Sunday, October 28, 2007

A PYY Sentimental Moment

Call me a softy, call me sentimental. I have a way of remembering momentous events in my life that played a significant role in shaping who I am. Today, I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, but at one time in my life, I was a soldier. It was at this time in my life over 30 years ago that I was locked into an initiation process, second only to the Marine course in rigor and intensity.

I had all Vietnam drill sergeants, each with a chest full of medals to show for it; none of them had any difficulty remembering to remind us, we had all volunteered for this program. I went in after about seven months of being eighteen, not long after the draft had been scrapped post-Nam. I was the first of the "All-Volunteer Army".

I did this willingly for both honorable and selfish reasons. Having been raised by an Air Force retiree that served in both Korea and Vietnam, I knew what could have happened had I turned eighteen a bit sooner. But I was instilled with a value that says a man serves his country. And if he does it honorably, his country will serve him.

Which brings me to the selfish reasons.

I got to see things that so many people will only see in pictures. I got to live and work in Europe. I was able to lay down on the ground one night many years ago in a piece of forestland outside Aschaffenburg and think about how knights had once passed through this stretch of territory, on their way to the palace that was still being restored from the war.

I stood where the John Paul II stood, a year after I was there.

I drank beer (and ate schnitzel) with the elite beer connoisseurs of the world. (And I did it at the Oktoberfest at Wiesns, not Garfield Park.)

To be in Spain immediately post-Franco and see the Spanish people awake from their slumber under fascism, was absolutely priceless.

To sleep in a farmer's barn, drink fresh-milked milk from a cow, sip homemade wine with him and his family was unforgettable.

But to get there, I had to go past this guy. No, it wasn't this particular guy (R. Lee Ermey from the movies, Full Metal Jacket and The Boys In Company C). He was a Marine and the only reason I wasn't one was simple: The Marines ran three miles a day and the Army ran two.

But, I had many just like him: hard, disciplined, and fair. We were all treated equally, we were all scumbags. There was no scumbag better than the other. But beyond all of the facades, they cared about us, they wanted to help us stay alive, if the balloon ever went up. They had to train us to become soldiers, and train they did.

The Drill Sergeant was a true friend to his/her trainees, much more than we would have ever believed at the time. We got three meals a day, free. We got housing, free. We got clothing, again, free. We were taken care of from reveille to taps. We were safe. And we were taught to pay attention to detail, something that I have always tried to do my entire life.

Sure, I have failed at times, but they also taught me that failure is only positive feedback. It tells us something is wrong and gives us the opportunity to adjust and correct. It can't get any more positive than that, can it?

Many may deem I am wrong, but I believe differently. These guys put me on a path to self-reliance and gave me skills that have lasted a lifetime. My Drill Sergeants were two men I will never forget. Drill Sergeants Lewis and Duncan. I can still see their faces. People have come and gone, some I cannot remember. But for eight long weeks these men were my world, they squared me away.

So please, take a look at what I signed a contract for, at least for the first eight weeks. If you went through this, take a stroll down memory lane with me. If you didn't, take a look at what you missed. Here is why I get so sentimental this time of year:

WARNING: VERY STRONG LANGUAGE. Not safe for work or around kids.

NOTE - The first half of FMJ was devoted to Basic Recruit Training. In my opinion, it was the movie, you can keep the rest. Keep in mind that this was Hollywood (and Kubrick, at that). Some of this is slightly embellished, but not overly so. I saw no one get hit or choked. They shook us once in a while. (They only shook me once, and I got the point he was making and for the rest of my life.)

I have to say, it's one of the more accurate depictions of Basic Training I have seen. In fact, Kubrick allowed Ermey (a former DI) to ad lib a lot of his lines in the movie, it's very realistic.


Rocket said...


I went through the same kind of training for the first 23 years of my life and the drill sergent was my father. Got clothed, fed and educated but the travelling came out of my own pocket.

Rocket said...


My congratulations to Greg and the Redsox. (5 am sleepytime last night.) A clean sweep and not only did the Bosox win the series but the Patriots mopped the floor with my boys from good ol' DC.

LASunsett said...

Hi Rocket,

//I went through the same kind of training for the first 23 years of my life and the drill sergent was my father. Got clothed, fed and educated but the travelling came out of my own pocket.//

Same script here. My dad was hardcore to the bone. But it didn't hurt me any. As they say, "that which does not kill me only makes me stronger".

Mustang said...

While I think R. Lee Ermy is a good actor, he wasn’t acting in Full Metal Jacket. I have to agree with you that the rest of the film was crap, but for anyone who has gone through Marine Corps recruit training, it is a lifetime experience. Nearly forty-five years ago, I was a member of Platoon 224, MCRD Parris Island. I still remember the names of my four drill instructors, even though I only ran in to one of them after my graduation from boot camp. In spite of the fact that I joined the Marines from a Marine Corps family, thinking I was prepared for that experience—I wasn’t; not by a long shot. I learned a hell of a lot from my drill instructors, but boot camp was only the beginning of my career-length learning experiences. I can say that there was not one single NCO, nor any officer I ever served with or under that didn’t teach me something important — about life, about myself, or the innumerable circumstances that we find ourselves in on a daily basis. After I had learned how to follow, senior NCOs and officers taught me how to lead. Most of the senior Marines who were my teachers were veterans of World War II and the Korean War; their tutelage was invaluable to me. I remember them often, and with a great deal of pride having known them.

Years later, as a Gunnery Sergeant, I had the honor to attend the Warrant Officer Screening Course at Quantico, Virginia. In our company of “candidates,” all selected from the rank of NCO or above, 100% were Vietnam veterans, fourteen Marines entitled to wear the Purple Heart, and three had earned the Silver Star. One night while bivouacked in the field, our considerably younger (boot) platoon commander began to lecture us about the importance of being ready for combat. He was apparently unaware of the platoon’s demographic. By this time in our careers, each of us understood that young people, even if they are designated leaders, are no more than the product of their experiences, and the event reminded us that the most important function of a noncommissioned officer is to train junior officers, making sure they were prepared for subsequent command.

People who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States are among the luckiest people in the world; even when they decide to leave the service they take with them the most valuable lessons that can be learned anywhere. Today, there are a few Marines, with whom I served, that I stay in contact with — but there are many more who occupy my memory, and I have no doubt that I will take all of these reflections with me to the grave.

Semper Fi

LASunsett said...


//I still remember the names of my four drill instructors, even though I only ran in to one of them after my graduation from boot camp.//

How did that go?

I never saw either of mine again. But then again, the Army was a lot bigger than the Marines. More personnel means the sea of people gets diluted.

Mustang said...

Sergeant Major Nicolopolous checked in to Marine Aircraft Group 11 while I was serving as a lstLt and Group Adjutant. It went well, and he immediately remembered me by name, along with how many pull-ups I could do. LOL.

LASunsett said...


Outstanding. So you outranked him. I bet he was proud to see you'd made the most of your career. If not outwardly, on the inside he was.

Mustang said...

In the Marines, no one outranks a sergeant major. Many young officers "steer clear" of their Sergeant Major. We don't have a "command sergeant major" in the Marine Corps because they are all in the command structure.

In the trivia department, at least according to one source, a 16th Century Sergeant Major was the third highest rank in an army and was a flag rank officer.

Its been said that you can always tell a sergeant major: but not much.

LASunsett said...

//Many young officers "steer clear" of their Sergeant Major.//

If they were all like the ones that I knew, it's not a bad idea. In fact the best LTs freshly commissioned always deferred to the Sr. NCOs. And when they did, they won respect from the men and the NCOs.

There were a few that didn't. But they quickly got moved into a desk job when the morale went down, because of it.

Rocket said...

Here's a tribute I did to my dad last year.

The cute kid is me and no, TWA didn't sponsor this video.

Anonymous said...

Rocket . . . that was TRULY EXCELLENT. Thanks for sharing it with the fans of LA.

Semper Fi

Rocket said...


Thanks so much

LASunsett said...


That was a very moving tribute to your father. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Sergeant Major Nicolopolous was my NJROTC instructor at Lutheran High School in La Verne California back in 1983/84. I have fond memories of him.