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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Gunny G's...RIBBON CREEK AND BEYOND....


Ref:
Ribbon Creek Incident,Plt #71,Parris Island,S/Sgt McKeon,Drownings,USMC Recruit Training,Jack Webb,The D.I.,Full Metal Jacket,Old Corps,New Corps,etc.
~~~~~~~~~~~
By
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952(Plt #437)--'72
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"Sea Stories:
The traditional means by which wisdom is passed down from one generation of Marines to the next"
-Author Unknown

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For Information regarding Ribbon Creek, Plt #71,
S/Sgt McKeon, PISC, etc. CLICK HERE!!!!!

More Info Also On GyG's History & Traditions Site HERE!!!!!
Note: The Thread Re Plt #71, S/Sgt McKeon, Etc. is a very long thread--you may not reach all the posts via the top link (above)--you may have to go to the next link (above) and backtrack through the pages to find all the posts/responses/ remaining parts of that thread, if interested.
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In order to more fully understand, and discuss, either The D.I. or Full Metal Jacket (FMJ), I think, that information regarding that well known event in 1956 that preceded the making of the movie, The D.I. is in order. Thus, I have provided information regarding The Ribbon Creek Incident (above) to include my message board posts from Marines of Platoon #71, and others with information relating to that event.

Marines have always argued among themselves as to how much tougher and better, etc. things were in "The Old Corps"! Nobody has recorded when this first began--best bet is 1775. When will it end? I would say, not as long as there is yet one Marine still standing!

And such it was and has been since one night in 1956 when something now referred to as The Ribbon Creek Incident occurred. Because of that, new arguments as to whether "boot camp" is as tough as it once was, or tougher, have gone on and on without ceasing. Many have always thought that this event of 1956 was a turning point in the way recruit training was to thereafter go for the Marine Corps, and much discussion has ensued as to what was right and wrong as a result of this. This webpage will not end such arguments, nor should it. But perhaps it can serve to bring out a few interesting points unknown to a now younger breed of Marines.

Most of us generally first learn of our Corps before we are Marines. That is when we first see a Marine movie--maybe John Wayne as Sgt John M. Stryker, in Sands of Iwo Jima; or, Retreat Hell, a movie of the first Marines to go to Korea in 1950, or maybe Battle Cry--or any one of dozens more movies about Marines. Whatever movie it was, most likely we never forgot it, nor did it leave us untouched as an individual.

Cinema serves an important social function and is a part of our American culture. The "movies," to some extent at least, contribute to our thinking and beliefs in nearly every aspect of our everyday life. True, movies are not history, nor is it facts (but it might be these things to some extent), it is entertainment, produced with profit in mind, not history or social value. Still it effectively models, shapes, and reinforces our beliefs, perception, and values. But, to what extent this occurs is debatable.

There have been several films produced the theme of which deals wholly or in part with Marine Corps recruit training and the Marine Drill Instructor (D.I.). One of the first was the 1927 "Tell It To The Marines," with Lon Chaney. And there have been many to follow through the years which at least touched upon this topic. Most likely the top two of these films, as far as authenticity goes, would be "The D.I., starring Jack Webb," and "Full Metal Jacket" (FMJ), with R. Lee Ermey." These actors--Webb and Ermey--portrayed drill instructors in each of the above two films. Marines today constantly debate which of the two movies provides the better insight into the "real" boot camp and the "real" D.I.!

Ermey is a former Marine; Webb was not a Marine, although he was a veteran of the Army Air Corps during WW II. Of the two, however, my opinion is that Webb provided the most honest and realistic portrayal of what a Marine D.I. is and should be. He appeared and acted with the bearing of a Marine. He was indeed the man for the role of T/Sgt (Gunny) Jim Moore. The setting and supporting actors, and Marines, of The D.I. were as true-to-life as could be expected.

My opinion is also based on the obvious fact that if all the vulgar language were omitted from FMJ, we would essentially have something of a silent film. The D.I., on the other hand, contains no vulgar language, yet it emerges as the best of the genre. FMJ, although entertaining, is still left with some good points, but sorely lacking when compared to The D.I.

Foul language by D.I.'s was obviously a part of Marine Corps boot camp during both eras of the two films. But it was far from the central, essential, and most critical ingredient in making Marines, then and now, and not as one might think by the direction of FMJ.

The D.I., in many ways, exemplified what the Corps was shooting for in revamping the recruit training of the mid-fifties, shortly after the tragedy of The Ribbon Creek Incident of 1956.

What then makes the difference between the two films? Webb's film was produced in 1957, the post Korean war era; and Ermey's FMJ in 1987, long after the Vietnam war ended, but focussed on the Vietnam era. Thus there was a difference of generations between the two films. There could be many other factors involved. But I think another factor is involved here that makes the difference more so than any other. That factor being the overall "image" of Jack Webb the actor.

Webb had the image of being the all-around American good guy--a Marine in "Halls of Montezuma," a cop in "Dragnet," etc. Ermey, practically had no previous image; therefore he had to be taken at face value as the D.I. that he played on the screen. He came across as foul-mouthed in the extreme, and that alone made the movie far excessive and overdone.
Yet, it was a somewhat accurate account of a D.I's lexicon of verbage, for that time. But that was also the film's major failing point. The film seemed to rely soley on that for shock effect, and provided little else. I am not personally opposed to some use of foul languge by either D.I.s or other Marines, but neither should we be obsessed with its use.

Ermey himself had, in fact, previously served as a Marine and drill instructor, but he was, for the most part an unknown actor at that time. Maybe the above factors had much to do with the way the film was perceived both then and now, maybe not.

Again, in my opinion, I believe the D.I. was the most realistic and honest film yet made regarding the experience of Marine Corps recruit training. I expect I am in the minority here, judging by responses to this that I have received across the Internet, but that is my opinion--take it or leave it.

Jack Webb has been dead these many years, and Ermey has gone on to acclaim as an actor and personality. Ermey, having reached the rank of staff sergeant while on active duty, has now been officially appointed/promoted to the "honorary" rank of gunnery sergeant by the Marine Corps, a title which he uses as a television personality, etc.

This serves to remind me that Benjamin Franklin was the recipient of one or more "honorary" doctorates. Honorary doctorates are not "earned" degrees, nor conferred on the basis of work done or academic achievements met, etc.. I have read, that Franklin thereafter went by... "Doctor Franklin." Some say he even insisted that members of Congress address him as such. Whether or not anyone ever took him seriously and complied, I don't know. Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), and others, BTW, have also been promoted to honorary Marine Corps ranks, but of course, Nabors was best known anyway as a comic.

I have seen Ermey's performances in several movies, and I agree that he is a pretty fair actor, maybe even better than fair, in some cases. As to his judgement in choice of certain parts/roles he accepts to play...well that's another story, I think. I read an RLE Interview (below) where he was questioned on that point, and I believe he just alluded to the amount of pay he received for that dubious part in question.
Ref
Interview...
http://www.ugo.com/channels/filmtv/features/rleeermey/

I do think, and I must honestly say, that the character he has developed on his television presentations is something less than desireable for the image of a United States Marine. In fact it may indeed be a throwback to the old pre-WW II films depicting the military sergeant as a less than super-intelligent character.

The following remarks, I find in the book, The United States Marine Corps In Books And The Performing Arts, by Richard L. Hemenez, Col USMCR (Ret.), McFarland & Company, 2001

The following, in part, regarding Ermey and FMJ...
(Page 455)...
"...Ermey, a former Marine, is also credited as a technical advisor...a heated side feud with Kubrick over Lee Ermey...labeled him 'a fucking pogue lifer'...There was some negative reaction to Ermey's DI speech...It wasn't until later that Lee Ermey went Hollywood and became R.Lee Ermey...you might think he wrote his own lines, except that much of the dialogue comes directly from Mr. Hasford's book..."
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and, the following, in part, regarding Jack Webb and The D.I.(Page 443)...
"...In a Leatherneck magazine interview, Webb noted that a large part of his admiration for the Corps stemmed from an uncle who enlisted during WW II at age 38. His name--Frank Smith, PFC Smith was later honored as the name of Joe Friday's partner..."


I discovered the following interesting remarks and information from a few old salt Marines on the Newsletter & Archives at Sgt Grit's ....and requested Sgt Grit's permission to use them here.
There are few younger Marines today who have a very good understanding as to what occurred regarding Marine Corps Recruit training back in 1956, and thereafter. There are still Marines now out there on the Internet==old-timers--who were there and can pass some straight scoop along to you. The following is some of just that, together with some other information on this site on this topic that I have collected along the way.
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The following by permission...
Sgt Grit's...
For A Full Line Of USMC Gear, Catalog, Newsletter,
Forums, Chatrooms, Etc.
Click Here!!!!!
"If We Don't Have It, Chesty Wouldn't Want It!"
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Your last news letter had a posting by Frank N. Johnson that referred to his
Drill Instructor that played in The D.I. movie with Jack Webb. We had
an acting First Sergeant in HMM-262 back in the early 60's that also
was in that movie. He was a Gunny when we had him as our 1stSgt, but he
was also an ex DI. Gunny Louis Lazarko. He's the guy Jack Webb got into
a bar fight with named Joey. Gunny attended a reunion we had a few
years ago in New River and I made sure I brought my copy of The D.I.
with me to get autographed. We presented him with a D.I. Campaign hat
that we purchased from you.

There were two other distinguished Vietnam
Era "Brothers" in attendance at that reunion that started as 1stLt's in
our squadron. LtGen Fred "Crazy Fred" The Assassin" McCorkle who was
out guest speaker, and LtGen Mike "The Rifle" DeLong who was running
the war in the Gulf at the time. We've had many reunions and they never
grow old, I was thrilled to see our Vietnam squadron CO Col. Ural
"Bill" Shadrick at one in DC in 01.

Your constant reminders to our
"Brothers and Sisters" in the Corps to reach out and reunite with an
old buddy is something that needs to be repeated all the time. The
rewards are worth every penny you spend to mail a letter, make a phone
call, or take a plane ride, don't miss your chance! Life is too short
to miss such a rewarding opportunity. To our younger "Brothers &
Sisters" in harms way Gods Speed to your save return home.
Semper Fi,
Tim McMahon HMM-262 65-67 RVN 66-67
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NOBODY MENTIONED THE MOVIE

Grit,
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the movie The D.I. with
Jack Webb as being one of the best. The movie is one of the best I've
seen, made in the 50's with a real Platoon of Marines (Platoon 104
Parris Island). There's a Marine that gets into a barroom fight with
Jack Webb, Louis Lazarko that was our acting First Sergeant then a
Gunny in 1965. He was with HMM-262 in New River. In May of 2002 we had
an HMM-262 All Eras Reunion in New River, I knew the Gunny would be
there so I brought my copy of the movie with me; the Gunny autographed
it for me. He's still tough as nails! We also had the honor of having
LtGen Fred (Crazy Fred) McCorkle as our guest speaker and LtGen Mike
(The Rifle) DeLong, both former Vietnam pilots with HMM-262. It was a
great reunion, and like you always say contact your buddies and keep in
touch you'll cherish the memories.
Semper Fi,
Tim McMahon HMM-262 RVN 66-67
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MORE ON THE MOVIE "THE D.I."

To sort of complete the comments on the famous movie of 1957 (The
D.I.) with Jack Webb, here's some more info. The book "Courtmartial at
Parris Island, the story of Ribbon Creek" written by John Stevens talks
about Platoon 351 which was training from 1 October through 31
December, 1956. That was about four months after the drowning incident
but nothing much had changed. The reason that Plt 351 (my platoon) was
mentioned is that some Hollywood movie producer had approached the
Marine Corps wanting to do a movie about the "brutality" of Marine
D.I's and the Corps wanted no parts of that plan. Shortly thereafter,
Jack Webb approached the Marine Corps with the idea of doing a movie
about a day in the life of a D.I. including the theme from a Kraft
Television Theater show about the death of a sand flea. That approach
was approved and a film production team came to MCRD PI to film
background and absorb the experience. Jack Webb noticed and admired the
drill cadence of one of my Junior D.I's (Cpl E-3 John R. Brown) and
pulled him out to Hollywood to act in the film and be one of the
technical advisors. Brown played a Sergeant O'Neill in the film. You
may recall that he was the one who braced the fire watch and had to
listen to him spit out his General Orders and then pulled liberty with
Webb at the Cotton Club. To this day, no one can find out where John R.
Brown went or what happened to him. Rumor is he met and married a
starlet while in Hollywood. He was a 'character' to say the least! The
other 351 drill instructors were Sgt's (E-4) Eugene Alvarez, J.R.
Strickland and H.W. Jones.

I'm pleased to say that I still meet
and communicate with my senior D.I. after 49 years. Gene Alvarez is an
accomplished author, PHd and a retired professor living in Centerville,
Georgia. At 75 years of age, he's remarkable in all aspects and still
travels back to Parris Island to join with other D.I's including the WW
II gents. Platoon 351 Marines can contact me at jrhd@aolcom if they'd
like.
Semper Fidelis
Joe Featherston
Major, USMC, Ret.
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VETERANS OF THE PACIFIC

From a book titled Court-Martial at Parris Island, by by John C. Stevens,
III, that recounts the full story of the recruits lost in Ribbon Creek
in April, 1956 comes the following excerpt from pg 156: "Richard
Hudson, a 1948 Parris Island recruit and later a Drill Instructor in
the mid-1950's, remembers, During the time I was in boot camp there
were incidents of "thumping" ....A lot of DIs were veterans of the
Pacific and seemed to be an unforgiving group. I received a hard kick
in the butt when I moved my foot a couple of inches after the platoon
was called to a halt.

One senior DI had a routine that he felt
was good for instilling discipline. He would place a very young looking
DI in his platoon with new dungarees (utilities), hat pulled down to
his ears, and blend him in with the others; this would be in the first
couple of days before they knew each other. Once on the drill field the
"shill" would start screwing up. The DI would then go into his act of
beating and screaming at the individual causing him so much grief.
After a period of time the PLANT would start yelling that he could take
no more, "No, I can't take it. I Can't take it," drop his rifle and
start running across the drill field. In the meantime, the DI had
picked up his rifle and was yelling, "Get back here you
son-of-a-bitch." The PLANT, yelling, "No Sir," continues to run,
whereupon the DI chambered a round (blank, of course) in the rifle and
fired.

The 'planted' recruit would scream and fall. The DI would
then turn toward a couple of other DIs awaiting their cue and (say,)
"Carry that worthless bastard off of my drill field." O.K. Sarge, we'll
take care of it."

The plant was carried off the field, and the
awestruck recruits' terror and fear of their drill instructor were
instantly elevated to a new plateau.The routine continued with other
platoons in their formative stages until an officer happened to spot
the charade and, suppressing his mirth, suggested that it not be
repeated.

Personal note: I was in Platoon 351 (September, 1956)
in 1st Battalion which served as the role model for the movie starring
Jack Webb called The D.I. In fact, the cadence of one of my junior DIs
named Cpl (E-3) John R. Brown caused him to be selected by Jack Webb to
play a role in the movie as Sgt O'Neill and to be a technical advisor
in the movie. Despite the fallout from the court-martial, there was no
appreciable transformation by our DIs to a more kind and gentle mode
with us.

Semper Fidelis,
Joe Featherston
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BACKGROUND TO "THE DI" MOVIE

In response to both Kent Mitchell, (Corporal, 55-60) Newsletter of August
7th and GySgt Ted "Shotgun" Baker Newsletter of August 21st, maybe I
can add some clarification to their accounts of the making of The DI
with Jack Webb and a number of active duty Marines in late 1956. I was
a recruit in Platoon 351, 1st RTB at Parris Island from 1October56
through December 31, 1956. Among others, my DI's were (then) Sgt E-4
Eugene Alvarez as SDI and Sgt's Strickland and Jones as JDI's, until
Cpl E-3 John R. Brown joined Plt 351 at the rifle range, probably in
early November. I recall it pretty well because a slightly (sic)
inebriated Cpl Brown summoned the fire watch (me) in the middle of the
night and "gut-checked" me before turning on his heels and walking off.
To say that he was unusual would be a grievous understatement. To know
him was to never, ever, forget him. As Gy Baker said, we probably
picked up both Sgt Jones and Cpl Brown from platoon 253 when they
"outposted" at the end of October. You're right Gunny, Brown supposedly
went "Hollywood" appeared in the DI as Sgt O'Neal, met and married a
French starlet while there.and sometime later went off the radar. No
one with the DI Association can turn up any further news.

By the way, Platoon 351 also had a recruit, named Vincent Sheehan, called
"Shotgun" because his rapid-fire string looked about like that. He was
made to grab a GI can lid in his left hand as a shield, fix bayonets
and charge the targets to prove that was the only way he was going to
kill anything. Another Brown legacy! Agreeing with Kent Mitchell, Brown
was, indeed, a mean little s..t! I can see him taking immediate action
during the movie filming. By the way folks, our SDI (Sgt Alvarez) a
retired PhD from the collegiate system of Georgia will be at MCRD PI
and MCAS Beaufort 3 & 4 October for a book signing with John
Stevens (Court Martial at Parris Island, The Ribbon Creek Incident).
The event is the reunion of WWII DI's. Wouldn't miss this one for the
world! How would you like to see you SDI after nearly 47 years.? Joe
Featherston (1647380), rifle number 441380 (doesn't everybody remember
their rifle number?)
Major, USMC, Ret.
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IN CONCLUSION:
And so, what can be answered to the age-old questions as to Old Corps, New Corps? Which was/is tougher?, etc. These questions still go on and on, never really answered to the satisfaction of all.

In my opinion, the Corps is as tough as it ever was. Individual Marines, however, have changed, most notably in their attitudes.

I have seen articles these last few years where some of today's generals have publicly stated that today's Marines are superior to the Old Corps, etc. That today's recruits are bigger, stronger, better educated, better trained and equipped, etc. And I have seen young Marines themselves pick up on this theme and run with it. And, the old salts-- though few really old salts seem to be regulars on the WWW--have generally conceded the above points, some of which may be true. Often cited in response, is the "Old Breed, New Breed, Only The Marine Breed," quote (paraphrased here) of General "Chesty" Puller. It was back in 1950 that the general made that remark.

My only contact with today's Marines is via the Internet, i.e., Marines who post/respond on Marines' message boards, therefore my opinion is limited to such direct observation.

Unlike older Marines from the '50s and prior, today's "boots" are unwilling to take a backseat in any way to those who came before them. They feel the need to voice their opinions on everything, and to judge the past by their own standards, and demand that they be respected by the older Marines. They claim they also "respect" the old-timers, but actually I can see that many consider talk of the Old Corps as an affront to their own status. (On the other hand, like everything else, it could be that only the bigmouths are heard from.)

I never witnessed anything like this directed toward the older generations of Marines back in the '50s and '60s from regular Marines! We, of the older Corps, indeed come from a far different process of socialization prior to our having become Marines.

That is the major change I see, from my observations of young Marines--an unwillingness to defer to those who came before them, unwilling to be a silent majority as others were in the old days, etc.

So it's not really a case of which is better, the new or the old--such would now be like comparing apples and oranges, I think. Marines can and still do what is expected of one who has claimed the title. Yes, I said "claimed." (Even that has now been effectively changed to "earned," along with the demise of much Naval terminology once a part of every Marine's lexicon.)

Such Old Corps/New Corps questions were at one time valid--much direct comparison, despite obvious differences, could be made between the pre--WW II Marines and those of WW II and Korea, for instance. But America itself has changed dramatically since those days till now. And obviously, the available resources of Americans we draw our new Marines from has changed a great deal. In fact, it has changed so much that I do not believe that a direct comparison can be made any longer between the old and the new individual Marines. Yes, boot camp tears a recruit down while building a new Marine, but there is a very basic difference between the recruit of 1950 and now.

Yet, the Corps is still here as always, a Marine Corps no better or lesser than the Old Corps, but different, in many ways, than it was in 1950.

Without doubt, General Puller's remarks were indeed quite true back then. The difference between today's new Marines and the Old Corps is not principally that the Corps has changed all that much, but that today's youth doesn't come from the same "America" that we came from so many years ago now. Thus, the basic change in attitudes. So these ageless questions regarding Old Corps, New Corps? Which was tougher?, etc., not only cannot be answered--these cannot even be questions any longer.! But don't expect these questions to go away any time soon. Marines have never allowed facts to get in the way of their traditions--and arguing about The Old Corps is traditional for Marines.

Semper Fidelis
Dick Gaines

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This is...
Gunny G's...
GLOBE and ANCHOR
Marines Sites & Forums

By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
Gny Sgt USMC (Ret.)
1952-'72
Semper Fidelis
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Note:
GyG's G&A Sites & Forums is an informational site and not for profit. Copyrighted material provided soley for education, study, research, and discussion, etc. Full credit to source shown when available.
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