The Unguided Missiles – Young Grunts
By Jim Kuiken
In the modern military there are “fire and forget” weapons, like some anti-tank missiles. You aim at your target, the missile locks on, you fire it, and the missile does the rest. You can duck back under cover or go on about your business, while the missile does its mission.
Kind of like the Ronco© Showtime Rotisserie… “Set it and forget it!” Put in your chicken, turn it on, and it cooks all on its own – or so they say.
Young Marine Corps Grunts are not. They’re more like an unguided missile, a hand grenade, or very large sledge hammer… Do NOT turn them loose on their own and expect a genteel result.
So…way back in the early-mid 1970’s (I’m guessing early ’74 or so) I was a young Corporal, and one of my ship-mates (we were in the Marine Detachment, or MarDet, stationed on the USS Proteus AS-19, a Submarine Tender stationed in Guam), who was an even younger Private First Class (PFC), were hanging around the MarDet area one day…when the Gunny stepped out and asked for volunteers.
Any normal person would have immediately gotten very busy, left the area at a dead run, or done something to disappear quickly…because everyone knows that when the Gunny asks for volunteers, it’s going to be what we euphemistically call a “work party”. And trust me, that “party” part is an oxymoronic misnomer…
But, as I said, any normal person would’ve gotten very scarce very quickly. Grunts are not normal, and to say that Brian and I were far past that “not normal” state is actually a very significant understatement.
As we say in the Grunts, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”. We had our own (somewhat twisted) extension of that quote. “Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good!”
As soon as we heard “working party”, we jumped on it. Not only did it sound like it was going to be a lot of hard, physical work…it got even better! It was going to be hard, physical work in a tight, enclosed, very hot space for an extended period of time!
Doesn’t get any better than that!
Our ship was going through some retro-fits (repairs, upgrading, etc.), and the MarDet had its own spaces. A berthing space (living quarters with our bunk beds, TV room, armory, office, etc.) and our “head”, or latrine for you Army folks, and bath/rest room for Air Force and civilians.
We were responsible for the cleaning and upkeep of our own spaces, and all the heads on the ship were being refurbished…sort of. The decking (or floor) was some sort of hard, thick black waterproof material applied over the steel deck – since a ship is basically a big steel boat divided by steel decks (floors) and steel bulkheads (walls) into compartments (rooms).
If you get the impression that the Navy has its own language, you’re correct…
Anyway, we were told to go into the MarDet head, and chip out the flooring so new material could replace the old… And no further instructions…
There is a reason the Marine Corps insists that junior Marines be given very specific tasks, followed with guidance by someone a little senior, constant oversight, and instruction. Young Marines are nothing if not enthusiastic – and Brian Moyer and I were known to be very enthusiastic. We called it “motivated”.
After a couple of hours of increasing complaints coming from sailors in the decks below our spaces, the Gunny came over to check on our progress, and frankly, to see what the h#!! all the complaints were about. We had taken “initiative”, and decided it looked so bad we were going to get it all up, and had attacked the decking with 20-pound sledge hammers…which we had been “enthusiastically” employing with all of our strength and speed – in, as always happens when Marines “work” together, a competition to the death… (sorry these old photos are hard to see…they’re as faded as my memory)
Not only did we not “chip” at the decking material, we had beaten it all out by smashing it up, and had even dented the steel decking below it. Evidently, we were just supposed to chip off a layer or two so they could pour the new material in over top of it.
The Navy Chief (of the Department responsible) was flaming mad, the Captain of the Ship heard about it…but the Gunny did not impose the normal punishment for overly enthusiastic behavior…which would have been a “working party”. I think that was probably for the best…
It was a learning experience for all involved. The Gunny never put Brian and I on another physical task or working party unsupervised – we enjoyed it too much.
Brian and I ended up volunteering for Operation New Life about a year later, and worked out in the hot sun for weeks building a huge tent city for the Vietnamese fleeing at the end of the war. It was extremely rewarding work, helping all the folks…but it was also another opportunity for hard, physical work out in the heat, and to compete on how many areas could be cleared, big “GP” (general purpose) tents we could set up, etc., etc.
It was hard, long, dirty, sweaty work under extremely trying conditions – and we loved it! Heck, Brian even got to help a Navy Corpsman deliver a little baby girl in one of those tents, when her mother went into labor!
The days were long, and it was a huge international story, with press swarming all over the place, as we helped house, feed and reunite families as the refugees poured in.
However, as we know, the press is not always accurate… One newspaper published a bunch of photos, including this one, of Brian and another Marine running through the area where they were building tents, with a caption that said something like “Marines running to render assistance…”
The word came down that the “beer truck” had arrived, and they were running to get their beer. The only reason I wasn’t in that picture is that I’m a much faster runner.
Grunts. What can I say…?