A poem, by John Wayne.

“The Sky is Blue,

The Grass is green.

So get off your butt,

and join the Marines”

I love the Marine Corps. I’m not a Marine and at my age, 51, I’ll never be one but I was raised by one and influenced by many. If a man is once a Marine he is always a Marine, never a former Marine. I can’t go any further in my writing without sharing a few true tales of the many Marines I have crossed paths with, both in real life and on the big screen, and these are the jewels in the crown of my influences.

According to Wikipedia:

The United States Marine Corps traces its institutional roots to the Continental Marines of the American Revolutionary war, formed by Captain Samuel Nicholas at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress on 10 November 1775, to raise 2 batallions of Marines. That date is regarded and celebrated as the date of the Marine Corps’ “birthday”. At the end of the American Revolution, both the Continental Navy and Continental Marines were disbanded in April 1783. The institution itself would not be resurrected until 1798. In that year, in preparation for the Quasi-War with France, Congress created the United States Marine Corps.

So, the way I read it, the Marines were thought up in a bar a whole lot of years ago, and they have been the ass-kickers of the known world ever since. It’s fitting that they were re-grouped in a war with France and I guess that maybe twenty or so Marines were sent to fight the entire French Army. Shortly thereafter, the French decided to stick to art and cooking after the tremendous ass kicking those twenty must have thrown on them. I’m reaching here, of course, when I say that there were only twenty Marines sent to kick the butts of the Souffle’ crowd, it was probably more like twelve or thirteen. I mean somebody had to carry the gear and load the rifles, cook, and wash blood out of the uniforms. Over the years, I’ve seen numerous ad’s in Craigslist for antique French Army rifles, never shot and only dropped once. They never seem to sell for much, seeings there are so many in perfect condition for sale at any given time. I’ll get off the French, they do hate us but at least they gave us the French Fry and we did let De Gaulle step up and declare victory for the French’s “participation” in WWII after the USA kicked every ass that advanced towards France looking for anything other than a date with a skinny girl with hairy armpits or sautéed snails floating in garlic butter.

Their have been many movies made with Marines in them and about them. John Wayne was a famous Marine Corps lover and depending on who you ask, was credited with “saving” the Corp by agreeing to star as Sargent Stryker in “The Sands of Iwo Jima” when a threat of disbanding the Marines was proposed by the Dolittle Board after WWII. The film was seen by millions and was the top movie as far as Oscar Nominations were concerned. I’m not at all saying the Marine Corps was saved by a movie, but prefer to think if you can pin the “saving” of the Corps on any one event, it would have to be Gen MacArthur’s amphibious assault on Inchon. That event validated that assault from the sea was in fact still a viable military option in the nuclear age, and that no-one was better equipped than the Marine Corps. I still have to give Mr. Wayne a tip of my hat for his love of the Corps, I understand what it means to love a division of the armed service and have never been an official member.

In the film, “A few Good Men” starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, there are numerous exchanges between Cruise and Nicholson and should be seen for the tour-de-force (uh-oh, thanks again you French folk) that was Mr. Nicholson’s portraying a an Old school Marine having to conform to today’s liberalized bed wetting political correctness as it pertains to war and handling troops. The most famous line being “You can’t handle the truth!” and hundred of others. Unless you’ve been asleep for the past ten years, you’ll know that “A Few Good Men” is a movie about two grunt Marines stationed on Guantanamo Bay, arrested for the death of a fellow soldier. In one exchange between Cruises’ Lt. Daniel Kaffe (Lawyer) and Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson (the black Marine on trial for code red-ing a fellow soldier) concerning Corp. Dawson’s apparent dislike for the Navy. Dawson’s answer was a classic and went something like this;

Kaffe: “Lance Corporal Dawson, why do you hate the Navy so much?

Dawson: “”I don’t hate the Navy, Lieutenant, everytime we gotta go kick somebody’s ass, ya’ll are nice enough to give us a ride.

For those of you that don’t know, the Marines are a division of the Navy and used to ride on ships as a means of getting somewhere to kick ass, like Lance Corporal Dawson said.

I have a dear and close friend, Cary Chandler, whose Dad was a devoted Marine up until his death in 2006. He had accepted Christ as his Lord and savior, but maintained his greatest influence this side of heaven was the United States Marine Corps. That man loved the Corps and every time I’d enter his office I knew that fact evidenced by the numerous pictures, commendations and medals he received. Colonel John Chapple “Chap” Chandler, Jr. was quite an accomplished and amazing man. He was an Eagle Scout, a three-sport athlete and a single wing quarterback of the Class C State Championship Football team at Millen High School in Millen, Georgia. He graduated as salutatorian of his class in 1946 and entered Georgia Tech holding a degree in Electrical engineering post graduation. Chap joined Roy Richards, Sr. in his fledgling, regional wire production company and helped lead sales from $12 million to over $512 million.  Southwire stands today as a global leader in wire and cable with our $5 billion in sales. As an outside observer, I can truthfully say that Chap’s greatest joy, besides his faith in God was his family. His devoted wife of fifty-one plus years Mary, two sons Cary and Chip, his numerous grandkids and daughters in law were his true pride and joy, was his 37 years in the US Marine Corps. He earned the rank of Colonel and at the end of his career served as the executive officer of the 6th Motor Transport Division in Atlanta. He was awarded the Korean Service Medal, the UN Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and he received the Navy Commendation Medal in 1975.

I want you to know all about Colonel Chandler’s accomplishments first. It should also be known that he also was a somewhat diminutive man. At six-foot four inches tall and a former college football defensive lineman, I might have had a good eight to ten inch advantage over him, but it is more important to know that I would not have tangled with him on his worst and my best day. He had a confidence about him that spelled success in every thing he set out to do, and that also included kicking ass when necessary. He was one of the old school Marines like Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup, except he was the genuine article. He had been there, done that, and he was “tougher than a two dollar steak”, and that is in todays weakened dollar. That’s the lead in to this particular true story about the Marine that was my good friend Cary’s father.

On one of his thousands of trips he took on the corporate jet to any of  thousands of locations he frequented to get Southwire’s presence felt in the world, he would prove his mettle. On this particular trip, Mr. Chandler was on his weekly trip to Kentucky, where he was President of National-Southwire Aluminum Company and found himself with a plane full of his co-workers, all executive types, on approach for landing during the famous Blizzard of Feb. ‘78. The conditions were exceptionally poor, snow was falling and from the follow-up reports from the F.A.A., the wings had enough ice on them to chill a year’s worth of cold beer produced by Budweiser. Visibility was extremely poor and the pilots couldn’t locate the airstrip at the plant so they made a low pass to catch a glimpse of it, not wanting to lose sight by going back up the pilot made a critical error and banked sharply to land. The weight of the ice on the wings made them drop like and anvil and they hit the ground nose first at nearly 200 mph.

The Mitsubishi MU-2 did indeed crash, broke off both wings, fuselage tumbling down the runway like a roll of fifty cent pieces, breaking up into two parts and injuring most of the passengers. The fuselage containing the passengers came to rest upside down in a snow bank, it’s occupants covered in jet fuel.  The massive snow drifts kept the group from become a fireball from a spark during the wreck. Chap Chandler, however, basically walked away from the crash, soaked in jet fuel and bruised from asshole to appetite, but basically unharmed. I’d say in Chaps case, it was a 100/100 proposition, one-hundred percent God and one-hundred percent Marine Corps training. He calmly refused an ambulance ride to the hospital so he could take photos of the crash scene, worked several hours then flew home later that evening.

Chap was as cool a customer as they came.  When Cary came home from college that night after hearing his dad had been in a plane crash, he asked Chap what he had been thinking as the plane went down.  Chap replied, “Oh I knew I was going to walk away from it, I was just worried about those other poor SOB’s and if they were going to make it.”

“They weren’t Marines.”

Colonel John Chapple “Chap” Chandler, Jr. passed away on February 6, 2006 in Carrollton, Ga. from a long illness. He was buried under a full Marine Color Guard and given a 21 gun salute, fitting for a man so devoted to the Corps. He was like most Marines I have encountered, all with a broken mold laying somewhere in heaven, God knowing he had a created a “one-off” never to be duplicated again.

I can’t go any further than to tell you that one of my greatest influences, besides Jesus and my Dad (also a Marine-but I’ll get to him in just a minute or two) was my College football coach, Charlie Bradshaw. He was also a Marine, a drill instructor and psychology major. I’ll describe him the same way some of his players from “The Thin Thirty” a book written by one Shannon Ragland recalling his days at Kentucky. He was insane. One of his former players said and I quote: ” pre-season practices were a daily version of the Bataan Death March” Bradshaw trimming a down a  roster of willing players from 88 to 30 and brutalizing young men beyond most human’s physical and mental ability to endure. When I read of the brutality the Kentucky players endured, I was swept back to my five years of playing under the man. It was five of the most formative years of my life and for good reason. I guess the funniest thing I can recall out of the five years of playing and practicing under Coach Bradshaw, was him making me and two other players run for five hours straight, in full gear, for “smiling in a practice”. He stood up on a high hill and watched over practice like a shepherd might watch his flock, except the shepherd liked his sheep and knew their value. Myself and a few players were commenting on Bradshaw insulting one player concerning the weight of his girlfriend and why the same player’s mother had not killed him at childbirth he was so useless. His dislike for all things human was amazing, but his influence was great. He and I didn’t see eye to eye on anything including the sun being the center of our solar system, but he respected the player I was and we both understood the game of football. I loved the game until I played it under my former head coach, surviving the effort with a college diploma, a fitting reminder that I was through with the game before it was through with me.  I had after all, played a kid’s game and walked out the other end with an education that went beyond the “Finance/Marketing” clearly printed across the top of my Troy University issued Sheepskin. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t consider Coach Bradshaw’s influence on my life and not dwelling on it as a negative thing. I choose to focus on the positive aspects any growth experience can bring if a man is mature enough and has his head screwed on straight.

Lastly there is my dad, my personal hero, and Marine. He was a Marine of the same generation as Chap Chandler and Charlie Bradshaw.  He excelled in every aspect of his life, a dual scholarship recipient in both academics and sports, eventually becoming a Postal Executive in his long career and an M.I.T. Graduate of the exclusive Sloan school of management, attending with many CEO’s of fortune fifty companies. Not “Fortune 500″ but “Fortune 50″ meaning the top fifty companies in the USA and the world. He is and has been my greatest friend and confidante I have had in my life. His wisdom and kindness distilled in unselfish batches all my life have made me a better man, father, husband and friend to those who love me and call me the same in return. I do recall one incident when I decided my dad was an idiot and I might challenge his authority and Marine training and it bares sharing.

This is from my book “The Train Ride” :

Let me share with you that I was not one of the smart fellows that passed on challenging my dad to his rightful throne. It happened one Saturday morning after a long lengthy night out with my hometown buddies. I had come home from Troy in my sophomore year (the term sophisticated moron comes to mind) and was in the best shape of my life. I was benching over 400 pounds and could squat 700 pounds easily. I could also run like a deer and all day if necessary. On one memorable Friday, my Dad gave me the order to be “high and tight, 6:00 am cutting grass.” My Dad was not a military junkie as far as his dealings with me or our family. He was never a Great Santini dad, ever. The Marine Corps had such a strong effect on him, as it does most men who have been in the Corps. He never let go of the military way and its influence on his personal and business life. I recognized it as a very positive thing for him.

After my long day’s night that ultimately led to an early morning arrival to my bed, I was awakened by the sound of the lawn mower running. This was not good. I had a great relationship with my dad, but he had his rules and I lived in his home. I had dang well intended to cut that grass and I flew into my shorts, shoes and shirt in seconds and down the steps I went out into the yard where my father was making quick work of the task at hand. I waited at the edge of the driveway for my father to make a pass at the end of the neat straight rows he was painting with the lawn mower. It was a beautiful day and I remember it so vividly because of the lesson I learned that day. Don’t mess with Marines regardless of their age, height, weight or perceived intelligence. I stood a good foot taller than my Dad and outweighed him by a better 75 pounds. I asked him to hand the lawn mower over to me and I would finish the grass cutting duties. He glanced up, did a perfect military style 180 degree turn and headed back in the direction he had just come from, ignoring my request with a curt smile and a passing glance. Not a mutinous glance mind you, but a glance that said,

“Go back to bed you dingle berry.”

I was instantly pissed off by his calm nature. My body language went from friendly and inviting to an “I can take you old man” stance. I was twenty and knew better. I had considered it a time or two when I was 14 and maybe once when I was 18 but thought the better for it.

When my dad passed by me again I was standing kinda-sorta in the yard as to get him to have to decide where to maneuver the mower around me and not foul up his neat pattern. I am sure he learned the technique and many others as punishment in the Marines. When he got close enough and hesitated, I grabbed the mower by one hand and sternly told dad to let me finish the damn yard. He looked at me and calmly told me it was OK, he’d finish the task and I could go back to bed and sleep it off, which further pissed me off. He had both hands on the mower handle. I took my right hand and placed it on the outside of his right hand and with my left hand I slid his hand so I had full grip on the mower. I gave him the one and only mutinous glance I have ever given him saying:

“I am up, I am pissed, and you are gonna let me finish cutting the frigging yard!”

And then it happened. In a blur, I was down on my back in a pretzel hold with my legs bent over myself with my knees basically on my ears and what appeared to a be a nut sack hanging in my face. I was going to bite them out of anger but I realized quickly they were mine. My 190 pound Marine father had just felled a 270 pound freight train, dropped him like a used prophylactic, and humbled him to the point of hollering for mercy. He never let go of the lawn mower and he could twist my pinky finger and every part of my dumb-assed body racked in pain. I had been introduced to what the inside of a can of whoop ass must have looked like. He smiled and let me up. I was sore as the underdog in a prize-fight after that particular lesson, never forgetting to ever mess with a Marine again.

You have just read a true account of the greatest learning experience in my life complements of  The United States Marine Corps and my dad. These boys don’t play, as a matter of fact, they all quit school because of recess. And my dad was one of the few, the proud, The baddest Hombre’s to ever walk a watch with a gun. I’m convinced they can all recognize each other somehow. My dad, my brother and I went to see one of the greatest war movies ever made, “Full Metal Jacket” by Stanley Kubrick of “2001: A Space Oddesy” fame. This particular movie was as much about the Tet Offensive as it was the boot camp training each Marine must endure before becoming a certified bad ass in the service of the United States of America. It’s a movie that is funny and tragic at the same time, describing in full visual detail how each man handled the same tyranny doled out in spades and the resulting outcome. When we watched the boot camp portion of the movie, basically the first hour, I noticed how my dad never took his eyes off the man playing the drill instructor, Gunnery Sargent Hartman, played by the one and only R. Lee Ermey to perfection. This was before the internet existed so information was found out the old-fashioned way, you either read it in a book or a Magazine. My point here is this; my Dad told me and my brother after the movie: “I bet if you check out the guy who played the drill instructor, you’d find he was actually a real drill instructor. The cadence he used and the lacing together of profanity was like the poetry my drill instructor used on me and my fellow Marines. You just can’t fake that and it would take years to learn that skill even if you were the best actor on the planet”. Sure enough, he was right. Stanley Kubrick hired Mr. Ermey to consult with the actor who was to play the driven and partially insane drill instructor. When the actor just couldn’t get it right, Kubrick brilliantly asked R.Lee to take the part and a great actor was born and a movie career was launched. R.Lee Ermey was indeed a drill instructor with the Marine Corps and the movie gives you a realistic view as to the tough standards the Marines set forth for its recruits. Which leads me to the very best part of this particular short story and the reason the title reads “One round trip bus ticket to Parris Island and back to Murphy, N.C. please”

My dad and his best friend at the time, Elmer Taylor, both decided to join the Marine Corps at the same time to get out of the small town they both called home, Murphy North Carolina. When they had both completed high school, they both decided to go down to the recruiting office and sign up. This would be their opportunity to get out of the small town and expand their collective horizons, seeing the world on the USA’s nickel. When they entered the small recruiting office, they were met by a Marine in his full dress blues, a no-nonsense type saddled with the job of finding “the few and the proud” first and seeing if the Marines could use them if they survived boot camp. My dad tells the story as him entering the office first, signing the paperwork first and passing the initial physical exam consisting of having all your teeth and not being flat-footed. He said he squished his toes up so he wouldn’t be found out as a flat-foot, an insult according to the way the recruiter said it, and one way he’d miss the opportunity to make it out of his small town he called home. He passed the test and to his surprise, his buddy Elmer didn’t squish his toes up and failed the test miserably being called a wash out and a flat foot. My dad’s friend didn’t even try to fake it like he did, meaning my Dad was on his way to Parris Island, North Carolina very soon, and without his best friend like they had planned. His friend confessed to him he got cold feet and decided not to join and his only way out was to be flat-footed. I think my dad and him had a genuine fist fight over that incident, but remained best friends until Elmer’s death twenty years later, long after the whole incident was a distant memory for them both.

My dad told me that when he arrived at boot camp, he stepped off the bus and heard in three minutes more cussing than he had heard in his entire life’s days combined. He said his drill instructor got in his face after he snickered at some insult hurled at some other new recruit a few rows over, a huge mistake. The recruits had been handed a bucket with all of their shaving and cleaning gear in it and this particular fellow commented about the brand of tooth paste not being his own, much to the displeasure of the drill instructor. My dad said as soon as he made a peep, he looked up and the bill of the instructor’s hat was poking him in the eyebrow portion of his forehead, his breath smelling of some long ago spent chewing tobacco. When the instructor questioned him about where he was originally from, he mistakenly made eye contact with the man in a manner the instructor found offensive based on the drill instructor’s fist being buried up to my dad’s esophagus. My dad said he dropped to the ground with all the wind knocked out of him, not catching his breath for a few days. He said he wondered, while on his knees in the Parris Island sand, what in the hell his friend Elmer was doing right then, vowing to kill him soon.

After the new recruits were divided up into squads and assigned bunks and separate drill instructors did he find out how the Marine Corps treated those who didn’t follow every order to the fullest extend. One of the many tasks the new recruits were required to do was to write “either your whore or your Mother” whichever you left back home, and loved most when you decided to infect the drill instructor’s beloved Corps (pronounced CORE just in case you are not familiar with the pronunciation) with “the maggot shit filled presence that was each recruits worthless life.” It is important to know that I am not making any of this up . Making Marines bad enough to go charging into battle with little more than a dull butter knife was a difficult task and one not to be taken lightly. One of the most important parts of the training was teaching loyalty to each other and building a team, but not forgetting the importance of family and especially one’s mother. Each recruit was to write one letter each day and forward that letter to his mother on that same day. My dad was the oldest of six brothers and sisters still back at home with his widowed mother, her depending on his $66.00 dollars a month stipend as a replacement for his absence while he was busy becoming a man. My dad had never been away from home this long in his life and this was a way of meeting others from all over the country. It amounted to quite an eye-opening experience for a young man from the Hanging Dog community of Western North Carolina. Then he made the big mistake.

It was approximately the end of the second month beginning of the third and last month of basic training and my dad’s battalion and all the other recruits, numbering in the thousands, and all split into separate batallions were all engaged in an exercise where live rounds were being fired. It was a sort of practice war giving the soon to be Marines the real feel of a battle, meaning one thing:  if they didn’t keep their heads down they were liable to get shot or blown up. The drill was about half done when all of a sudden all the shooting stopped, mortar shells ceased exploding and a Jeep came careening through the middle of the whole shebang, the driver and the passenger bouncing like they might fly out of they weren’t careful. They drove straight to the command center and from my dad’s vantage point, he could see the men pointing to a paper they pulled out of an envelope then the commander pointing in the general direction of where my dad was located. My dad and his soon to be Marine buddies all were looking at each other when one of the gents lifted a bullhorn and shouted (and I quote); “Is there a God Damned Private George W. Hall in the second batallion!!??”

My dad said his vocal chords froze at the sound of his name. He thought he might not have heard his name correctly but was snapped out of his trance by his squad leader screaming in my his ear “George, god dammit, George! They are calling your fucking name you maggot dick piece of shit, get your worthless ass up and make your legs carry your carcass to the command tent before I shoot your ass myself!” He then got up and trudged his way through what seemed like a mile of mud and sweat, the two men in the Jeep walking towards him through the mud in clean dress greens. These guys reached him and grabbed his arms dragging him toward the Jeep they had driven so vicariously a few minutes before. Simultaneously, they both looked at my Dad and said “Get your sorry, worthless, no good, shit sucking soon to be dead ass in this God damned Jeep right now and don’t ask a single question, you stinking pile of maggot shit”

If you are reading this, it is important to know that I have cleaned up the language a considerable amount. The actual language used during the entire length of my dad’s stay on Paris Island was considerably stronger and included insulting your sister’s virginity or lack thereof, your girlfriend’s willingness to spread herself around while you were away serving your country and God help you if you were from Texas. The many uses of “Maggot”, AKA fly larvae, was a name assigned to all recruits and its fecal matter associated with your name was an important part of insulting the man you thought your were before entering the Marines. Let’s get back to the story now, shall we?

My Dad was riding in the back of the Jeep, wondering what ever in the world might he have done to deserve the fate that was currently befalling him at this particular moment. He knew the two guys up front were cussing like two drunken sailors on leave and unhappy as to the condition of the dress uniforms they wore daily. They were doing between eighty and ninety miles per hour over some purdy rough terrain and my dad said he nearly flew out a time or two during the trip to where ever the two front drivers were taking him. He asked, at one point, what in the hell might be going on and how did it involve him. He remembered one of the guys looking back and calling him every name in the official Marine Corps book of cuss words. He was called names he said he’d not heard in his entire life and figured when, and now if, he made it out of the Corps he’d get a copy of the combination guide to conjugating cuss words and connecting worthless humans to fly larvae. He still had no idea what in the world might be going on and the reason for the hurried trip he found himself involved in.

The Jeep pulled up to my Dad’s barracks and skidded to a stop. In one motion the two reached around and pulled my dad, in his full fake war gear, out of the front of the Jeep. They then ran him into the showers, stripping his uniform off and cussing him like he was a government mule. The two men had what my Dad thought were Brillo pads, used to scrub pots and pans in the kitchens of the massive island training facility he was stationed at during his basic training. The two scrubbed until my dad said his skin burned from the cleaning he received that afternoon. One of the men then instructed him to go and shave his face again, even though he had done it that same morning, and accompanied him by his arm when my dad balked. The other officer was busy ironing Dad’s dress greens, creases perfect, with the speed and efficiency of a robot. When he finished his three “S”s ( shit, shower and shave) for the second time that day, he inquired as to what in the world was going on and how did he fit into the situation at hand. One of the men bent over to his face while he was lacing his recently polished boots and told him ” You son of a bitch, you’ve got business with the base commander, he said to shoot you if for any reason you balked at our request. Now get your maggot-assed frame up off that bench and follow us to the Commander’s office. Boy, you have fucked up now, you dumb-assed pile of maggot shit”.

He followed the two men to the Commander’s office, wondering what fate might await him inside the giant doors he stood in front of. When the two men grabbed him under his arms and basically carried him into the office, every eye he met was void of sympathy, all looking like he had declared himself a communist and every one knew it. When he reached the Commander’s office, the two secretaries looked at him like he had stepped in dog shit and had tracked it onto the new carpet in their homes. He had just about had his fill of it all when the older lady looked at him one last time and sarcastically said “You can go in now”. One of the soldiers that had picked him up, cleaned and delivered him whispered as he passed “You are a worthless pile of shit for what you have done, you sorry maggot”. When my Dad cleared the commander’s door, he said his knees began to shake. He told me if he had one wish and God was merciful, could he please allow him to retroactively fill an infants grave, him being better off dead than what he faced right then.

There sat his mother. She was drinking tea with the commander. He said the commander said “See, Mrs. Hall, your son is not dead, he is alive and well. Son, come over here and give your mother a hug”. He followed the commander’s every order and hung on his every word, sensing his Commander’s eye’s burning holes through his entire being. My dad said he knew right then what he had done and why all the fuss aimed in his direction. He had indeed written but not mailed any letters to his Mom for the past two weeks and she thought he was dead. Like any good mother would do, she went to the Murphy Greyhound Bus station and asked the man at the window:

“How much for one round trip bus ticket to Parris Island and back to Murphy, North Carolina please?”, her showing up at the front gate of the giant island to inquire on the status of her oldest son. Needless to say, my Dad wrote her two letters every day for the rest of his stay on Paris Island, with two men standing over him with sidearms drawn and safety’s off.

Commander’s orders.