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Firewatch at NATTC Memphis
The Marine barracks at NATTC Memphis were two story wooden buildings from the WWII era when I went to aviation mechanics school there in 1960. This made it necessary to have a firewatch on duty after lights out for obvious reasons. This duty always fell to the new Privates right out of boot camp, like me. The staff NCO barracks was directly across the street from the MAD headquarters back then. Not only were the barracks dated from the war, but so were the staff NCOs who lived there. These were all old Corps, battle hardened vets who pretty much lived by their own rules. I was unlucky enough to pull the firewatch duty one night for these men. I had learned in Boot camp to keep a low profile in these situations (E-1 vs all ranks above) so my first pass through the barracks before lights out went pretty quiet. When I got to the first deck entryway the Officer of the Day, a young Second Lieutenant, was waiting for me.
“Private”, says he, “I was just up on the second deck and there is a Gunnery Sergeant up there smoking a cigar in his bunk”. “I want you to go up there and order him to put out that cigar”.
“Yes Sir”, I said, knowing that I just got a death warrant.
Leaving the Lieutenant standing in the entry way, I went back up to the second deck, and there he was at the end of the squad bay propped up in his rack, in his skivvies, smoking a cigar and reading the latest Playboy. He also had a can of beer that he sipped on from time to time.
I walked up to him, cleared my throat, and said, “Excuse me Gunny, but the OD just gave me orders to tell you to extinguish your cigar.”
In retrospect, this guy looked and acted a lot like Lee Ermey with the same vocabulary. He looked at me over his Playboy, took the cigar out of his mouth, and said “What is your major malfunction Private?”
“Just doing my duty sir”, I said.”
“Now you listen to me boy, and you listen good… You go back down there and tell that pizz-ant Lieutenant to suspend it from his rectal orifice,” (or words to that effect). “And dump my ashtray on your way out.” At which time he turned back to his reading matter and refreshments.
After dumping his ashtray, I proceeded to the first deck entryway where the OD was waiting. I related, word for word, what the Gunny said. The Lieutenant told me to carry on, did an about face, exited the barracks, and we didn’t see him for the rest of the night. The Gunny had another cigar and a couple of beers in peace before lights out. That 1960 Playboy would be a collector’s item today I’m sure.
Cpl Norm Spilleth
’60 – ’64