Back in the mid-Eighties when the former host of Death Valley Days served as the commander-in-chief, I was the executive officer of a Marine company deployed in the Caribbean. We were de-snailed and ready to return to Camp Lejeune when word came down of some kind of problem along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. The big kahuna had a hard-on for the Sandinistas, all that Oliver North stuff, so we took on ammo and prepared to respond.
The possibility of popping caps was pretty sobering. I checked on the troops in the berthing area to see where their heads were at. They were sharpening their e-tools and talking trash to pump themselves up.
I went to the ward room to have a cup of coffee. Two of the platoon commanders came in and said they were concerned about the company commander. He was a rummy and had behaved erratically since before we left Lejeune.
One of lieutenants said he’d been talking about fragging the captain with his platoon sergeant. The other felt we should just beat him up.
I told them that we were officers in the United States Marine Corps, not characters in The Caine Mutiny and to focus on their tasks as platoon commanders. I told them the captain would be fine. I don’t think they bought it.
I went on deck to think. I didn’t want to become one of the honored dead or a mangled vegetable in a VA hospital. What would happen to my wife and daughters? What if I didn’t hack it when the poop hit the fan?
And now this.
A couple of minutes later, the first sergeant and the company gunny approached me.
The first sergeant spoke in a gravelly voice like a pirate, “XO, the skipper’s an idiot. We’re going to kill him as soon as we go ashore and you’re going to run the company.”
The gunny silently nodded his head.
I was stunned. These were not butter bars earning their first Sea Service Deployment Ribbons; they were the most senior enlisted men in the company and decorated Vietnam veterans.
The first sergeant went on to detail his experiences with incompetent officers in combat and the gunny added that he could put up with a pain in the ass officer when nobody was shooting at us, but he wasn’t going to allow anyone to die because “the Marine Corps had seen fit to pin railroad tracks on a jackass.”
I looked back and forth at them. I wanted to scream, but I spoke calmly, “I can’t believe you’re even talking to me about this. Look, I know there are problems with the captain, but I’m not going to have any part of killing him.”
“That’s okay, XO. We’ll take care of it,” the gunny said.
For a moment, I thought about suggesting just wounding him. I shook my head and said, “This conversation did not take place. I don’t want hear anymore about killing the skipper. Do you read me?”
They both nodded.
I made a waving gesture and said, “We’re done here.”
They said, “Yes, sir,” and left.
I leaned on the railing. I didn’t recall anything like this in any of the leadership classes at Quantico.
A few minutes passed and one of the platoon commanders appeared and said he wanted to talk.
I told him no, that I didn’t want to hear anymore.
He said it was about something else and it was important.
I said okay.
He said, “If I get killed, I want you to do a couple of things for me.”
“First of all, I’m a bisexual.”
He paused and my shoulders shivered.
“Look, I don’t have the hots for you or anything. I just want you to tell everyone that I was a bisexual and I loved my country as much as anyone else.”
I cleared my throat. “Okay, and if I get killed, you be sure and tell everyone I was a liberal pothead.”
He laughed and then continued seriously, “And the other thing, I’ve got a footlocker back at Lejeune that’s full of leather stuff I don’t want my parents to see.”
I assured him that it wouldn’t get shipped home with his personal gear.
Nothing happened, never left the ship. We all made it back to Camp Lejeune safe and sound.
I never told anyone about the platoon commander or killing the captain. The last I heard, he made major.