RIP to the one, the only, R. Lee Ermey

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RIP to the one, the only, R. Lee Ermey

It’s impossible to overstate what R. Lee Ermey meant to the services, especially the Marine Corps.  He’s probably one of the most famous drill instructors to ever walk the planet.  I only learned we lost him this morning (I’m stunned no one called me), which brought me a great sadness:

The Marine best known on television and as a Golden Globe Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor as "The Gunny" died Sunday.

R. Lee Ermey was born in Emporia and spent the first 14 years of his life growing up on a farm near Kansas City.

Mr. Ermey died from complications of pneumonia. He was 74.

He was born March 24, 1944. At age, 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. From 1965 to 1967, he served as a drill instructor in India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego….

On Sunday evening, there were several posts on Facebook including one from his longtime manager, Bill Rogin:

"It is extremely difficult to truly quantify all of the great things this man has selflessly done for, and on behalf of, our many men and women in uniform. He has also contributed many iconic and indelible characters on film that will live on forever. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman of Full Metal Jacket fame was a hard and principled man. The real R. Lee Ermey was a family man, and a kind and gentle soul."

There’s a great article in an article by the Civilian Marksmanship Program about his road to the Corps:

An admitted “troublemaker and a bit of a hell-raiser,” Ermey’s military career started somewhat unexpectedly after a couple of appearances in court for juvenile mischief. 

“Basically a silver-haired judge, a kindly old judge, looked down at me and said ‘this is the second time I've seen you up here and it looks like we're going to have to do something about this." 

“He gave me a choice. He said I could either go into the military - any branch I wanted to go to - or he was going to send me where the sun never shines. And I love sunshine, I don't know about you,” Ermey quipped. 

“Actually I went up to join the Navy. My dad was in the Navy and like every kid, I wanted to go into the same service as my dad. So I went to the Navy and they basically didn't need me because I had a juvenile record. 
“I was walking out of the old courthouse in a town called Toppenish, Washington and thinking I'd have to go to where the sun never shines and I walked past this cardboard standee poster of a Marine in dress blues. 

“I had never even heard of the Marine Corps. I was a farm boy. I never even got to town - ever. And so I spotted that poster and I said ‘holy cow.’ You know my thoughts were if they wore a uniform like that, sharp dress blues, they couldn't do a heckuva lot of work. This might be something I'd want to check into,” he explained. 

“So I walked into this humble old office with squeaky floors in this hundred-year-old building on the top of the courthouse in Toppenish. The old recruiter, a sergeant E4 was there and he had his feet up on the desk and he was reading a Cracked magazine. He dropped his magazine on the desk and he said ‘you're a farm boy aren't you? Jump up on that door sill and let me see how many pull ups you can do.’ 

“So I jumped up there and cranked out about 10 pull ups and he said ‘Yep, there's a bright future for you in the Marine Corps!’ 

After the Marine Corps, Ermey moved to the Philippines:

Ermey medically retired from active duty after sustaining injuries. He moved to Manila in the Philippines where he could afford to live on his disability pay and study for a degree in criminology on the GI Bill. Ermey started each day at the coffee shop of the Manila Hilton where many Hollywood filmmakers dined before the day's location shooting. Eventually one of them asked Ermey to model blue jeans for TV ads. Several macho ads later, the retired soldier landed a role in a local Tagalog-language film. Several other Filipino features followed before 1976 when Ermey wangled his way onto the set of Francis Ford Coppola's epic production "Apocalypse Now" (which would not be released until 1979). Hired to play a helicopter pilot, Ermey utilized his Vietnam memories to act as a technical advisor as well. This quickly led to a job as a technical advisor and actor on the Sidney J. Furie-directed 'Nam drama. "The Boys in Company C" (1977). Furie gave Ermey his next stateside film job as an actor-advisor in the war melodrama "Purple Hearts" (1984) but his career really took off with the Kubrick film.

Finding a video clip of Ermey that would be appropriate for the blog (i.e. without swearing) is nigh on impossible.   I think everyone who ever went to basic training will always remember him from THIS CLIP from Full Metal Jacket, which alas I won’t embed here.   He did however do an interview about being a Drill Sergeant, and the solemn duty of training young Marines he knew would almost immediately find themselves in harm’s way.

From 2002 to 2009 he was the host of “Mail Call” on History Channel which featured episodes like this one:

His blooper reel is must see TV as well, and again comes with a heaping language warning.

He may have only served on active duty from 1961 to 1972, but it defined his entire life, and he continued his close connection with the military to the day he died. whether playing characters that were in the military, or doing one of his many USO trips to actual war zones.

He was one of a kind.

Rest in Peace Gunny, we’ll miss you.  You may be gone, but I like to think that 50 years from now every private in the military will still be hearing some of your one liners.

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I will remember

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.