NOOK, BRUCE, KENT, ROB, SERGEANT MAJOR, PARRIS ISLAND--AND A GENERAL SPEAKS
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 11 June 2010
This week another twisting, turning true tale that, as is often times my approach, wanders around a bit but manages to come together at the end. It will come together. Yes, it will come together. And conclude with an important lesson.
A few weeks ago my wife and I wandered into a Barnes & Noble. They're booksellers, you know, of all kinds of books--and now electronic ones. We listened to a personable young salesman pitch the Nook--a clone, of sorts, of the Kindle--a wireless reading device. The Nook is a little slicker looking than the Kindle. For one, the area below the reading screen for inputting commands is a color touch screen vice miniature keyboard. One youngster nearby uttered "Sweeeeet" when seeing it. And another, oddly enough, said "Sick". Their demeanor was similar so I guess the terms mean the same thing. Whatever. Every generation has its slang.
The salesman--who, refreshingly, knew what he was talking about--gave us a working demonstration while offering his well-rehearsed pitch of sundry capabilities and perks. He said the memory would hold some 1,700 books and could be expanded out to about 17,000. Wow! And practically everything was accessible. The world's library at one's fingertips--books and newspapers and more.
Among the world's biggest tightwads, let there be no mistake, had I been alone it was a certainty the Nook, though fascinating, would not be leaving the store in my hand. However, with my wife along it was a certainty we'd own one. A bread maker, long garaged beside a food-processor, we had to have--make that "needed"--years ago came to mind. Too bad we couldn't take those old machines in for conversion into a electronic reading device, or maybe trade them in. The only decision left to me was the color of the optional leather case. Yes, of course I chose red--Marine red.
One of the more appealing aspects of the Nook--ebooks are considerably cheaper than hard copies. And many of them, now in the public domain, are free (see previous tightwad comment). Yes, hundreds of thousands of books that have been digitized are free. And you can get them at the touch of a few screens--eliminating the running from library to library or being put on a waiting list.
A day or so after purchasing the Nook I was interested in reading a new book by Justin Halpern titled "Sh*t My Dad Says". So, from the comfort of our family room, I downloaded the book--in seconds--for less than half the hard copy price. Funny book. Recommend it. Gave me the idea to write a book about my Dad but with a slightly different title, "Sh*t My Dad Did--and Still Does!" I guarantee it will be funnier than Halpern's. I'll get to it one day. Anyone who knows my Dad knows there's plenty of material. As there is of all Dads.
About two weeks ago--on 30 May to be precise--there was a post on the Facebook group "Return the iconic front gate sign at Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island" by a fellow named Bruce Hoffman. Bruce had written, "I will be seeing the CO next weekend, maybe I will give him a copy of my book, if he restores the sign. Semper Fi." And with his post was a photograph of the cover of the book he recently penned titled, "And My Mother Danced With Chesty Puller."
Bruce's note caught my eye because I, too, was going to meet the commanding general of Parris Island the same weekend. So, standby for another small world/small Marine Corps story.
If you haven't already figured it out, Bruce is a Marine. He served 1964-1968 having earned his eagle, globe and anchor aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. After practically begging for the opportunity, he served a couple of combat tours in Vietnam. He left active duty as a sergeant. Here's the PR blurb about Bruce and his book...
"Bruce Hoffman spent four years in the United States Marine Corps. Two of those years were spent in Vietnam and Okinawa. "And My Mother Danced with Chesty Puller" is the story of a young Marine’s adventures during the Vietnam War, sometimes humorous, sometimes hair-raising. The story begins with a young man drawn into the Marine Corps to become an Embassy Marine but he ends up stuck with an office job instead. He struggles to get into the fight in Vietnam, only to be stationed in South Carolina and is offered a part-time job with a bootlegger to ride shotgun. When he finally arrives in Vietnam he discovers that he isn’t supposed to be there, but in Okinawa instead, which turns out to be the land of booze and brothels. He was able to find a few girlfriends along the way, not only in South Carolina and Okinawa, but in Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Marines weren’t all in combat; many were “in the rear with the beer.” After volunteering three times for Vietnam he was able to transfer to Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron VMO-2, and fly as an Aerial Gunner in UH-1E Huey Helicopters. Finally, he became a Marine in combat.
Bruce Hoffman returned to Tampa and retired as a captain with the Sheriff’s Office, after twenty-seven years. He worked for a federal agency in Washington, DC, was security chief for the Tampa Port Authority after 9-11-01, and later owned an investigative business. He is retired and lives in Dahlonega, Georgia."
Turns out, after making a phone call, Bruce is friends with a good friend of mine--a Marine (retired)--who lives in Tampa. And the reason Bruce would be seeing the commanding general of Parris Island was the same reason I would be seeing him--both of us had been invited by our mutual friend, Rob, to attend a dedication ceremony aboard the Depot honoring Rob's Dad--who once commanded the Depot (and later went on to serve as Commandant of the Marine Corps).
Now back to the Nook...
Realizing I would be meeting Bruce, it was only fitting to read his book before journeying to Parris Island. That I did. On the Nook. It's terrific! That is, Bruce's book (so is the Nook). Written journal-style by a Marine reflecting on his days in the Corps when a much younger man, it's tough to put it down. In fact, I didn't--read it straight through.
So last week it was off to Parris Island. On Friday for Bruce via the not-so-easy meandering route from Dahlonega, Georgia, and me on Thursday via the airways from the Southern California desert to Tampa. The six-hour planned road trip from Tampa to Parris Island on Friday with Rob et.al. took little more than an hour--a hop, skip and jump over congested roadways--settling at Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, South Carolina. That's another story. An incredible one. Maybe one day I will tell it. Thank you, Kent. And Rob.
On Saturday morning, 05 June, about 20 minutes before the ceremony I spotted Bruce and shuffled over to introduce myself. He's not difficult to recognize--looks exactly like the photograph on his book jacket and he's a mountain of a man--tall and big. A few minutes of small talk and then time for the ceremony--a rather simple, intimate one attended by family, close friends and some of the more senior Marines assigned to the Depot. As Marines do ceremonies exceptionally well, so went this one.
Walking out of doors after the ceremony Bruce commented on a flag pole that was flying a solid red flag directly above a solid black flag. The flag configuration signals trainers and supervisors the current restrictions for conducting recruit training. That is the flags represent WBGT (Wet Bulb Globe Temperature) readings--a composite index developed in 1956 by the Marine Corps at Parris Island. The WBGT measures temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation for estimating the effect on human beings. It's purpose was, and remains, to reduce heat stress injuries in recruits. Bruce off-handedly remarked there weren't any black flags flying in Afghanistan. And he is correct.
At the reception Bruce met Sergeant Major Moore, USMC (Retired)--a Marine who knows just a little something about training recruits at Parris Island--if my memory is correct he served three tours of duty aboard the Depot: Drill Instructor (DI) and Senior DI in a training company; company first sergeant (when Rob and I served with him); and Depot sergeant major. Anyway, Bruce commented to the sergeant major about the flags. And the sergeant major astutely pointed out recruits were not yet Marines.
As Bruce later wrote in an email...
"When I was at Parris Island Saturday the temperature was 93 and 95% humidity. They put up the black flag, which means no strenuous outdoor activity. You could see a couple platoons being marched from one place to another, also there was a woman Marine platoon on the parade deck getting a rifle inspection. Over at the drill field by the Drill Instructor School, there were several doing some drill training, but that was it. The ranges were even closed.
At the reception I attended, I was sitting with a retired SgtMaj. He was the Depot SgtMaj. several years prior. I said, "SgtMaj, there aren't any black flags in Afghanistan, but I couldn't help notice they are flying all over the Depot today." He said, "They aren't Marines yet, Marines are made here. When they leave, depending on their MOS's, most will be trained for war, and there won't be any black flags." Kind of brought a tear to my eye. Well said."
Yes, there is a difference between recruits and Marines. An enormous difference. As is there a difference between training and war. An enormous difference.
As we bade farewell at Parris Island I told Bruce I'd say a word or two about his book. I guess it turned into more than a word or two. But what the hell, he's a fellow Marine. My pleasure, Bruce.
There's more to the story...
Back in Tampa, and while visiting Rob's office and perusing the shelves in the conference room, I noticed a hard-shell decorative case that contained four coins minted in celebration of the Bi-Centennial--1776-1976. Upon closer inspection, the coins were struck honoring Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. Each "heads" side was the same. The "tails" side pictured an historic landmark on the Depot; each was different--the Iwo Jima Memorial replica that guards the parade deck; the "Iron Mike" statue; Depot headquarters building; and, if you can believe it, the iconic front gate sign (as it stood for some 60 years but has not for the past ten). If that last coin does not stir you then read the Commentaries posted for the month of April. Rob did not remember the coin set. A photocopy is posted left.
One other piece of history came out during the trip--a woman, who had served as General Barrow's secretary at Parris Island in the early 70s, handed Rob a three-ring binder containing a handful of "speeches" the general gave while in command. Actually they were transcribed from the General's impromptu remarks he was known for delivering without the aid of notes. Rob let me read them. One in particular I read, carefully, at least a half-dozen times. It continues to resonate while crafting this Commentary. The general's remarks were delivered to the officers of the Recruit Training Regiment on Wednesday, 15 May 1974. The weather on the island that day was clear--no rain, a high of 84 degrees Fahrenheit and winds at 5.8 knots that likely made for light sandflea activity. The storm was indoors--it was a direct yet most gentlemanly scolding addressing an incident of recruit abuse and the deplorable conduct of some misguided Marines behaving in defense of the accused DI who was, through proper due process, severely punished; to include confinement.
General Barrow's remarks are fitting for formal integration into the training of every officer (and DI for that matter) at both Recruit Depots who report for duty in the regiment. Maybe one day a Commandant, via a White Letter, will direct such. Fitting especially since the Parris Island Depot headquarters building now bears the general's name. What better guidance than to step off for duty with the philosophy and words of the man who once commanded the Depot, had volumes to do with improving the quality of young men and women recruited to become Marines and tackled eliminating abuse, served as Commandant, and is among the most beloved and respected Marines of modern times?! General Barrow loved Parris Island--for he knew recruit training, through this unique character called a Drill Instructor (which he had been as a young Marine), was the heart and soul for making Marines. In his words, the Depot is "Where The Difference Begins."
The words of General Barrow are as germane today as written and deliberately spoken 36 years ago. For even with today's supervisory checks and balances, recruit abuse happens; though it is rare. Yes, rare indeed. With the culpable held accountable.
Okay, so I've rambled a while tying together electronic books, a Marine friend named Rob, a new Marine friend named Bruce, Parris Island, recruit training, etc.
Marine or not, get your hands on Bruce's book--one way or another: http://www.mymarineyears.com/ Then pass the word to help promote his little gem. You won't learn anything about dancing--other than his Mom once cut a rug with a legend of the Corps. But you'll learn one hell of a lot about a brave young Marine in Vietnam. And Marines in general.
And finally for those who have been following this Commentary for a while...
No, the iconic front gate sign has not yet been restored. The sign today, and for the past nearly 10 years, represents what the leadership does--not what the Depot is. Sad. And disappointing to see when entering the Depot last Friday. I don't get it--at all (must be my NC small town roots--too dumb to figure it out). But nor does anyone else weighing in--at last count the Facebook group numbered 640, and many others waiting to see history and tradition restored. Puzzling? You bet. Especially after seeing another sign, again with the same names on it, street-side in front of Barrow Hall--the Depot headquarters building. Good grief. What would Chesty Puller have to say about it? And would anyone trying to explain it to him be dancing--tap vice waltzing? Probably.
Disclaimer: Support for Bruce's book and the Barnes & Noble Nook do not bring me one cent of compensation.
The capability to search through an electronic reading device--a Nook--for books, even those written long ago and now digitized, is a marvelous byproduct of technology. I've read a couple tomes recently that were it not for technology I'd never have known existed much less read. Ironically, the world's literary resources are expanding exponentially while the means of accessing them--anytime from anywhere--shrinks to a thin, small book-sized device. Amazing. Beyond books, it's likewise a marvel to be able to digitize the words of anyone from whom we can learn.
General Robert H. Barrow, USMC (1922-2008), whom I was privileged to meet on several occasions, was a Marine of impeccable character. He had an enduring love for Marines and the United States Marine Corps and no tolerance for nonsense. How nice Marines of yesterday who did not know or have a chance to meet him can now do so. And how appropriate Marines of today and tomorrow, particularly those entrusted with the responsibility of making Marines and supervising those whom make Marines, can learn from him; the Corps far better for it. And further still, all, Marine or not, can come to know, even if only cursorily, a remarkable leader.
Following, published with permission, is the transcribed remarks by then Major General Barrow while Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. With the exception of correcting a few spelling errors and adapting the pencil edits while deleting stricken material, the text appears as struck on a typewriter. "Smith" and "Jones" are aliases. [Bracketed] info was inserted for clarification for those unfamiliar with the Marine culture.
Take a few moments to absorb the words of a commanding general, responsible for overseeing the making of Marines, troubled by wrongs--committed by a rogue Drill Instructor and stupidly condoned, if only for a short while, by a small cohort of ill-informed sympathizers. May there never again be cause for a general officer to deliver similar remarks.
Remarks by Major General Barrow To Officers of Recruit Training Regiment 15 May 1974
"Your Regimental Commander and I have brought you together to address a matter of grave concern to both of us. Some of my remarks apply to all of you and all of my remarks apply to some of you. Coming quickly to the point, I am going to talk about this Staff Sergeant "Smith" case. I need to. I need to because it has been grossly misunderstood. It has, in fact, been at best in some instances, grossly distorted. And from this distortion, giving some of you the benefit of the doubt, some of you have been led to acts of disloyalty. Some of you have demonstrated, at best, a very poor sense of values, a low degree of morality. When I am through gentlemen, you will have the facts. But that in itself is not enough. You will convey those facts - each of you in your own way - to every officer who is not present - for some good reason. I hope, to every staff non-commissioned officer that works in the Recruit Training Regiment, to every Chief Drill Instructor, Series Gunnery Sergeant, Senior Drill Instructor, Assistant Drill Instructor, Academic Instructor, PT Instructors - just anyone who has any kind of supervisory or instructional relationship with these recruits in this Regiment. You will do that and you will do it at once - today! And as those men return off leave who are on leave that will be the first act that you do. You will inform them of the facts and I myself propose to commence within about 24 hours as I make my way around the Depot to ask various and sundry Drill Instructors and others, "What do you know about this Sergeant "Smith" case? What have you been told?" And the first one who gives me a distorted, incorrect version, or says that he has not been told anything, my next question is going to be, "For whom do you work?" That should be clear enough.
Let's begin at the beginning. Private "Jones". Private "Jones" joined his platoon on 7 March 1973 and that act, that offense committed by Staff Sergeant "Smith" that related to things happening to Private "Jones" occurred on 4 May. What kind of recruit was he? What kind of recruit was he? It matters not. Recruits are human beings - and you know it! But there is among some the opinion that if a recruit is not all that he should be, then there is some forgiveness of misdeeds directed against him. I don't buy that. But in case any of you have any misconceptions about what kind of recruit he was - he was a good recruit! He had never been to motivation, he had not been to PCP [Physical Conditioning Platoon], his Recruit Eval Card reflected only one shortcoming - that he could not do the 3-mile run without sometimes dropping out. A condition which needed to be understood - and wasn't. Before we get into the act itself, how was it brought forward that such a thing happened? Again, let us focus on Private "Jones". For those of you who believe that there is some sort of honor attached to not "squealing" - I say to you he did not squeal! He left this Depot an injured man and went back to his wife and went to school. He was that kind of recruit. He picked aviation training and he went to an aviation school and while there his wife, showing great concern over the tremendous bruises on his legs - the black and blue bruises and swelling, asked him to explain why - and he would not say why. And one night they were visited by a friend of his who had been through recruit training with him. When young "Jones" absented himself to mix a drink, his wife pressed the point with this young man. He said, "I'll tell you how he got the bruises - he was beaten in recruit training." Young Mrs. "Jones" sat down and wrote a letter to the President of the United States, and as happens in such instances, it was forwarded to the Secretary of the Navy. And the Secretary of the Navy to the Commanding General at Parris Island. And let me disabuse the thought right now that I understand prevails here and there - or that is harbored here and there - that because it came from on high, some of the things that are being done in this case have a political motive or overtone. Those of you who know me - know better than that, gentlemen - and I am not yielding to any political pressure now or any other time. And none exists - and don't you forget it! And so, the case was investigated.
What happened? What happened? I won't go through all of the preliminaries - I'll begin by telling you my source. I read the investigation. I have talked to the President of the court - which I have every right (reason) to do - not to determine their deliberations or opinions, but to get from him a summary of the evidence presented and the testimony of the witnesses. So I have two sources of information. To say nothing of (some) my personal involvement of talking to the Mother of Private "Jones" three times by telephone - whose major concern was not to seek the punishment of those who had done her son wrong - but to seek to get him to remain in the Marine Corps - which he loves. Which he no longer belongs to. And so it came to pass that on the 4th of May with some preliminaries which are not necessarily germane to this discussion this afternoon, we have the formation of a full platoon of recruits lined up on both sides of the squad bay - and at the direction of Sergeant "Smith", Senior Drill Instructor, Private "Jones" was required to crawl on his knees and on his elbows, with his legs extended behind him through this formation and every man was required to beat him as he did it. He was beaten. One man missed, hit the deck, and broke his hand. Approximately half-way through the formation, screaming in pain, he stopped. Sergeant "Smith" directed two recruits to pull him through the rest of the formation and for the remainder to continue to beat him. So much for that act of premeditated brutality.
Then what follows? Follows an act of conspiracy - to cover up - to cover up. A skillful act. Every technique employed to conceal Private "Jones" from those who might have his injuries revealed and therefore someone properly reporting things. What were some of these acts of concealment? Let's talk about one that didn't take place but which was revealed in the investigation and at the trial. The Drill Instructor considered putting a wig on Private "Jones" and taking him out of the gate in his care to be treated by a private physician in town. He was hidden repeatedly in the head and other places so that the Series Commander or Series Gunnery Sergeant's inspection would not discover him. Which in itself points out a weakness to the system. I hope we do more than just walk through and personally ask a few questions. We want to look in broom closets and heads around here. We have a record of the Drill Instructors keeping recruits in broom closets.
That platoon went to Camp Lejeune the following week. Part of the act of cover-up included taking Private "Jones" out into the woods at Camp Lejeune - get this picture - the Senior Drill Instructor and a Private in the woods. The Private required to take down his trousers while the Senior Drill Instructor administered balm Ben-gay. The platoon was required to conspire and join in this conspiracy to cover up. Finally, it included a threat to Private "Jones" that when you graduate, you have ten minutes to get off of this Depot or I'll have you. And his wife, who wanted to see Parris Island and who had come here for his graduation - he told her we must leave at once - and they did.
Gentlemen, perhaps it would be appropriate for me, at this time, to read to you the Drill Instructor's Pledge. I won't read all of it for we hear the first part recited every time we have graduation and you are familiar with it - about "these recruits are entrusted to my care, etc," and it ends with another part, "I will demand of them and demonstrate by my own example, the highest standards of personal conduct, morality and professional skill." Now do you have a better picture? Now do you understand?
He was brought to trial by a courts-martial composed of officers in the Marine Corps just as you and I are - dedicated, responsible, fair, and this is the same courts-martial which had a month earlier, acquitted a Drill Instructor charged with wrongdoing. This is not some kangaroo court cooked up to "get one of our boys." When the court found him guilty [they] sentenced him to have a BCD [Bad Conduct Discharge], 6 months confinement, reduction to the rank of Private, and a forfeiture of $200 a month for six months. And he is confined! Yes, he is confined! By reason of routine application of standard procedures. You get that? There is no provision made for him being different than a Private or a PFC [Private First Class] or Lance Corporal or a Corporal - or just run of the mill Staff NCO. He is confined - through legal process, not by exception. And you had better understand that! And his convening authority, who is not here this afternoon, as appropriate he shouldn't be, will, I am sure, take action fairly and responsibly. And in time I will review the case - and my review will be fair and responsible. And gentlemen, I have reviewed many - and you have yet to find one who has ever spoken of anything but fairness. Having said all of this, what has really brought me here and it concerns both your Regimental Commander and myself is the misunderstanding - and out of the misunderstanding, a false sense of values that places the sympathy and their sense of morality on the side of the wrongdoer instead of the victim; and to that which we seek to do at Parris Island and the Marine Corps which renders our training fair as well as good.
There are some of you in this room who have expressed the opinion that he got "a raw deal." Now do you believe it? There are some in this room who have willingly or otherwise aligned themselves to that which we have worked so hard to eliminate - malpractice - maltreatment of recruits! There are some in this room who have contributed to something called "The 'Smith' Fund". There is at least one in this room who has solicited for something called a "Smith Fund" and who has attempted to encourage others to do likewise. That, gentlemen, is something I cannot reconcile with any of my 32 years of experience in the Marine Corps. It is a contemptible act of disloyalty. It is a terrible sense of values - if indeed it is a value at all. No wonder, no wonder we continue to have maltreatment that is sometimes, if not condoned by officers, covered up by them. If you are willing to align yourself with the man who did what I have described as having done this afternoon, you should hide your face in shame as well as anonymity which you have sought. And then we have those misinformed Drill Instructors who will not be for long - will they? Who have reacted in various ways and I'm not talking about opinions - you can have your opinion but you will present the facts.
It has been reported to me that among some there is a "low state of morale". What is that? When this was reported to me, I said "You've got it wrong - it is not a low state of morale, it is a high state of anxiety because the only people who need to have their morale low or their anxiety high are those who are in practice of the same kind of training - and they should damn well be apprehensive about what may happen to them." I have never yet understood why, when the legal process of what is right catches up with those who do things wrong, that those who, if they are doing things right, worry about it. When I pick up the paper in the morning and read where ten fat cats from New York City are indicted for failure to pay income tax, I don't start shaking - I paid my income tax - and if there is a Drill Instructor on this Depot who reads about this or any other case in which a Drill Instructor is punished - he has nothing to worry about so long as he is doing his job correctly. And tell them that! And let them get out of this low state of morale, or as I say, high state of anxiety - except those who are doing things wrong - maybe they should remain there because time and justice will catch up with them.
I have said all I need to say. You have the facts and you are going to put it out. In other words, gentlemen, you are going to get it straight and in the process some of you out there who have a distorted view of this case and distorted sense of values - you are going to get yourself straight in the process. Thank you kindly."
A powerful message. Rob told me while reading the remarks, which he had not heard of nor seen before last Saturday, he could see his Dad's demeanor and hear his Cajun drawl and tempo along with every single inflection in his voice--it gave him the chills. I spoke with an officer, now retired, who was in the room during the general's address. He said there was no mistake as to the seriousness of the matter, there was clear understanding, and when done you could have heard a pin drop. No doubt. To his knowledge, when General Barrow did later ask an officer or Drill Instructor what they knew about the "Smith" case he heard the facts.
Nine years later, during his retirement ceremony in 1983, General Barrow recalled asking graduating recruits at Parris Island what they had gotten out of their training. He felt the best response was, "Sir, the private will always do what needs to be done."
You don't instill that kind of attitude and spirit in young warriors by abusing recruits (or Marines). Challenging, tough, demanding training--not abusive treatment, physical nor psychological--creates and sustains physical and mental toughness. Hazing--cowardly disguised in the name of "training" or "initiation," of any sort, is absolutely contrary to leadership and has no place in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps has two legitimate, time-tested "initiations"--Recruit Training and Officer Candidates School; the only 'rites of passage.' Three years "on the street," as we said in the day, supervising the making of Marines at Parris Island affirmed for me that which General Barrow well knew--when a young man or woman has conquered the institutional requirements and earned the right, privilege and honor to wear the eagle, globe and anchor, and be called "Marine" initiation is complete. And they are a Marine; forever.