Friday, November 28, 2014

How I Accidentally Impersonated A Veteran

Samuel Johnson once remarked that "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea."  I'm sure that, in reality, it is not a universal male sentiment, but it certainly resonates with me.  For the two generations prior to mine, the Greatest Generation and for lack of a better term the Beat Generation or perhaps the Silent Generation, military service was pretty commonplace.  Enough so, that it was a virtual requirement for national political office.  The Greatest Generation had World War II and their successors were children of the Depression birth dearth, yet still called on to staff a large Cold War military.  Even though my generation had a pretty hot war going on as it came of age, our huge numbers lowered the percentage of us that had to don uniforms.

These demographic oddities have meant that through most of my life the majority of men more than a few years older than me have been veterans, but those within a decade or so of my age generally have not been.  The number in my age group that were in combat is much smaller with many of the veterans I knew having military jobs that were actually rather enviable like the office manager who had an intelligence rating in the Navy, but whose real job was to play football on Guam.

About Veterans

There was one work group very early in my career, though, that was veteran dominated. The peculiarities of the jobs we did allowed us to spend fairly extended periods in a darkened coffee shop having long conversations. We all looked up to one man of the older generation (He was in his fifties) who was the ultimate authority on all matters military.  He was also a natural leader and for lack of a better term an all round good guy.  It turned out as I was to learn that he was actually famous.  There are at least two books that center on him, although they were written long after the time we were working together. As is my perhaps unfortunate habit, I'm burying the lead and not explaining his fame until later.  Also, this piece is more about me than anybody else.  Most of all it is about how living among veterans affects those of us who are not veterans.

There is a concept you will sometimes see mentioned on veterans and military sites called "stolen valor".  It refers to people who entirely fabricate or greatly exaggerate their military achievement.  Some veterans get quite incensed about it. Jeremy Boorda had a distinguished naval career, the first person to go from enlisted man to chief of naval operations.  Nonetheless, it is speculated that he committed suicide because he was accused of inappropriately adding a "V" device to two of the decorations that he had earned.

I'd like to think that most people will have compassion for people who pretend to be things that they are not. I feel particularly sorry for homeless guys who pretend to be veterans.  Years ago, I would even coach them a bit and explain to them that somebody who was more than a couple of years younger than me could not possibly be a Vietnam veteran.  Of course nowadays we have several wars that you can pretend to have fought in.

I am not a veteran myself and would never pretend to be one, although, I think I once did, kind of by accident, possibly a lie of omission.  I think I want to tell the story because it reflects the way the veteran experience permeated our culture.

Night Auditor

In 1976, at the age of 24, I got my first all most grown up job.  I became a hotel night auditor.  I say almost grown up, because every once in a while a guest would tell me that he had done the job while he was working his way through college.  Darn, I was a college graduate.  I was working the job and paying rent on my apartment and the insurance on my car.  Hell, I even got married while I still had the job.  Still, it was transitional.  I was going to night school to get a second bachelors in accounting.  It took two and a half years, before I got a real accounting job as a controller, in effect, if not title, for a small travel agency.  I needed some extra money so I came back as the weekend night auditor until I started in public accounting in late 1979.

The actual job of night auditor is kind of fascinating, if you have a certain type of mind, but you probably don't. I explain it a bit in the appendix. It was a moderate sized hotel 140 rooms.   At that size the night auditor also runs the front desk and answers the phone 11 to 7, just like those lesser intellects, the mere desk clerks, whose errors the night auditor has to unsnarl.  Probably the most stressful part of the job was "walking" people who had confirmed reservations, because of the hotel's chronic overbooking.

Who's Awake And Working At 2:00 AM?

The really interesting part was the other people whose work schedule I overlapped or shared.  I had the greatest interaction with the security guard, who would cover the desk when I was taking a break.  There were several, but the most memorable was probably Don.  Then there was the night manager, Mr. French. It was never entirely clear to me what his schedule was, but he talked to me a lot and taught me quite a bit about customer service.  Mr. French was a graduate of the prestigious hotel and restaurant program at Cornell University.

The restaurant was open to 11:00 and the lounge till 1:00, so I had some interaction with that crew, although they tended not to hang out.  An accounting clerk stayed on till about 1:00 or so to cash out the restaurant and lounge and she would hang around a bit.  After 1:15 or so the coffee shop was transformed into a break room with a floating crew.  Also working for the hotel were a couple of janitors, including Bernie Dolan, an Irish immigrant in his fifties who owned the building I lived in, but not a car, so I drove him to work.  He used to give me a bottle of Guiness when I brought him the rent check.  There was a banquet set-up crew and a kitchen clean up crew.

Those were not the only people you would find in the darkened coffee shop at 2:00 AM.  People who used to work there would sometimes stop in or people who were off from work, but where else can you go to talk to people you know at 2:00 AM when you have a night off but don't adjust your schedule?  So sometimes Lorraine the weekend night auditor would come in.  When I told my roommate about her he dubbed her "fast Lorraine".  She had a thing for state troopers and met them by speeding.

Of course the middle of the night, free coffee and sometimes free food.  That means cops.  It probably just started out with the route man,. but it expanded from there.  And not just city cops.  State troopers started coming in.  I remember when President Carter came to preside over a town meeting in the Town of Clinton. Carter stayed at a private residence, but we were inundated with secret service agents.  Whatever else secret service agents might be, they are cops, and have the cops unerring instinct for free coffee.  The coffee shop was fuller than it usually was during the day for a couple of nights with the third shift hotel employees outnumbered by federal, state and local law enforcement.

Veterans

The crowd in the coffee shop at night was pretty much exclusively white and overwhelmingly male.  I've been in lots of environments like that over the years.  What was distinctive though was that the group also was at least majority veteran.  Frequently I would be the only American born male who was not a veteran. I remember thinking that the conversations in the coffee shop and the one on one with Mr. French and Don were something of a seminar on arete, which I thought of as manly virtue,  There were a lot of cop stories.  Their work was of course inherently more interesting than anything the hotel employees did.  The heavy veteran element made for quite a bit of military reminiscing.  That's where I learned that there are veterans and there are veterans.

 I should note here that I am conflating one on one conversations primarily with Don and Mr. French and group discussions in the coffee shop.

The Pecking Order

If you really think about it the only thing that all veterans have in common is that at some point in their life they were subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (or its predecessor).  This is no small thing.  When you are in the military, you have in effect signed a blank check on your life.  When you get talking about actual experience though, there is a rather wide variation. I knew one guy who had some sort of intelligence job in the Navy, but that was just cover for his real job which was to play football in Guam.  Another guy was in the Navy Supply Corps supporting submarine operations, so his job ended up including scuba diving in the Caribbean.  Then there are the guys who experienced ground combat in Vietnam.

In this particular status game being a veteran was just table stakes.  Although, veterans were listened to respectfully as they related their experiences, there might be a harsh evaluation when they were not present.

The group evaluation of Mr. French, as a veteran, was extremely harsh, and to my mind unfair, but it is useful because it illustrates the principles at work.

The General's Aide

  Mr. French had not been in the Marine Corps.  He had been in the Army.  He had not been in combat.  He was in the artillery not the infantry.  The greatest enormity of all, a lapse committed by no other member of the Sheraton Lincoln Veteran Brigade was that he had been an officer.  They ranted on about that implying that perhaps it would not have been so bad if he had been West Point rather than OCS, but I suspect if he had been a West Point graduate they would have inverted that.  Chris, one of the cops, had this story that indicated that basic training for soldiers heading for OCS was much milder.  Matty, on whom there will be more, whose authority on these issues was supreme, also made much of the fact that Lieutenant French had been a general's aide at one point.

Of course, if you took the two organizations that were represented in the coffee shop each with their own hierarchy, there was this odd thing about Mr. French.  The cops of course were in a sense AWOL and their superiors were never present, although one time a sergeant did drop in.  It was a little different for the hotel people.  The hotel was a goodly size organization with two restaurants, a lounge, banquet facilities and about 140 rooms.

There were around 200 hotel employees.  There might be 20 or 30 or so working at 1:00 AM quickly dropping to maybe 10 by 1:30 when coffee shop breaks would be commencing and cruisers started parking out front.  We reported to different departments.  Our respective  department heads told us each that  we were in charge.  (With Mr. French gone, as far as the public was concerned, I was in charge, but I certainly had no authority over anybody else). The kitchen clean up crew reported to the executive chef, the janitors to the maintenance head and the banquet set up kids to the banquet manager. As night auditor, I reported to both the controller and the front desk manager.  I'm not sure who the security guard reported to.

So in the whole crew Mr. French was actually the only member of management.  If the hotel were a military organization, he was the only officer, which was ironic since in the military, he was the only one who had been an officer. And although Mr. French might have been OCS in the Army, my understanding is that the Cornell program he graduated from is the hotel/restaurant West Point equivalent.

I learned a lot from Mr. French and I think he absorbed something of what an officer is supposed to be in the American military - putting the mission and the welfare of his men (We're in a bit of a time warp here) ahead of his own interests.  He was also passionate about quality.  Of course, being, in the moment, beloved by your enlisted men is not the test of whether someone is a good officer.

The Ultimate Veteran

Don, the security guard, was rather fascinating. He aspired to a career in law enforcement.  He carried a pistol, something which hotel management was less than enthusiastic about.  He and I kept in touch with a walkie talkie (The base station was next to the phone console). It was the nature of things that we would not both be hanging with the cops at the same time, since he covered the desk and answered the phone when I was on break.

Don had all the cop attitudes including the pervasive racism, which they all viewed as just being practical.  If I checked in a walk-in who was a member of a minority group, he gave me a hard time and would call in to check for warrants. We actually had someone dragged from his room because of that diligence on his part once.

Don had strong veterans credentials.  Marine Corps infantry combat in Vietnam.  He had this tendency to mock my "college kid" attitudes, which was ironic since he was also a college graduate.  He once explained to me how he had never seen anybody set up an ambush in the appropriate way.  You are supposed to have your guys concealed along a path that the enemy will be traversing.  The person who commences firing is the one that enemy soldiers first start passing.  That person counts the enemy soldiers letting them pass if they outnumber the ambush team.  He said it never worked the way it was supposed to.

Don was not the top veteran.  That honor undisputedly went to Matty who bossed the kitchen cleanup crew.  Matty was an older guy - in his fifties (It's all relative I guess). Matty had numerous kids to support and worked three jobs.  By day he worked for the state of Massachusetts as an inspector of weights and measures.  Evenings and weekends he did private bartending and nights he bossed a couple of guys who cleaned the kitchen.  He also presided over the breaks in the coffee shop sometimes even cooking.  Although it was always eggs which I abhor.  Odd thing about third shift was that everybody always thought you should be having breakfast.

There was something that impressed me about Matty that might have been lost on the others.  Most of us have this dividing line in  our mind between history and current events. For me the Korean War was more or less the end of history.  So all those guys a few years older than me, some of whom had gone to Vietnam were current events.

Matty who had been at Chosin with the First Marine Division, who could tell you what Chesty Puller was like in combat (Hint.  Becoming one of Chesty's couriers was not a good move for longevity) came striding from the pages of history.  Matty was also a WWII veteran, but he had been in the Navy then, so that did not merit much discussion.



Matty had gotten in trouble in the Marine Corps and I gradually learned that the incident was pretty well known, but I did not fully appreciate its magnitude until many years later.  The consensus among the Sheraton Lincoln Veterans Brigade was that Matty most likely had been covering for somebody else who was really to blame.  That was the type of guy he was.  Matty did not drink and was deeply religious - Catholic - although in a very manly manner.  He chided the other men for their poor attitude toward sexual morality. "When you love a woman, it's not about what you are doing with her in the rack"

Late Night Conversations

The topic of conversations varied quite a bit depending on who was present.  When no women were present, the topic would sometimes turn to sex - well often.  There were the escapades of the prostitutes that the cops would deal with and then there was Diane.

Diane was a very attractive patrol officer.  The other cops lusted after her desperately and longed for the moment that she would become an adulteress.  The consensus among them was that her favors would be granted to someone of high rank who could help her career.  One of them in seeming bewilderment one time mentioned that her husband was an accountant.  I somehow found a certain secret satisfaction that this woman who was inflaming the imaginations of these macho cops was right then possibly in the arms of an accountant.

Chivalry Not Entirely Dead

Matty, of course, had an entirely different attitude toward Diane.  Any woman under the age of thirty-five or so who was present had in Matty a surrogate uncle, if not father.  "Now Diane" he would say. "When you get a call and are going up there to some house, where who knows what is going on.  I don't care what they tell you.  I want you to have that thirty eight drawn.  You understand?"

One time we narrowly averted a gang rape happening in one of the rooms.  The guys were thrown out and it was Matty who ended up talking to the girl as if she were his daughter.

Matty's attitude to women closer in age to himself, particularly those who had not chosen to live a chaste life was a little different.  He flirted a bit with fast Lorraine, who admired him and might well have considered him an honorary state trooper, had he not been so committed to his marriage. One time the subject of a lady in the personnel department came up.  She dropped in occasionally.  She had recently gotten married.  She was just a little spacey. Matty's evaluation of her was "That woman is over fucked".

Police Work Is Not Infantry Combat

Matty's advice to the cops in general was probably not all that practical.  He thought that when they approached a house it should be done stealthily with guns drawn.  I think we learned from Kent State that infantry training is not optimal for police work, but the lesson passed Matty by. The mission of a Marine Corps rifle squad is to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver and/or repel enemy assault by fire and close combat.  That is rather different than the mission of the Worcester Police Department which is to promote the highest level of public safety and quality of life through exceptional police services to city residents, businesses and visitors.

He told us how "Your China man" was very good with a mortar.  He also explained that when you are going to attack at night you should take the most difficult path in, so that when you are returning you will have it easy.  The allusion to night combat was related to the incident, but I think I only realized that later.

Mr. French treated Matty the way a young officer is encouraged to treat a senior NCO.  I think he treated me as an even younger officer who needs to be mentored.  My peculiar position was a little ambiguous. When Mr. French was not around, at least as far as the public was concerned, I really was in charge.  I wrote things in a log book, pretty rarely actually, that the general manager read.  The results of my job - the hotel's daily revenue -  were of more interest to management than anybody else's.

There Are At Least Two Kinds Of Education

My accidental impersonation of a veteran was the result of my peculiar high school education.  I had no real military experience, but I did have significant military exposure.  Xavier High School in Manhattan had mandatory Junior ROTC and all students were members of the regiment.  We also had classes in Military Science taught by retired and active duty sergeants and an active duty officer - Major Smullen - the Senior Army Instructor.  We commuted to school in one of three uniforms depending on time of year and day of week.  I have a lot of stories about Xavier, but I'll stick to what is relevant.

The Regiment consisted of three battalions.  The First and Second were lettered companies and their military role was completed by weekly drill at a nearby armory and marching in reviews and parades.  The Third Battalion was "special units".  The Band, the X-Squad (precision drill team), Drum and Bugle Corps  and Color Guard.  Then there was my unit - The Regimental Supply Corps, the only unit that didn't have to march.

Among other things we had charge of the Arms Room.  The Arms Room could have outfitted the heavy weapons platoon of a World War II rifle company, with some weapons to spare.  We had a mortar, a bazooka, quite a few 45 cal pistols, some BARs, and lots of M-1s. Major Smullen told us that the firing pins were in his safe, but still if anything ever went missing guys in trench coats from Army CID would be grilling us.  So when I was a junior, one day a week I would be NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge.  Sophomore and Juniors at Xavier who had good grades and did not not get in trouble would be promoted at regular intervals.  I started Junior years as a corporal and finished as sergeant first class)of the arms room.  My duty was to have the drill team sign out and sign back in M-1s and dutifully do an inventory of everything including the stuff that rarely, if ever left the arms room.  (The mortar was hard to miss, but the .45s were in a cabinet).  I had a Sophomore under my command.

The Greatest Battle Implement Ever Designed

Military Science was not one course taught by the same instructor for the whole year, but rather a series of "blocks of instruction".  Marksmanship was taught by Sgt. Daley, but we did not get to use the M-1s. There were .22s for that purpose in the basement rifle range, where we fired from the prone position at paper targets with Sgt Daley looking through a scope and correcting our aim.  We learned that "cunt hair" was a unit of measure.  The sergeants were pretty much the most colorful member of the faculty.

We learned about M-1s in the block of instruction called Weapons.  We even learned how to disassemble and assemble them.  I am really not good at explaining mechanical things, but I will do my best here.  The eight round clip for the M-1 actually goes into a chamber on the rifle.  With a lever you pull back a bolt of a sort to open the chamber.  The bolt locks when it is all the way back.  As the clip is inserted it lowers another lever which will unlock the bolt chambering the first round.  Excess gas from firing sends the bolt back after each round.  If the clip is still in the next round is quickly chambered.  After the last round is fired the clip pops out and the bolt locks ready for another clip.

Now we never actually had M-1 ammunition.  When you are drilling with the weapon or practicing assembly and disassmbly, you use your thumb to depress the lever that allows the bolt to unlock. It is a pretty strong spring and your thumb is pretty far into the bowels of the rifle when it releases.  You have to be deft to avoid an injury commonly known as M-1 thumb.



George Patton called the M-1 the greatest battle implement ever designed.  Some of the older sergeants kind of missed the 1903 Springfield, but that is another story.  Nonetheless, the M-1 was gradually phased out of service beginning in 1957 and more or less completely by 1965.  So in  1977, relatively recent veterans would not have been exposed to it.

One Night In The Coffee Shop

In the various military discussions, I remained, I believe, suitably humble.  I did, however, chime in when matters historical were under discussion.  I did have a bachelors degree in history and had dropped out of a prestigious graduate program and read voraciously. The subject of the Civil War had come up and Patrolman Chris talked about how he did not understand why everybody was not issued Spencers during the the Civil War, perhaps expanding that to why automatic weapons were not more generally used.

I chimed in that there was the matter of logistics.  From the master then came the cherished words "That's right, Peter."  He continued  "The Army always talks about volume of fire, but in the Marine Corps we place more emphasis on fire discipline." The cops might mock Matty's views on how to approach houses, but a pronouncement like that, was him speaking ex cathedra.  No one would contradict it.

I don't know whether it was the same conversation or a subsequent one in which the subject of the M-1 came up.  It may actually have been Don who said something about how the M-1 worked.  Thoughtless of my lowly status, I corrected him possibly explaining it in some detail.  He was non-plussed, but then heard the words of the master "That's right, Peter."  In that whole multifarious crew, there were only two people who had taken an M-1 apart and put it back together, Matty, the Marine's Marine, who could do it blindfolded in his sleep while under fire from those well trained Chinamen with their mortars and me, who undoubtedly would not have gone far at Parris Island.

That was not the occasion for my impersonation, it came a short time afterward.  It is rather odd because I remember Don and I sitting together with some of the cops.  Can't figure out who was watching the front desk.  Or maybe it was that one of us was not actually working.  It was not unusual for regulars to drop into the coffee shops on nights off.  There really were not too many other places you go in Worcester at that hour.The subject of the M-1 came up again.  Don said "Peter knows all about the M-1.  He carried one."

It would be more accurate to say that I actually carried scores of M-1s, back and forth in the arms room to issue to the members of the X-Squad, who were the most zealously military students in the school, while I had sought out membership in the small group that was not required to march.  Of course  Don, the Marine infantryman,  meant something entirely different by "carried one".  He was talking about an intimate relationship with an article on which his life depended.



I guess I could have said something to correct the impression made that I had been an actual infantryman, rather than a high school lad improbably assigned as custodian of an array of obsolete weapons, but I let it pass.  Perhaps at that moment my fascination with the storied rifle was forever confirmed.  I did not actually fire one until I was over sixty, but that is another story entirely, but there is more to tell about Matty and the effect that he had on me.

What Is A Leader?

In the late seventies, the Sheraton Lincoln Inn was the best hotel in the city of Worcester, so I met quite a few interesting people, because it is where most celebrities would stay.  I even met the Clancy Brothers, if you really want to be impressed.  None of the celebrities impressed me more than Matty, which is why one of his off-cuff the remarks had such an effect on me.





The crew around the table was grousing about something Mr. French had done to aggravate them, which brought up the fact that he had been a general's aide, which just had Matty shaking his head and reminiscing about Chesty Puller and the Marines at Chosin.  He remembered a particularly squared away company commander - "You could tell he was an officer in the shower, just by the way he carried himself." And then came the odd off the cuff remarking - "Peter would have made a good officer".  I was non-plussed although the rest of the crowd nodded their heads, although likely because this was one of Matty's ex cathedra statements rather than being in real agreement.  Several of them probably thought "good officer" was an oxymoron.

Moving On

Lorraine, the weekend night auditor had recommended me to a travel agency, where I was hired as a staff accountant, but in fact ended up acting as controller and not to be grandiose but arguably CFO.  I had been married for four months and the third shift job was less than optimal.  We only had one car so I had to cadge a ride home from the security guard (Don had moved on and his successor, who was named Wilbur Spratt, but of course was called Jack was even more colorful.  He was Matty's age, but had not given up drinking and he and I got together for beers a few time.  I remember Jack saying that he wished he had known Matty when he was still drinking.)

We wanted to buy a house, so I went back to the hotel when the weekend night auditor job became available.  I had it for nearly a year until I finally finished my second bachelor's degree and got a job at a large local CPA firm - Joseph B Cohan and Associates.  That ended up being my career.  I was the last person to become a partner in JBC just over ten years later.  JBC merged with another large local in 1997 which gobbled up smaller firms, making me one of the founding partners of a large regional firm, which was finally acquired by Grant Thornton, which made me a Managing Director rather than a partner because of my advanced age. In the large entities I was never in the inner circle of leadership, but there was a period of over a decade where I had significant responsibility for a team.

An office manager, the naval intelligence football player, mockingly referred to us as the "A-Team".  We embraced the nickname.  It had a certain plausibility since we were doing audits and tax work for affordable housing projects.

When we merged we ended up with a managing partner from the other half of the merger with whom I had a somewhat difficult relationship.  I was finding taking care of my A Team rather challenging in the new environment.  I felt I had a responsibility for their careers and my ability to provide the type of client service that we had done was impaired.

The new MP was actually puzzled by the whole thing.  My team worked very long hours during part of tax season due to some special industry deadlines, but he noted that they had very high morale.  He asked Dave, the senior member of the team, how it was that I managed it.  Dave said "Well I think it is that Pete actually cares about them." - The mission and the men (although of course there were women too).  So I may have lived up just a bit to Matty's evaluation of me.

My A Team was so good that the managing partner decided it would be better for the firm if they were deployed on more profitable activities and we got out of affordable housing.  Most of them quit before too long.  We still have reunions after nearly 20 years.

I became something of a general resource to the firm and a general pain in the ass to the managing partner although I stayed off his radar for the most part. There was guy working as something of a courier who had taken the position as a retirement job.  He had been a captain in a special police force for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.  We used to talk a bit about what a relief it was to not have people reporting to you.

We Meet Again

Sometime in 1990, I was hanging out in the JBC coffee room.  Usually we just had the Worcester Telegram, but for some reason the Boston Globe was laying around.  One of the inner sections had as its lead story an interview with Matty.  It was the first time in a long time that, he had opened up about the incident.  Eventually, there would be a couple of books about it, one of which was based on extensive interviews with him.

In one of those odd synchronicities, I ran into Matty no more than a couple of weeks later.  Our firm had just opened new offices and we were having a reception.  I had been a partner for less than a year at that point.  Matty was tending the bar. I probably spent a good portion of the evening talking to him rather than the people my professional obligations indicated I should be sucking up to.  (The primary overriding duty of a partner in a regional accounting firm is to ingratiate yourself with people who might be clients or refer them to you.)  At some point, I said to him "Matty, did you really say that you thought I would have made a good officer?"  He answered "That's right Peter.  You would have made a good officer."

Just for context there is one other memory that I have from the Sheraton Lincoln Inn that is almost as memorable a Matty's comment on me.  There was an extremely attractive cocktail waitress that I used to chat with as she was leaving working (The bar closed at 1:00 AM).  On her last night, she told me that she did not understand why I never asked her out - "You could have had me, Peter".  I'm still not sure whether that conversation is reality or fantasy, but the "good officer" comment was confirmed.

The Incident 

I have referred to Matty's life altering event as "the incident", because that is how it is referred to in Marine Corps history - specifically The Ribbon Creek Incident.  If you want to read about it in depth you can get Court-Martial at Parris Island: The Ribbon Creek Incident which is based among other things on extensive interviews with Matty.  The significance of the incident to the Marine Corps is explained in The US Marine Corps in Crisis: Ribbon Creek and Recruit Training

On the night of April 8, 1956 Staff Sgt Matthew McKeon, a junior drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC marched his platoon into Ribbon Creek, a swampy tidal creek.  Six of his men drowned.

Chosin was not the only trial Matty shared with Chesty Puller. General Puller testified at Matty's court marital.

 Although having some very harsh private words for McKeon, Puller called the incident in Ribbon Creek "a deplorable accident", but one that did not warrant court martial. He said that discipline was the most important factor in military training. He quoted Napoleon in saying that an army becomes a "mob" without it. He mentioned his experiences in the Korean War and one of the reasons troops failed was because of lack of night training. 

Earlier this year I corresponded with Lt. Col. Brian Ross, whose litigation with the state of Alaska I wrote about.  Lt. Col. Ross has an MA in US History and taught naval and marine corps history at Annapolis.  Earlier in his career he had been Assistant Director or the Drill Instructor School.  I mentioned Matty to him and he wrote to me:
 There is so much of that incident that is unique and not generally known by most Marines.  Like the fact that Chesty Puller testified on McKeon's behalf.  And that the Corps actively supported the production of "The D.I." with Jack Webb in 1957 in order to showcase and highlight its strict, yet humanitarian, recruit training methods in the face of a skeptical public.  

  We've always been good at telling the Corps' story, thus the reason for Truman saying the Marines have a propaganda organ similar to Stalin.
I had actually heard a garbled version of the Ribbon Creek Incident before I met Matty - more or less a drunken DI ordering his men into the water and it was utterly inconsistent with the guy I came to know a bit who was more or less universally admired.  When I read about the incident the thing that struck me that was consistent with his character was that on that tragic night, he was both the first man to go into the water and the last to leave after rescue attempts proved fruitless.

The story strikes me as something that could happen to any of us.  A serious error in judgement or even a lapse of attention can lead to tragic consequences.  The responsible person takes responsibility and goes on to lead an exemplary life inspiring the circle of people around him.

As I started working on this piece I of course looked up Matty.  Sadly I found that he died in 2003 at the age of 79 - on Veterans Day.


Appendix - More Than You Probably Want To Know About The Night Audit

The Night Audit

The accounting part of the job was pretty interesting.  For some part of my shift, the amount of time varying based on occupancy and how many screw ups the front desk clerks had made during the day, I would wrestle with an electro-mechanical monster designed by NCR  to be used in banks, but modfied for hotel use.  The end result of my effort was a "bucket" full of folios that had the details of each guests charges and their correct balance and a report called the D-Sheet which showed the revenue for the day.  During the day desk clerks would post lounge and restaurant charges and long distance phone calls as time permitted, but it was the night auditor that posted room and tax and reconciled the opening receivable total to the ending receivable total.  You could actually do the job without understanding the overall accounting concepts, but knowing them made it a little more interesting, at least to me.  There were also some other reports to prepare to determine availablity of rooms and housekeeping requirements.

Dealing With The Public

One of the things I learned on the job is that it is sometimes pointless to explain things people.  When European guests would tell me that they were checking out the next day and wanted their bill made up, I did not tell them that in this hotel, and I believe most American hotels, everybody's bill is ready by 2:00 AM or so.  I also never bothered to explain to people that I could not call 30 people at exactly 6:30.  The 6:30 wake-up calls would run from 6:25 to 6:35 (Hopefully).  The reason I did not explain this was because if I did, that guy would tell me that he wanted to be the one to be called at exactly 6:30.  If the wake-up calls went much outside the five minute window I would start saying "Good morning your wake-up call, instead of Good morning its 6:30 or whatever".

The form that would end up being "the folio" had little slips of paper that copied the guests names and room number that could be inserted in a metal rack next to the phone.  I may not understand this totally but I believe that in Japan your surname comes before your given name.  Some Japanese when in the United States will reverse their names to correspond with our systems.  Others don't.  So where do you put the slip of paper in the phone rack?  As it happened there were two slips of paper, so I would put it in under both letters.

The other trick I figured out was that when I got a busy signal or not answer on a wake-up call, I would put the call on hold and dial the same room again to make sure I had not dialed the wrong room the first time, since the second attempt was sure to create a busy signal.  One time a guest accused me of missing his wake-up call and I knew my system made that very unlikely.  I asked him to check to see if the ringer had been turned off on his phone.  It had been.




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