s a raw recruit in 1964, nothing was pounded into my skull more deeply than these two Marine Corps Golden Rules:
Rule #1. If you catch a thief, he will fall up, and down several flights of stairs before making an appearance in front of the company 1st Sergeant.
Rule #2. NCOs were the backbone of the Marine Corps. They were to be looked upon, thought of, and feared as Gods. Their quarters were at the end of the squadbays... A row of lockers were lined across the width of the barracks with a space left in the middle for passage. A wool blanket hung across the opening served as a door... E-3s and below did not go beyond the blanket witout permission, which was seldom granted. Beyond the blanket was a world we could only dream about.
Back in those days food and drinks were not allowed in the open squadbays. You could buy snacks from a pogey bait machine, but you had to take it into a commom area (TV room) to consume it. Beyond the blankets, however, smells of pepperoni, mushrooms, and fresh oven baked dough would often permeate throughout the squadbays -- making the rest of us "peons" salivate so hard that it sounded like it was raining.
Long after "lights out" for everyone else, lively poker games would often go on until dawn -- behind those curtains. They were the elite, they were the ones who had made the grade, they were the guys who told us when to jump, and how high. Back then you had to be in the Marine Corps. for something like a million years before you were knighted "NCO."
It was one of "them" I made the mistake of pushing too far one day. I also made the classic error of judging a book by its cover. He looked and sounded a little like Barney Fife from Mayberry. He had us in formation on a Friday afternoon and we were all chomping at the bit to get secured for Liberty Call. I was in the back third rank chattering away with another guy when he took notice of me, and gave me an "at ease," (the civilian equivalent of "Shut up!"). After giving me three "?at eases," he had me remain behind while he dismissed the rest of the platoon. I was really pissed, but he attempted to calm me down by saying that he needed to show me something and it wouldn't take long at all, and I could make Liberty Call in plenty of time, afterwards, if I still wanted to.
"If I still wanted to?" I thought to myself, this guy must have a screw loose. Anyway, we piled into a jeep and he headed us towards the boonies.
I started getting a little suspicious the further from civilization we got, but said nothing. When we finally stopped deep in the middle of nowhere, he got out of the jeep and then took off his utility jacket -- I got more suspicious, and a lot more concerned!
He told me to get out of the jeep. I said, "What for?"
He said, "Because you don't seem to understand the importance of complying with verbal orders, and I'm about to give you some personal, up close, extra military instructions."
His meaning was clear, and if the truth be known, I knew what he was saying was true. But I also knew it wasn't going to be a cake walk for him either. He was about 5'8" maybe 140 - 150 pounds, skinny. I was 6'3" 205 pounds, and had already had a couple of good brawls in Dodge City (Jacksonville, NC). I was BAD!
I don't have a clear recollection of being hit -- the first time. There seemed to be a hive of very large bees in front of my face, and each one was hitting me with two by fours -- very fast -- very hard.
Now, I've been knocked unconscious before, you know, BLAM! and you're out. No big deal. But, never by degrees. Each time he hit me things progressively seemed to get dimmer and dimmer. You could say that I got in a couple of good shots, too -- if you count the pine tree I punched, and the dents in the jeep's fender I made with my face.
The air rushing across my body as we headed back to mainside in the jeep partially revived me, and it was many hours later that his words about me going on Liberty "if I still wanted to," came back to haunt me.
I was cocky and I needed a wake up call. One of the best NCOs I ever met was more than willing to give it to me. The "extra military instructions" were never mentioned again by him, and I got no razzing by my buddies, so I know he didn't make my "intructions" public knoweldge. From that day forth I had a much firmer grasp on the command "at ease" while in formation.
There are a lot of Marines out there who are probably recoiling in horror at the very thought of an NCO who would even think about touching one of his troops. Maybe they're right -- maybe they're not.
I'm not advocating brutality as a means of controlling subordinates or as a way of earning respect. It doesn't work. But, somewhere between a jeep ride to the boonies and the need for unneccessary explainations of a given order is where an NCO needs a keen sense of judgment and tact to differentiate between the Marine who needs some "group tightening" and a hopeless case.
They also need (and deserve) the respect and support from those who knight them with such awesome responsibilities, and the title "Non-Commissioned Officer."