SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Marines everywhere were saddened at the death of former Marine and committed POG Staff Sgt. R. Lee Ermey, who passed away earlier this week.
Ermey, a former supply clerk from Marine Wing Support Group 17 and winner of the coveted Meritorious Unit Award, served in the Marine Corps from 1961 to 1972 before starting a second career playing actual infantry Marines.
He had a long and distinguished career, from the Buy Me Drinky bars on Okinawa to the brothels of Manila, to his tour in Vietnam where he served in an elite REMF Wing Wiper unit guarding the chow hall at Da Nang Air Base.
After moving on from the Marine Corps, Staff Sgt. Ermey developed a talent for acting, and later achieved fame in the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket. In the film he plays fictional drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, whose terrorized Marine recruits eventually rebel against his POG ways by spending the entire second half of the film attached to grunt units in Vietnam and actually killing people.
Staff Sgt. Ermey’s carefully constructed persona of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, a fictional character created by actual combat veteran Gustav Hasford — who also couldn’t stand Ermey — would later influence Ermey’s other roles, such as a drill instructor in The Boys in Company C, a space drill instructor in Space: Above and Beyond, a ghost drill instructor in The Frighteners, a cartoon drill instructor on Family Guy, and a cartoon drill instructor for horses on Angry Beavers.
Ermey was also a talented voice actor, and established himself as the gold standard for voicing video game characters who were also drill instructors. His last major screen appearance was in a series of commercials for Geico Insurance in which he played against type by portraying a therapist who was a former drill instructor.
Although he was medically retired from the Marine Corps as a staff sergeant due to injuries sustained… somewhere… we don’t know… not in combat, that’s for sure, Ermey insisted on being called “The Gunny” after learning that “The Colonel” had already been trademarked by Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Lance Cpl. Pete Ortiz, a junior enlisted mortar man serving in Afghanistan who already has more combat decorations than Staff Sgt. Ermey, said he would always be grateful for having men like Ermey convince generations of POGs and Boots that talking like a POG or Boot was salty.
“Growing up, watching R. Lee Ermey in a fictional movie about Marines, that’s what the Marine Corps has always meant to me. I know that no matter what I do I’ll never live up to the standards he set, or would have set if he’d ever left the wire.”
Marine Corps Historian Dr. Charles Neimeyer said that Ermey’s fictional exploits were an important part of preserving the Marine Corps name.
“We all know the real-life stories about real-life Marine heroes,” Neimeyer said. “But sometimes the fake Marine stories are just as important, whether it’s Jack Nicholson’s fake speech in A Few Good Men, Floyd Gibbons’ fake ‘Teufelhunden’ dispatches, or R. Lee Ermey’s fake Combat Action Ribbon.”
Neimeyer said Ermey’s performance will always stand head and shoulders above actual combat veteran entertainers who failed to cultivate eccentric personas based on fictional achievements, such as Audie Murphy, Dale Dye, Mel Brooks, Al Matthews, Don Adams, or even children’s songwriter Robert Sherman.
Reached for comment, former Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos said Staff Sergeant Ermey was proof that even the POGest Winger could get more name recognition than any Medal of Honor recipient, as long as he could fake the funk.
Condolences were also received from fellow Army POG Clint Eastwood, who portrayed Gunny Highway in the movie Heartbreak Ridge after spending the Korean War serving stateside as a lifeguard and whose greatest war story was surviving a plane crash while flying home to get laid.
Staff Sgt. Ermey now moves on to what will presumably be his final duty station, the Streets of Heaven, where those who knew him expect he has probably already complained that he is not listed as a gunnery sergeant, asked Dan Daly, “do you know who I am?” and tried to impress Saint Peter with his tales of not-combat in Vietnam.
Staff Sgt. Ermey’s personal awards are the Good Conduct Medal, with stars in lieu of second and third awards. Gunnery Sgt. Hartman’s fictional awards include the fictional Silver Star, the fictional Purple Heart with a star in lieu of a fictional second award, and the fictional Good Conduct Medal with a star in lieu of a fictional second award.
Duffel Blog investigative reporter Dark Laughter contributed to this report.