Originally Published February 1983
"Hey, Mike!" Dusty said as I slid over to make room for him. "You remember this morning you were recounting the latest foul-up by old "S" for nothing "N" for nothing Shufflebottom?"
"That loser!" Mike growled. "There is nothing Marine-like about him."
"That isn't important!" Dusty brushed him off. "Like most things he does, it was something Marines just don't do. It reminded me of a letter to all general officers and all commanding officers-active and reserve-that General Chapman put out when he was Commandant in 1971. The subject was 'Marines Don't Do That.' I ran across a copy one day in the adjutant's files, and I burned a copy for myself. I have it here. I thought it would be interesting for us to see if the list of things that 'Marines don't do' in 1971 is still applicable today."
"Good idea!" Tex nodded. "I seem to remember hearing our CO talking about that letter when we were at The Basic School. What was it about?"
"Well, what generated it was a note the Commandant received from a distinguished friend of his," Dusty answered. "The friend had been at a public airport where most of the people were carelessly and sloppily dressed. He had seen a Marine corporal in uniform who was just the opposite. When the Marine was asked about the difference in his appearance and that of the civilians, he said, 'The Marines don't do that . . . ' "
We all smiled as we too recalled hearing about that when we were in The Basic School.
"Then, I believe there was a list of things that Marines don't do wasn't there?" Tex asked.
"Yes," Dusty nodded and read:
"Marines don't-wear a scruffy uniform.
Marines don't-slouch around with their hands in their pockets.
Marines don't-wear long hair.
Marines don't-fail to respond with a 'Yes or No, Sir' when speaking with a senior.
Marines don't-render a half-hearted or sloppy salute to the Stars and Stripes or to their seniors."
Dusty paused to refill his brew and motioned to Joe-the-barkeep for another pitcher.
"Hell!" Mike said, "those all apply today just as much as they did in 1971. But weren't there some more Marine don'ts?"
"Yes," Dusty answered, "but I might point out that these first five I've just read are basic Marine Corps tenets drilled into the individual by DIs at boot camp. The situation that influenced some of the rest of them has changed since 1971, both in the Corps and in civilian society."
"For instance?" I asked.
"Okay, let's take the next one," Dusty answered, "Marines don't-gang up on each other.The Corps was having a lot of racial problems then, particularly in Okinawa and at Lejeune. A gang of four or five of one race would pick a victim of another race and beat and sometimes rob him. Sometimes it was a real jungle. Although you might hear about an isolated incident from time to time now, this problem has pretty well resolved itself."
"I think we can all agree on that," Tex nodded. "What's the next one?"
"Marines don't-question lawful orders," Dusty read.
"They learn that in boot camp, Dusty, just like the first five," Mike beamed. "You should have grouped it with the first five."
"Not really," Dusty said patiently, "it might be one of the basic Marine Corps tenets, but it falls into a different category because it sometimes loses its finality and fails to withstand influences from civilian society in the minds of some Marines."
"Bull!" Mike growled. "Give me an example."
"I'll take that one," Tex smiled. "Okay, Mike, homesteaders are good examples."
"Say which?" Mike asked perplexed. "We're not talking about Texas-this is the Corps."
"Well, a homestead is a home that is the seat of the family," Tex explained. "Especially it is a 'dwelling retained as a home by successive generations.' We seem to have more and more officers and NCOs who believe that they should be allowed to keep their families in one area and squawk up a storm if they get orders to move. I call them homesteaders."
"You're right!" Dusty agreed. "These characters seem to forget that the needs of the Corps must come first. Unfortunately, as they progress in rank this fact becomes diluted in their minds until they think they have a God-given right to fight orders to move. If that isn't questioning a lawful order, I don't know what it is."
"Well, I know at least two married couples who have already decided where they want to retire and are buying homes. What's wrong with that?" Mike declared stubbornly.
"Not a damn thing," Tex said impatiently. "They're lucky and they're smart. We're talking about Marines who want the best of both worlds-be on active duty but live where they're going to retire. I don't recall hearing that this was as prevalent in 1971 as it seems to be becoming now."
"I think the trend towards more and more working wives must bear on it." I pointed out.
"Yes, they have the same problems as married Marines who are a couple," Tex said. "Nevertheless, all parties to a marriage involving a Marine know and must realize the Marine's profession has to take precedence."
"Well, so far it isn't that big a problem," Dusty said, "but I like your term, Tex, and agree that homesteading is something to beware of. Let's move on. The next one is Marines don't-lie or cheat or break their word. In my opinion, it is closely related to the following one: Marines don't-abandon a fellow Marine in time of need."
"Marines don't-let down their fellow Marines by succumbing to drug temptation," Dusty read. "Naturally we all know this applies probably even more now than in 1971, so let's move to Marines don't-meet problems with 'it can't be done' or questions with an easy 'no'."
"That's the back azimuth to being gung-ho," Mike pointed out, "and any Marine that isn't gung-ho is a wimp. It's that simple."
"Okay, Mike," Dusty laughed. "In other words it still applies today. The last one is Marines don't-knock the system without recommending appropriate changes."
"Now just how in the hell are you going to recommend appropriate changes to those headquarters types?" Mike demanded. "They wouldn't give you the time of day!"
"Well, I think maybe you're being a little too harsh, Mike," Dusty said gently. "But you must admit on the company level and below, it's very easy for Marines of any rank to verbally make constructive suggestions for improvements. It's up to us to encourage such suggestions. Besides, it helps make the individual believe in his worth to the unit. It helps his morale."
"Okay," Mike said grudgingly, "but we've been talking about Marine don'ts; how about some Marine dos?"
"Here's one Mike," Tex said brightly. "Marines do-just the opposite of Marine don'ts."
Mike glared at Tex and finally growled. "I know that, smart mouth."
"Peace, Iron Mike," Tex smiled. "Just had to have my jollies-but seriously, I've noticed that all of the Marine don'ts we've been talking about have to do with the individual's personal conduct as well as his or her character. There must be some Marine don'ts that apply specifically to training and combat."
"Good point!" Dusty said, "and I've got one right off. Marines don't-get their units lost, it destroys confidence."
"Roger that!" Tex agreed, "and how about Marines don't-tolerate any evidence of self-pity in their subordinates, it destroys morale."
"How about Marines don't-'blow up' under stress or when irritated," I suggested.
"That one is tailor-made for Mike," Tex smirked.
Mike ignored Tex's shaft and said, "Here's one I think people forget: Marines don't-ask for volunteers. As a general rule, it's better to pick the individuals and assign them the job clearly and in the presence of others."
"A little deep, perhaps, but very true," Dusty observed. "It ensures that the difficult and dangerous jobs are passed around, that the most qualified individuals are selected, and it is a proper leadership technique."
"I'm still tired of talking about the don'ts," Mike complained. "Let's talk about the dos in connection with training and combat." And glaring at Tex, growled, "And you better not say it, Cowboy."
"Okay, Marines do-take care of their issued equipment. It's expensive and might save their lives in combat," Dusty suggested.
"Marines do-keep themselves in top condition, physically and mentally," Mike came back.
"Maybe it would be more accurate to say 'Marines should' rather than 'Marines do', " Tex said sarcastically. "But I'll play along. Here's one: Marines do-show enthusiasm, as it's infectious."
"I like that one," Dusty nodded. "And Marines do-give their orders positively and clearly and avoid vagueness. If they don't, they're not professionals and shouldn't be called Marines."
"I've got one that maybe is closer to the individual's conduct and character, but it applies very importantly to all aspects of Marine Corps life and particularly combat," I said.
"Shoot, Baseplate," Dusty smiled.
"Marines do-display absolute loyalty toward a superior, particularly when he is absent," I answered.
Tex nodded and said, "Tied into that is the senior's responsibilities to his or her juniors. So, I say Marines do-give subordinates a clear conception of what is expected of them."
"I'll buy that," Mike said, "and tied into that, how about Marines do-avoid unnecessary harassment of their subordinates."
"We could sit here all night talking about dos and don'ts," Dusty laughed, "as the Commandant said in his 1971 epistle, 'the list is all but endless.' So let me read his conclusions and see if you think they apply today. He sums up why Marines don't do the original list of things we discussed at the start by writing, and I quote, 'They don't do it because . . . they are a breed apart. They are not the run of the mill; they are but a few good men. They are proud members of an elite Corps. They are as well trained as-if not better than-any military outfit, anywhere. They have led the way, in war and peace, for 196 years, and they know that today they are ready-combat ready-to move out, any time, with the Navy, go anywhere, take on anybody, fight and win!' "
Dusty paused, took a sip of his brew, and eyed all of us who sat in rapt attention. "And now for his conclusion and instruction," he said. "Again I quote, 'We must keep our balance, raise our quality, maintain our standards, and be ready to serve our Country. Marines dothat!' End of quote. How about it? Any changes from that now that it's 11 years later?"
"Not by a damn sight!" Mike beamed, "and by God we never will change."
"Isn't it amazing," Tex mused thoughtfully, "how constant the Corps has been through all these decades piled upon decades in war and in peace, in prosperity and in depression, and in spite of all the obstacles that have been thrown in its path?"
"And there will be more obstacles in the future," Dusty laughed. "But as the line goes in the 'Raggedy Assed Marines are on Parade' . . . 'they'll never lick a leatherneck in a hundred million years.' "