Not many people can say the were chewed out by someone who would eventually appear on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. I was. This would have happened in 1989.
After my two years in Okinawa I spent a year and half with the First Marine Division on a small infantry base called Camp Margarita. Camp Margarita was part of the large base called Camp Pendleton. Margarita was wedged between some hills at the base of a mountain. It was small base and afforded you some good views of the area. I was in the battalion known as 2/9. Which is supposed to mean 2nd battalion of the 9th Marine Regiment. For some reason we were in the 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. None of us ever knew why 2/9 was in the 5th Marines and not the 9th Marines. A regiment usually has three battalions and each battalion has three infantry companies and a headquarters company and a platoon of lunatics known as STA (scouts and snipers). I think I'm right about those numbers. If I'm off it's not by much. There was a rumor that the 9th Marines was disbanded due to improper behavior during Vietnam. That appears to be as true as most rumors. We did feel like the bastard battalion of the regiment and liked to complain that we got the shit duties. It’s nice to have a good reason to complain. I mean, Marines are going to bitch and moan anyway but some extra incentive never hurt. I was in the Communications platoon of the Headquarters and Support Company for the battalion. I remember initially being nervous about serving with an infantry unit but I found out if you are going to be a radioman the best way not to be bored out of your skull is to work with the grunts. At least with them you’ll be doing your job rather than sitting in a warehouse cleaning radios over and over which is what I mainly did in Okinawa.
At some point Colonel Randy Gangle became our regimental commander and immediately developed a reputation in the ranks as being...well...a little crazy. He was known to keep an eye out for any little slip in proper military courtesy towards his rank and would chew anyone out in front of anyone. I think most of the offenses were such terrible infractions as forgetting to address the colonel as “sir” or neglecting to salute him when you passed him while he was walking or driving. Yes, we had to salute officers as they drove by if you were walking along the road. An officer has a blue border at the bottom of the windshield decal each car has if you want to park that vehicle on the base. When the colonel was driven around in his official car the front license plate had his insignia on it. If you saw a white car coming at you with an eagle on the front plate you better salute it.
Gangle was a full bird colonel and he could dress down anyone anywhere if he wished. He did it so much that getting caught and getting yelled at by the Colonel was known as “Getting Gangled.” It was getting so bad that our First Sergeant, during a morning formation, told us if we ever got caught by Colonel Gangle we should notify him immediately because he didn’t like surprises. What would happen if someone pissed the colonel off is that first he would get publicly reamed by the Colonel and then Colonel would go back to his office and yell at the regimental Sergeant Major (the regimental Sergeant Major would be the senior enlisted man in the regiment. He’s the Ed McMahon to the Colonel’s Johnny Carson). The Sergeant Major would then call the First Sergeant of whichever company the recently reamed Marine belonged to and yell at him. Our First Sergeant didn’t like getting yelled at by the Sergeant Major. He told us if we got in trouble to call him immediately so he could warn the Sergeant Major and the Sergeant Major could then tell the Colonel everything was taken care of before the Colonel could work over the Sergeant Major. He made it very clear that if one of us pissed off the Colonel and the first he heard of it was from an angry phone call from the Sergeant Major then "your ass is grass and I'm a lawnmower." The old saying that “shit rolls down hill” was never more true than in the USMC.
So, one day I’m walking from the communications shop down to the motor pool. I don’t remember why. As I’m walking I’m deep in thought or just looking around at the beautiful California day and not really paying attention to what is going on around me. A car is approaching me and I look up right as it is going by. The car has an eagle on the front plate. I don’t see the car in time to salute. A car going the other way stops I see a sergeant I don’t know roll down his window and say, “Looks like he got you.” I look behind me and see that the white car has stopped also and a figure is scrambling out the back seat. Once he gets out I see Colonel Gangle and he yells, “C’mere, Marine!!” The sergeant who stopped chuckled and drove off. I’m still annoyed with the bastard sergeant that stopped just to watch the show. What a dick.
I trot down and place myself at attention right in front of the frothing Colonel. I really don’t remember anything he said. I was too terrified. Colonels and Privates never interact and to be screamed at by one on the side of the road is too much for a young enlisted man’s brain to process. I wish I could remember what he said because I remember thinking at one point that he was really good at it. He just yelled at me for a couple of minutes and I said, “Yes sir!” several times. He asked what company I was from, I told him and he got back into his staff car and moved on. I stood there stunned for a few a seconds and continued walking to the motor pool.
When I arrived at the motor pool I saw the Gunnery Sergeant who was in charge and I knew him pretty well and he was a good guy so I told him right away that the Colonel had got me.
He said, “Have you called the First Sergeant yet?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Go in my office and call him right now.”
I went in his office and dialed the First Sergeant. When he answered I said, “First Sergeant, this is PFC McDonald from Communications.”
“What’d you do?” he asked. Because, why else would I call the First Sergeant other than to tell him how I had screwed up in some way?
“The Colonel went by me in his car and I didn’t salute him.”
“You got any ass left?”
He caught me off guard, “Huh?” I said.
“I’m sure you ain’t no ass left after the Colonel got through with you.”
“Oh, yes, First Sergeant.”
“OK then. Bye.”
“Bye, First Sergeant.”
After I hung up I thanked the Gunny and went on with my day. I never heard anything back from the First Sergeant about the incident. That Gunny from the motor pool really saved my hide.