24 February 2011


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 25 February 2011

"...boot lieutenants who ain't even shaving and company gunnies older than dirt and harder than woodpecker lips..." Colonel "Irish" Egan, USMC (Ret)--from remarks delivered at Marine Forces Pacific USMC Birthday Ball 2002

Well, alrighty then. Light Commentary about a current event was all polished and ready to post and then an email stirring hearty laughter about Marines came along and interrupted best laid plans. So this week's intended remarks slide to next week or maybe later.

Like most older Marines, many of my Marine friends have children that are Marines. Some served their time and moved on; Marines they will always be--forever. Some are still around and wearing NCO stripes or the "railroad tracks" sported by a captain. Some are combat arms. Some are not but rifleman nonetheless. And some are brand new. Some privates, privates first class (PFC), and lance corporals--who, generally speaking as a collective, are about the wildest and craziest people on earth and imbued with the gumption (sometimes elevated by a drink too many) to carry out their ideas; with results that always marvel and occasionally in a good way. Typically there are consequences. But these are the Marines that made going to "work"--leading them--fun; if not challenging. Every day I miss them.

And some now wear the shiny gold--butter bars--of second lieutenant.

I remember when most of these youngsters were born and held some as infants. I remember seeing them while they were growing up. I mostly remember when proud fathers and mothers shared the news their son or daughter was intent on becoming a Marine. It's a noble calling. Not for the weak. The decision to try alone takes courage--speaking volumes as to how they were raised and shedding some light on their character. And the road to earning the eagle, globe, and anchor and title, "Marine," takes raw guts.


Tuesday morning I opened the following email (edited in the name of anonymity and italics inserted for clarity)...

"Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 7:44 PM


My son (second lieutenant) arrived (reported for first operating unit duty assignment having completed Officer Candidates School, The Basic School, and combat arms Military Occupational School) over the Presidents Day weekend. ...he asked his XO (unit Executive Officer) what he needed to bring, but unfortunately, there was a miscommunication. As a result, he did not bring his bivvy sack for his sleeping bag.

Do you have any ideas how I might influence getting him the bivvy sack so that his sleep will be warmer than it is?

Any ideas you might have would be greatly appreciated.

Your friend,

(From my iPad)"

Now a bit of perspective. The sender served six years then moved on to other interests and built an empire; still under construction. Brilliant man. Did some remarkable work while in uniform; some of it Corps lore. A wonderful personality and sense of humor. Frankly, hysterical. Sees humor in most everything. Spins a yarn with inflection and mannerisms that's captivating. Maybe one day he'll be on the comedy circuit; he should be. Generous. Great, great Marine. Marines run in his family. I could continue but you get the idea.

I must have read his email a dozen times. More. Thinking back on our tour of duty together and remembering his wit, I laughed and laughed. Then, after wiping away the tears and gaining composure, I thought about it...there wasn't anything in his words that indicated he was just yanking my chain. The biggest clue...he did not address me with his usual jab, "Tony," which he knows I hate (though it's typical and wrongly assumed by strangers as the nick for my formal first name). Knowing him as I do, surely this is a joke? Good one, Hiram! But then again maybe not.

So I considered how best to light-heartedly and succinctly respond yet offer best advice for solving his son's problem--should there be one--without coming across as a pompous, conscending ass to a Marine friend asking for help, but still be Marine-like.



"Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 6:58 AM

WTF (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot)?! Tell the boot to ask the gunny. Or any infantryman (brains of the Corps for complex problem-solving; especially field-related)!"

And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, "Hiram's" reply...

"Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 1:30 PM

That is weird. That is exactly what I told him this morning, after I slept on it.

Isn't that what supply is for?

I have been away from the Marine Corps too long. I was thinking like a civilian, looking for a solution that caused the least amount of discomfort.

But, if you do something stupid, you have to let someone who can eventually bust your balls know about it. The best lessons we learn are the lessons from our own mistakes.

(From my iPad)"

Funny! No kidding, the new lieutenant had a new lieutenant problem. Self-created. Big surprise! Now it was even funnier. And that dad had forgotten his Marine roots, momentarily, only added to the comedy. My advice was instinctive--ingrained early on and reinforced through decades. I thought back to boot lieutenant days with 6th Marines (and later years) and our company gunny(s)--who doubled as company magician(s); making most anything happen.

Of course that was the remedy--"ask the gunny."

To have a little fun with my usually bright friend...

"Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Stick w/ me, grasshopper. I will keep you grounded in the ways of the Corps. Besides, butter bars are supposed (almost expected) to be eff'ed up when they get to the fleet; his Marines and especially the company gunny are not going to be surprised. Surely you've not forgotten that?! One day he will have a funny story to tell his Marine son.

Tell him to smile, challenge and test his Marines while leading from the front and he'll be fine.

And tell him when he gets settled and has time (if that ever happens) to call us.

Semper Fidelis,
Sent from my iPad"

And then a Post Script idea struck...

"Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 2:25 PM

And I am still laughing my ass off, as I prepare to go PT, as to your initial query. Funny as sh*t. 2ndLts...geez...have to love 'em..."

So those not intimately familiar with the Corps may be asking, "What are they teaching at OCS, TBS, and MOS schools these days?"

Answer. The same thing, and much more, that's always been taught. But second lieutenants are second lieutenants. Second lieutenants do goofy things. And that, too, will always be the same.

I've not heard back from "Hiram." I hope he's laughing. And bet he is. I am still chuckling.

Any Marine officer, any Marine for that matter, that does not have a self-deprecating humorous story about reporting to their first command and first days of duty, and the company gunny not being involved in some fashion, is either suffering from a convenient memory or is a liar. And Marines don't lie. Here's your chance to post your tale, Marines.

And if the Marine won't tell on himself, track down their company gunny--they'll remember and have plenty of stories.

Oh, and yes, there's a gunny or two with the goods on me. To them, "At ease, Marines."

Hiram, I hope your son's sleep is, by now, warmer than it was. And yet I've no idea what a bivvy sack is--no idea. We had "Willy Peter" bags, and they, usually old, cracked, and torn--unserviceable but issued, were next to worthless.

Post Script

The Marine gunnery sergeant--"gunny"; a special, revered breed of the Corps. It's a rank, with unique and demanding responsibilities to match, like no other in any branch of our armed forces or any military outfit world-wide. "Gunny" wears a chevron of three stripes up with two rockers and crossed rifles centered between the stripes. "Gunny" is the Marine Marines turn to when something needs to be done. Commanders issue order(s) and stand back but supervise because, though a great, capable Marine, the gunny was once a private, PFC, and lance corporal.

Author's Endnotes

It seemed fitting to close today by remembering two fine Marines...

1. Major H. G. "Gene" Duncan, USMC (Ret) 1931-2011: Decorated combat veteran, including the Purple Heart, well-known for his books "Green Side Out/Brown Side Out" (thoughtful and humorous tales of Marine life) died on Valentine's Day. I read his books when a second lieutenant. In fact, it'd be difficult to find an older Marine who's not read them. Affectionately known as "Dunc," there's a story that during Operation Desert Shield he (retired some 12 years or so at the time) wrote the Commandant requesting recall to active duty. His words, "I want to fight in one war which has public approval before I die." Informed his poor hearing might be a problem he jabbed back, "I don't want to listen to the Iraqis, I want to shoot them." His request was still under consideration, probably conveniently "lost" on some gunny's desk, when Desert Storm abruptly ended.

2. Major Roy Centner, USMC (Ret) 1948-2011: Marine, business-owner, and respected citizen of our desert community died unexpectedly less than a week ago after collapsing following a run. Still a young man, his death, like sudden ones always do, has left family and friends dazed. Speaking with a retired Marine friend the other day who knew Roy well, "They just don't come any better...he was a great Marine...he loved Marines...at his place of business he took care of Marines...and if the Marines did not have the money he'd tend to business and tell the Marine to pay when they could...he always took care of my sons...his death difficult to get my head around...this doesn't make sense or seem right...he was too young...I am sure going to miss him..." I remember chatting with Roy at the USMC Birthday Ball last November (photo left). Roy will be missed--sorely missed--he sure will.


3. There you have it, a true short story poking fun at a longtime Marine friend and his son--a Marine second lieutenant; being a second lieutenant. And saluting two great Marines and characters of our Corps who reported home--and our big green machine, better for their selfless service since the day they earned their eagle, globe, and anchor through the day they died, marches on.

4. A final thought and sobering reminder...
Second lieutenants, who face a steep learning curve and sometimes innocently hiccup a time or two in the early days before their first platoon of Marines, are exceptionally well-trained and good at what they do. Quite good at what they do. At this moment second lieutenants are leading Marines and Sailors in training, dangerous training, preparing for combat. At this moment second lieutenants are leading Marines and Sailors in combat. And it's damn near a certainty my friend's son, a second lieutenant, who is leading Marines and Sailors in dangerous training will soon lead his Marines and Sailors in combat. Challenging days await him. And his forgotten bivvy sack? Nothing more than an inconsequential silly moment--a hiccup--with a big lesson learned, memory, and laugh--between father, son, and the gunny; and me. As his dad said, "But, if you do something stupid, you have to let someone who can eventually bust your balls know about it. The best lessons we learn are the lessons from our own mistakes."

5. Semper Fidelis, Marines.


Anonymous said...

Andy - "...The best lessons we learn are the lessons from our own mistakes." I call it "Discovery Learning" which is how most kids learn things. "Whooops! I don't want to do that again that way..." Rob

Tom Hickinbotham said...

Andy - My first "Gunny" was our company Gunnery Sergeant in the rifle company I joined in Feb. 1969 as a new 0301 2d/Lt rifle platoon commander. Gunny "K" was older than the hills - at least he looked like it to me. As soon as I joined the company, we were helo-lifted into an area called the Arizona Territory just north of An Hoa, west of DaNang. On 28 Feb. 1969, our company found itself heavily engaged with an NVA battalion on 3 sides of us. As the trailing platoon in a "2 up, 1 back" formation, the rear of my platoon became pinned down in a heavily vegetated village area. After what seemed like an eternity, we were able to extract that part of my platoon into an open area where the company was establishing a defensive perimeter. As I worked my way to the Co. CP to meet with the Co. Cdr., I met Gunny "K" first. We were still heavily engaged, with small arms, automatice weapons and artillery fire everywhere. Standing in front of me was this weathered, cigar chewing "old man" we Lt's reverently called "Gunny." More than just a little concerned about how the company was faring in our on-going battle, I asked the "Gunny" if he thought we were going to make it. He looked at me with a knowing smile, cigar firmly locked in his teeth, and said, "we'll be just fine, Lt."
Turns out he was right, but the fighting continued for several more hours into the night, when Cobra gunships and an AC-130 delivered some concentrated firepower within feet of our perimeter, and "convinced" the NVA to disengage.
The "Gunny" rotated a month or so later, and I never saw him again. For the better part of 40 years I wondered what had ever happened to "Gunny K." Happily, we reconnected somehow through the Internet a few years ago. Finally, in August 2010,I traveled to Portland, OR for a battlion reunion. For the first time in 41 years, I was reunited with "Gunny K," who lived just outside Portland. 1stSgt (Ret) Kennedy was 77 years old (which made him around 35 when we served together in 1969), sharp as a tack, and a joy to be reunited with. We have since met in Chicago with a larger group of former Marines and Corpsmen from our company, and "Gunny" was there as well. He had the opportunity to meet many of those he served with in 1968-1968, whom he'd not seen in more than 41 years, to include our Co. Cdr. We plan on getting together in Colorado Springs this June, and "Gunny" has assured us he'll be there!
Walt/Gunny/1stSgt Kennedy was my first "Gunny." and a senior Staff NCO who made a lasting impression on me. He's now my dear friend, but I'll always think of him as "my" Gunny.

Ed Gregory said...

A much too rigid and very sensitive Second Lieutenant Gregory was given some great leadership advice early on from his first company gunny; MSgt Gerald Lyons, USMC (Ret):

"Take yourself too seriously and nobody else will."

Words I've lived by ever since...