye on me.  He finally decided that I’d do.  Graham was never snarky, or petty.  He was direct.  When he wanted me to do something, he expected me to do it to his satisfaction.  In many ways, he was a continuation of the attention to detail given to young recruits by their drill instructor, without the ranting and raving.  I was fortunate to serve under LCpl Graham.  He taught me worthwhile things —things that have stayed with me all my life: the first duty of a Marine is to do his duty.  A Marine on duty has no friends.  Be honest with yourself, and others;  never be afraid to admit you made a mistake, always do the right thing —because it’s the right thing to do.  Pay attention to detail.  Be confident.  Take pride in self, your fellow Marines, and your unit.  Take care of your fellow Marines and know that they’ll always watch out for you.  Stuff like that.

Approaching my third weekend in the third herd, Graham informed the fire team that we would accompany him to the slop chute on Friday night.  He didn’t ask if we wanted to go, he simply announced that we were going.  LCpl Graham was the essence of a good Marine.  Mimicking the Corps, there was a reason for everything he did.  By the way, slop chute is another name for the Enlisted Men’s Club.  Before we could go over to the slop chute, however, we had to “check out” on liberty.

Now, about “liberty.”  Marines are not entitled to liberty; it is granted.  Liberty simply means that a Marine has been authorized to leave his unit area.  There is “base liberty,” which means that a Marine may leave the company area, but he or she must remain on base.  Off base liberty should be self-explanatory, as with “weekend liberty.”  72-hour liberty is essentially a three-day pass with a limitation on the number of miles one may travel away from the base.  Liberty is controlled by unit commanders; married personnel and senior NCOs were generally granted overnight liberty.  Single men living in the barracks were generally required to return to their company areas at midnight.  We called it Cinderella Liberty, but again, this would likely depend on a Marines rank and what day of the week.  The thing to remember is that Marines are on duty 24-hours a day and unit commanders must be able to muster their men within a few hours.

For the purpose of this story, I will only speak of liberty privileges as they pertained to junior (single) enlisted men.  Marines assigned to 2/8 were required to “sign out” and “sign in” with the company duty noncommissioned officer (Duty NCO).  The Duty NCO would issue a liberty card (allowing that the first sergeant hadn’t pulled it for some reason).  By signing out, Marines informed the Duty NCO in writing where they were going, such as to the base theater, into town, visiting a married Marine in his quarters, etc.

At the appointed time, the fire team reported to the Duty NCO.  We presented our military ID cards and requested on base liberty.  After passing the Duty NCO’s visual inspection of our uniforms and general appearance, we were permitted to “sign out” of the company area.  “Be back by midnight,” he said.  Marines failing to return to the company before midnight were “absent over liberty,” punishable within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Properly signed out, we hoofed it over to the area slop chute, which was about a mile down the road.  The enlisted men’s club was less a club than it was a large warehouse furnished with wooden picnic tables and benches.  The purpose of the crude furnishings was that they were too heavy to use against Marines from other regiments during a melee, which did occasionally happen.  For all we knew, those wood tables and benches might have been the original furnishings of Tun Tavern[1] in Philadelphia.

Entering the club, a long bar extended along the opposite side of the building where Marines could purchase either a mug of “3.2” beer for fifteen cents, or a pitcher of the same brew for twenty-five cents.  Off to the side was a small galley where one could purchase a cheeseburger and fries.  The place reeked of stale beer and greasy hamburgers.  A jukebox just inside the main entry blared out the music of the day.  Competing with the loud music was the clamor of hundreds of voices as Marines shouted to make themselves heard over the commotion.  Thankfully, this was a time before rap.

There was very little ceremony in the operation of the slop chute.  The bartenders and cooks were off duty Marines working part time to earn extra cash.  No, if a Marine wanted to go to a classy bar, the slop chute wasn’t it.  But, all things considered, the price was right.

The way it worked was that everyone in our small team bought a pitcher of beer.  We took these to a table where there was a little room at one end —not for sitting down but for placing our beer on the table.  No one sat down.  Everyone shared the beer.  The Marine who poured the last glass from the pitcher had to replace it.  It was a Gung Ho thing.  But given how little money we made back then it took a while to pour that last glass of beer.  As a private, my monthly paycheck was $78.00 after taxes, hence the cheap prices for beer.  I seem to recall that a greasy hamburger and fries cost around seventy-five cents.

Lance Corporal Graham offered me a few words of all-encompassing wisdom: I must never go to the slop chute by myself; always take a buddy along, he said.  Better yet, take two.  Strength in numbers, he said.  Always purchase a pitcher of beer; more beer at less cost.

Now about the idea of throwing tables and benches: Marines are very competitive.  Everyone thinks that theirs is the best regiment, battalion, or company in the Marine Corps.  Within the 8th Marines, for example, its three battalions were constantly at odds, as were the infantry companies within the 2nd Battalion.  “E” Company was on the second floor of our barracks, with “F” Company on the first floor.  We hated those bastards from Fox Company because they were always getting us in trouble with our skipper.  Some of these arcane feelings came out at the slop chute[2].

Now, the fact is that there is a correlation between beer consumption and emotional sensitivity.  The more beer one consumes, the more sensitive he or she becomes, particularly in such matters of unit pride and how Marines react to insults offered to their units or uniforms.

On this night, when several Marines shouldered their way into the slop chute wearing pogey ropes, indicating their assignment to the 6th Marines, someone had to say something about it.  The French Fourragère (pogey rope) was awarded to the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments during World War I.  Mostly, the 2nd Marines and 8th Marines were pissed off because they didn’t have one, but that’s beside the point.  After someone made a caustic remark about the pogey rope, satisfaction was demanded and achieved by one fellow from the 6th Marines pushing in the face of whoever made the remark.  It was probably one of those lightweights from the 2nd Marines.

It was exactly this sort of thing that prompted the Marine Corps to furnish the slop chute with picnic tables and benches and why the beer pitchers were made from plastic rather than glass.  And it was exactly this sort of thing that prompted LCpl Graham to insist that no one from his fire team go to the slop chute without a buddy —someone to watch your back.  If there wasn’t a troublemaker from the 2nd Marines or the 6th Marines, there was a loudmouth from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines (1/8) or 3rd Battalion (3/8), who everyone in the 2nd Battalion (2/8) knew were fairies.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, Echo Company Marines had to put up with those low lives from Fox Company, Golf Company, and the weapons weenies.

One night, the Marines from Echo Company felt honor bound to bring to the attention of those worms from Fox Company, who shared our barracks, the fact that one of their critters had left a filthy swab (not to be confused with a Bosuns Mate) on the ladder well leading to the Echo Company area on the second deck —one that  wasn’t discovered until Captain Wildpret, the Company E commander conducted his weekly post-field day inspection.  The Marines of Echo Company caught hell about that and spent the entire Saturday conducting a massive field day of the entire company area.  Twice in two days was a bit much and now it was up to Echo Company Marines to make things right —and the place to do that, apparently decided impromptu, was the slop chute after everyone had time to get emotionally sensitive.

The way I remember this, is that a few Marines from the 1st Platoon began complaining loudly about Fox Company’s transgressions.  A couple of Marines from Fox Company’s weapons platoon responded in equally aggressive language and deportment.  It might have ended peacefully had Fox Company Marines simply apologized with a promise not to do it again.  But no, that’s not how Fox Company responded.  It was more on the order of a couple of intemperate opinions about our mothers.  It was a good enough fracas to call in the base military police, who promptly closed the Slop Chute.  Of course, no one could remember who threw the first punch, but it was probably one of those losers from Fox Company when a Marine from Echo Company wasn’t looking.  With the closure of the club there was nowhere to go except back to the barracks.  It was getting late anyway.

In those days, there were so many wrongs to right, and so little time.  God forbid that a soldier or deck ape should wander into the slop chute.  No airman in his right mind would even consider patronizing that dark, dank, smelly place —unless he enjoyed mixing it up with swamp critters.

If there was any underlying reason for having a slop chute, besides having a place where Marines could relax and enjoy a good greasy burger, it was probably to contain the violence of combat trained, emotionally sensitive Marines with high testosterone levels and eight or ten pitchers of beer to their credit.

Back in those days, there were such things as “career privates.”  These were men who never seemed to make it past the rank of private first class.  Some of these guys had eight years of service with half of that spent in the brig.  I remember a PFC named Dinotelli, who at one time was a Master Sergeant with 18 years Marine Corps service.  Before being busted down in rank, he used to run the 2/8 mess hall.  He was caught helping himself to food stores to fill his own refrigerator.  Dinotelli mostly drank by himself and everyone left him alone because according to the word, he’d received a Bronze Star in the Korean War from killing a bunch of communists.  Obviously, PFC Dinotelli was no one to mess around with.

GySgt USMCGraham was eventually promoted back to Corporal and took over the 3rd Squad when Corporal Myers was transferred.  In a few more years, Graham would be promoted to Gunnery Sergeant.  He was killed in the Vietnam War.

Endnotes:

[1] Tun Tavern, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the birthplace of the Continental Marines.  It’s true … the Marine Corps was started in a bar.

[2] One exception to this was our Navy Corpsmen.  In those days, Navy corpsmen attached to the Fleet Marine Forces wore modified Marine Corps uniforms.  We loved our corpsmen; no one dared to mess with the “doc.”