Giants Of The Corps: Grunt

By Tom Bartlett - Originally Published July 1976

In recent months, Leatherneck has devoted a series of articles to some rather unusual Marines. Each, in some way, has left his mark in history, and for that reason, we call them "Giants of the Corps."

Readers may recall our salutes to Archibald Henderson, Dan Daly, John Quick, "Chesty Puller" and Jimmy Howard. These men are legends; they were legends in their time.

There have been others. There will be more....

Today, at Parris Island or San Diego, a Marine recruit is undergoing his initial phase of training. Friday, a number of platoons will graduate. Monday, more groups will arrive for their indoctrination into the Marine Corps.

Who knows what contributions these men and women may add to an already illustrious history of the Corps? Someday, Leatherneck will proudly tell their story.

Not all "Giants of the Corps" have been generals or colonels; many have been enlisted. And, until now, Leatherneck has saluted them individually.

This month, we make an exception. We do not salute an individual; we are not saluting a unit. We do, however, hope to pay special tribute to a breed called "Grunt!"

Their genes are no different from others who share the same history, traditions and uniform; but, somewhere, there is a difference.

What other manner of man thrives on mud, finds nutrition in C-rations, or ekes out an existence in jungle heat, tropical swamp or leech-infested streams?

Is there another kind of human machine that could crank up in warm weather at Camp Lejeune, and, a few days later, operate on summer lubricant in the freezing rain of West Germany during a NATO exercise?

What other breed invents its own language, mixed with the common and accepted, yet spiced with humorous terms adaptable to the rigors and gut-pulling hardships of combat?

What other breed finds a comic relief in a typhoon, content to wring out his socks, replace them on wrinkled feet, and then insert both sock and foot into a boot full of rice paddy water?

What other breed will hump through ice and snow or up a sheer cliff of granite, complaining about the pack on his back, the weight of his rifle, canteens, helmet, food and first aid pack-yet never think of discarding a scrawny, orphan puppy snuggled inside his jacket?

What other breed would stop to feed a hungry kid in Vietnam, knowing that the child's father is hiding in the underbrush somewhere with a rifle, waiting to kill an American Marine?

And what sort of man would sacrifice an evening of liberty to dig deep into his pocket to help support an orphanage, a church or a needy cause in a town which may have rejected him and his kind because they are "military" and wear close-cropped hair?

What other breed risks his own hide for the protection or freedom of another?

Who else goes to war, kissing his wife and kids good-bye, and then donates part of his pay to dress, feed and educate a child in the land in which he fights and risks pain or death?

Who else, indeed? The grunt?

He's been laughed at and criticized attunes. He's been slighted, wronged, and insulted. (Granted, not all of it is unjustified. Just the sight of a grunt at times is cause for hilarity and usually it's because he's got himself into some kind of hellish predicament, even in combat. He may have his helmet on backward, boot soles flapping, and dragging his tail. Laugh, and he'll laugh with you!)

Ignorant?

Most grunts have high school diplomas or equivalency certificates. There's even the 10 percent who have a collection of college credits but preferred the life of a grunt over a commission. Perhaps they just don't want the responsibility....

A grunt may shrug off the "minor" responsibilities, such as counting tent pegs or "M" buckles, but he'll go out of his way to help another grunt fulfill his obligations.

Smart?

That's a matter of opinion. Is it "smart" to live in the mud and crud, continually pulling and humping heavy loads or daily facing death...? Or is it patriotism? Is it smart to stake your rosy future on a piece of metal, a good sight picture and your foxhole buddy...?

Tough?

No doubt about it. A grunt has to be tough merely to survive....

Strong?

Absolutely! How else can he expect to carry more than his share of the load, regardless of whether it's a base plate, extra box of ammo, field radio, or a wounded buddy?

Hard?

If he isn't, he soon will be! He'll crawl the jungle trails, sweating in temperatures up to 130, keeping on the move until the flab turns to muscle, and then drag himself some more until the muscle turns to steel.

And there will be times when he'll find himself in the land of sand, hitting a beach or running across the Mojave. Or he'll snowshoe and ski in California, Norway or Upstate New York. He's a man of all seasons, this man called "grunt."

Religious?

He may not be fanatic, but he realizes that someone, somewhere, has to be watching over him. Otherwise, he'd never have made it as far as he has under the conditions in which he exists.

When he's under fire, the grunt will calmly ask for more ammo. Outnumbered, he calls for Marine air or artillery. Hit, he screams for a corpsman.

When he's scared (which is often, but he won't admit it), he gets in touch with God, and miraculously, above all the din of battle, his plea is heard and he is comforted.

The grunt is something special. Others may be better educated and perhaps more highly trained in some sophisticated phase of modern warfare, but the grunt will slog along, not giving a damn about someone else's computer, radar or sensors. Who needs those winking, blinking boxes to tell him where the enemy is? The grunt will smell 'em out if he has to....

Some call it instinct.

Chances are, the grunt can't explain it. He feels the "enemy" is present; he feels something is wrong. He knows.

It happens on patrol, when the point man freezes and signals the unit to halt.

Someone will whisper, "What's up?"

"I'm not sure."

"See something?"

"Nope."

"Hear anything?"

"Nope."

They'll check it out, and, odds are, the enemy has set an ambush, or there's a booby trap nearby.

How would you explain it?

I may have implied that a grunt is something akin to an animal, but that isn't true.

Although the term "grunt" is associated with bacon on the hoof, the true Marine grunt doesn't mind. It's his lot in life to root through a rice paddy, jungle or cave until he finds what he's looking for.

He'll grunt with pleasure when things turn out right-but he'll never squeal, especially on another grunt. (They call that "dropping a dime....")

Some claim that porkers are up near the front of the animal world when it comes to smarts. Sure, they take mud baths on Saturday night and they live in a pigpen. Grunts in the field do likewise at times, at least until they find a way to improve their living conditions.

Whereas the four-legged grunter is known to "oink," the Marine variety sounds more like "Arrruuuugh!"

When he's not in the field, the grunt is neat, clean and squared away, subject to the same rules and regulations as the garrison troops. That includes daily shaves, spit-shined shoes, polished brass and snappy salutes.

(Look inside a grunt's locker and you'll get an idea of what sort of man he is. Generally, there's a "gungy" sketch or motto of the Marine Corps; perhaps a portrait of the Commandant or the Sergeant Major. There'll also be two or three cans of shoe polish; a can of Brasso; and a large assortment of personal items, such as deodorants, soaps, after shave, face cloths, towels, etc., all neatly folded and stacked. Because he's more than just a pretty face, dressed in a sharply creased uniform, there may also be a Leatherneck or Playboy pinup...)

Today's grunt knows more about the Marine Corps than many old-timers would ever believe. Today's grunt reads more and studies more. They call it "professionalism."

He knows how close a Phantom jet can get before it roasts someone's tail with the heat or blast of its ordnance. He knows how far a "blooper" (M79) can hurl a round or how many revolutions it must make before being armed. He knows the firing rate of the M60 and how to get a chopper or arty on the horn.

Too bad the public didn't all see the grunt of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, Inchon, Chosin or at Hue, Dong Ha, or on the Mayaguez....

Leatherneck publicized the fact that Marines fought on some islands during World War Deuce; we said that Marines were in Korea. Oftentimes, we couldn't tell the full story or mention names like "Jane Russell Hill," "The Slot," "Mutter's Ridge," or a hundred other sticky places. But the grunt was there!

The seat was ripped out of his trousers. The skin showed through the knee in one pant leg. The back of his jacket clung to his back, stuck to his skin by his own salty sweat.

Perhaps his flak jacket hung limp and heavy and his helmet tugged at his hair or banged the bridge of his nose as he dove for cover. Perhaps his herringbones showed red with blood, and he didn't know if it was his own, his buddy's, or the enemy's....

Sometimes he'd raise an arm to wipe the sweat from his forehead and there would be a foul odor. Then he'd realize that the smell was coming from his own body, and he'd try to remember the last time he'd had a bath....

He'd play a game, wiggling his toes and feeling one sticking to another through the wet and sweat of socks and boots.

His unshaven beard would itch from the heat; in the cold, icicles formed....

And there would be a heat rash....

He would go without water. He would go without chow. He would go without mail. For him, how else was there to go...?

When there are no wars for him to fight, the grunt usually finds himself on someone's "list." This is because he's always fair game for those who outrank him-and almost everybody does. He's been a "volunteer" for years, and his name usually shows up on such lists as mess duty, fire watch, guard duty, head detail, ammo detail, police call, snow detail, EPD....

And there have been times when he's come awfully close to making the "endangered species list."

But, somehow, through 200 years of ups and downs, the grunts have managed to hang on and defy extinction.

The next 200 years look even more promising for the grunts-the true "Giants of the Corps!"