Fallout in Scivvies

Fallout in Scivvies

I hit Parris Island 2 Jan. ’57 also a 17-year-old. We arrived just prior to the fallout from the investigation of the 4 Marine recruits that died from drowning in Nov. ’56.

My 53-year recollection of the incident was that a Staff Sergeant McKean after a night of drinking, rousted his platoon out like at 1 a.m. They had to have been at the rifle range which made the recruits deep into training (8-9) weeks, to be at the range. We were told that S/ Sgt. McKean marched them behind Baker Range into the swamp which we were told was about 4-feet deep — dark night, murkey cold swamp water up to your chest, visions of snakes and other creatures lurking in the water. And, I’m sure, S/Sgt. screaming at them. Four recruits in a group panicked, got cut off from the main body of recruits and ended up drowning.

The news media was informed S/Sgt. was busted to private, three months in the brig and forfeiture of 3 month’s pay.

We were Platoon #5 and had a senior DI and 3 junior DIs. One of our junior DIs was a sadistic SOB and our life was short of h&ll, until all four DIs were relieved of duty and we got 4 new ones. Life was a little better.

There were all kinds of Brass and politicians all over the Island putting on a good show over the drowning incident. Part of the fallout was every morning we had to fallout in scivies and some Lt. would give us a “head and knuckle” inspection to see if we were being abused. Duh! He should have checked the calves of our legs for boot prints and our sides for kidney punches.

All aside, it was a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Incidentally, when we arrived at Camp Lejeune, (Camp Geiger) for our advanced combat and ITR training, scuttlebutt had it that S./Sgt. McKean was actually busted to buck sergeant and shipped up to Lejeune. The Marines take care of their own.

Semper Fi
Ron Stone, Cpl. USMC

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21 comments


  • Wayne Dillon

    “The Marine Corps Recruit Depot began training recruits on Parris Island in 1915. By the mid-twentieth century the military became the main economic engine and largest employer in Beaufort County. When a forced march led to the death of six Marine Recruits on Parris Island on the night of April 8, 1956, Beaufort mourned. A Beaufort Gazette editorial proclaimed the Ribbon Creek Incident “Our Tragedy” because “For it to have happened to Parris Island is the same as if it had happened to Beaufort – so closely interwoven are the lives and fortunes of the military and civilian populations of this section.” (Beaufort Gazette, 12 April 1956, p. 2)” The names of the drowned recruits were: Thomas Curtis Hardeman (Kippee, GA); Donald Francis O’Shea (Brooklyn, NY); Charles Francis Reilly (Ira, NY); Jerry Lamonte Thomas (Columbia, SC); Leroy Thompson (Summerton, SC); and Norman Alfred Wood (Long Island, NY).
    Decorated World War II and Korean War veteran Drill Sergeant Matthew C. McKeon was put on trial in July 1956 and ultimately convicted of simple negligence and drinking on duty. Upon review, Secretary of the Navy Charles S. Thomas voided the bad conduct discharge and fine provisions of the court-martial. He reduced the period of confinement to three months but let stand McKeon’s court ordered reduction in rank to Private. In all, McKeon would spend only 12 days in the brig. McKeon would retire out of the Marine Corps on a medical disability in 1959. John Stevens eulogized him on November 15, 2003: “His life thereafter was in many ways an effort to seek redemption for the act that he could never undo. At his court-martial he testified that had he been asked to walk to the gallows he would have done so. A devout man, he prayed every day of his life thereafter for the souls of his lost recruits and for forgiveness.” https://bdcbcl.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/ribbon-creek-incident/ McKeon served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and joined the Marine Corps in 1948. He served at the Chosin Reservoir. I have found no record of him being awarded anything other than standard service and campaign medals.


  • Ken Berner, Sergeant of Marines

    Paul, what months in ’54 were you at Parris Island? I was in Platoon 422, A Company, 1st Battalion, which graduated in late December. We had one particularly abusive DI, who was reported to the base Chaplain by a recruit. The DI was busted to private from buck sergeant for that and another charge. I was in base MPs at Lejeune in ’57 and saw the DI in the chow hall, now a buck sergeant again.


  • Wilson L 1600XXX

    I was in Boot Camp at San Diego when McKeon ran the troops into the swamp…Interesting….The D. I. s stopped hitting…..


  • paul siwulich

    I was stationed a Cherry Pt NC in 1956/57, and it is true that McKeon was bused to Private, but I read that he finally became Cpl again when he was discharged. every morn when we loaded onto our truck to head out to our Radar site out by the rifle range, we wud see him walking up our street to the Chapel where I heard that he would be like an assistant to the chaplains there. Also, one of my squadron mates was from Mass, and from his same home town, so he and his twin brother who was in another squadron there, knew him and one nite we went to the Em club for a few beers. McKeon was cooking pizza there, and so he came over to our table and I did meet him for a short time and seemed like a nice guy . . We had a few beers and I never saw him again. I was in Plt 414 in 1954 and the training was rough and I ended in the Beaufort Naval Hosp for 3 weeks after getting appendicitis on Day 3 in the middle of the nite, so rushed for an emergency operation, but resumed with new Platoon after that. I went thru PI before the incident( 1954), We were Depot Honor Plt!!!!We had 4 DI;s, all from Korean War, and I knew what the trng was going to be since my older brother enlisted in 1952 and I expected the treatment!!!!No picnic, but was worth the experience and wud do it again!!! Semper fi!!! ps While we were on the rifle range, one of our DI.s popped into barracks and found Fire Watch sleeping on his bed, so no need to say what happened after that!!!


  • Mike Sweeny

    As of 20 years agp McKeon was living in a small town outside Worcester,Ma. I heard he received a Dishonorable Discharge.


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