He had the roughest exterior in nearly every show or movies he ever did, but inside, R. Lee Ermey was a gentle soul. That’s the best way I can describe the man and it hurt’s my heart to know he’s now standing post at the pearly gates of Heaven.
Since his passing over the weekend, everyone’s recalling his performance as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket.” But for me, I will always remember the first time I saw him on-screen as Staff Sergeant Loyce, in “The Boy’s of Company ‘C.’”
Lee was making a morale-swing through the middle east after coming from Europe, when I got the chance to meet him. Not many Grunts knew who he was and some were grumbling , “Fucking Hollywood-type, thinks he’s a Marine.”
Well this ‘Holly-weird,’ type (Lee’s word’s, not mine) was a real Marine, in the ‘Suck’ while the majority of us so-called ‘hard-asses’ were still wet-behind-the-ear pukes. It wouldn’t be until 1987 and the movie ‘FMJ,’ that his place in Marine lore would be cemented.
But in 1982, a few of us did recognize him and that left him ‘tickled.’ Later, I’d learn he felt personally wounded by the negative comments.
One early morning in 1999, the station’s hot-line rang and this ragged-ass voice starts in on me, half-growling, half-barking and all Marine rapid-fire, “What in the fucking name of Chesty Puller, do you think you’re doing? What’s your major malfunction, Shithead? You’re the lowest form of life on earth. You’re not even a fucking human being! In fact Darby, you’re nothing more than a grabastic piece of amphibian shit! You better unfuck yourself or I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck. Do I make myself clear?”
After a lengthy pause, he added in the friendliest-tone ever, “How ya doing, Sarge.”
He had a way with words – include the dialogue above — which he ad libbed in ‘FMJ,’ and later used on me as a joke. Man, how I wish I had recorded that spiel, because it was classic, but I didn’t, because it was the ‘hot-line.’
By then I was sputtering and spitting, gearing up to challenge whatever SOB it was, who had the balls to call me via an internal phone line and go-off on me like this. Then he started laughing and I realized it was set-up and that Lee was pranking me.
He and his ‘handler,’ as he put it, were sitting out behind the radio station waiting to make a guest appearance on the morning show. I told him to, “Get your asses down here in front of the building where I can let you in. Magot juice (coffee) is on!”
You didn’t have to ask me twice to stick around throughout the morning so I could be a part of the show and laugh it up with the crew and Lee. A very memorable four-hours for me.
The last time I spoke to him was around 2008 when he made an appearance with a well-known conservative radio talk-show host. I was ‘big man on campus,’ that day because I knew ‘the man,’ and graciously Lee came off as if we were the oldest and toughest of all effing Marines and the best friends God had ever paired up.
Thank you, Lee for making me feel like I belonged. You are, in my humble opinion, the epitome of what a Marine is both on the field of combat and in the arena of civility.
Rest easy, Gunny. Ooh-rah and Semper fidelis, Lee.