Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Guest Blogger: Gary R. Winstead
The Marine Corps immortalized by Hollywood hardly resembles the dysfunctional organization I joined in 1967, just as the Vietnam War was heating up. Incompetence, arrogance, sadism—all was rampant from the top down in an indifferent hierarchy that rewarded obedience over competence and sycophancy over truth-telling.
Like so many other Marines, I joined the corps because I had few choices available to me. As the youngest of eleven children, all of us living in poverty in rural Illinois, and as someone who had lived his whole life intimate with deprivation and hardship, I had few paths available to me.
I was surrounded by characters—outsized individuals with larger-than-life personalities, colorful ticks, and perplexing complexes.
There was the lance corporal from Pittsburg who liked to call himself Pitt. Rail thin; with a neck like a turkey’s to support his oversized head, he owned a crooked set of teeth that had yellowed from tobacco smoke. He had a quirky habit of sprinkling his cigarette ashes into whatever he was drinking at the time and then chugging it down, all in order to attain a more perfect high. Pitt, as I learned during my first night in Vietnam, was all about getting high, even while manning a checkpoint as an MP.
So it was that I endured four years of indifferent and sometimes sadistic leadership, the absurdities inherent in any impersonal hierarchy that values group-think and obedience over individuality and integrity.