USMC Discipline Problems of the 1970s

 

Many returning American veterans of the war be-lived that they were not honored as they had been in previous wars. Some felt they had risked their lives in vain, and were embittered by the memory of the ap­proximately 55,000 of their buddies who had been killed. They were angry over an amnesty for draft-dodgers who had fled to Canada, Sweden, and other countries to avoid the war.

 

As antiwar sentiment developed in the country, drug usage also was making progress in all classes of society and in various age groups. There was a growing drug problem among the troops both at home and abroad. As it grew, morale and discipline declined. As troops were rotated from abroad, they brought the problem with them. Other factors strongly influencing military affairs in the early 1970s were the ending of the draft and the advent of the all-volunteer force in 1973.

 

The Armed Forces were experiencing many difficulties. Pressure was strong to keep up the level of man­power. Yet during the last phases of the American presence in Vietnam, the antiwar movement had gained great influence. There were numerous racial incidents. Some troops refused to carry out their orders if there was danger involved. Fragging (directing a fragmentation grenade at an unpopular officer or NCO) resulted in some deaths. It also took other forms such as booby trapping a jeep and even shooting some men in the back. Through fear of retaliation and the dislike of informing against another man, it often was extremely difficult to locate the culprit.

 

Back in the United States, racial incidents grew at the various camps. Gangs of black Marines would roam Camp Lejeune or other posts and stations, and beat up white Marines found to be alone. Soon there was a backlash, continuing the violence.

 

Traditionally high morale was sadly shaken. A true crisis was threatening the 200-year-old Corps. Many of the problems could be traced to the end of the draft and the pressure of keeping up the size of the Marine Corps. In the process, a number of society’s misfits had been recruited.

 

A commanding officer of the 6th Marines from those challenging days, Colonel Paul B. Haigwood, recalls that the regiment spent approximately 50 percent of its time in the field with every regimental unit available participating. Although the training was extreme and repetitive, it was necessary because of the high personnel turnover, and the requirement to meet the many commitments referred to earlier. Further, it served to lessen the racial tensions as the Category IV (less intelligent) Marines seemed to forget their problems and concentrated on being Marines. Maybe they were too tired to do anything else. In any event, over time the regimental incident rate, desertions, and other indicators of discipline improved to the point where the 6th Marines could truthfully be called the most combat-ready unit in the division. The regiment won almost every divisional contest such as football, basketball, boxing, and marksmanship.

 

Nevertheless, there still were unfortunate incidents. Following a movie at the Camp Lejeune post theatre, there was a gang fight among some 25 to 30 black and white Marines from the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. It ended with one Marine being killed. This, of course, was labeled a riot by the press, and caused unfavorable publicity for the Corps.

 

It was not easy being a commanding officer in those days, but as usual in Marine Corps life, there were many responsibilities to be met, and there was always a belief in a better future.

 

Further, amusing incidents occurred to lighten the load. During a Headquarters Marine Corps Inspector General’s inspection, Colonel Haigwood was showing the Inspector General around his area. When they visited the 2d Battalion armory, they found everything to be outstanding—weapons, records, cleanliness—everything. The Inspector General announced to everyone present that this was “the best” armory he had seen in a long time, and that he would personally like to shake the hand of the NCO in charge. A young Marine stepped forward immediately, and said, “General sir, I am Corporal _______, MFICC of the Armory.” The general congratulated the corporal, praised him for what he had accomplished, and the inspection party moved on. Approximately two blocks down the street the Inspector General stopped, turned to Haigwood and said, ‘What in the hell does MFICC mean?” Taking a deep breath, the regimental commander answered, “It stands for Mother F___er In Complete Charge.” The general laughed until he almost popped a button from his blouse..

 


Repeated many times since 1946, a squad from the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines,
moves behind a medium tank during training among pines of Camp Lejeune.

In spite of the many problems encountered, training continued during the 1970s. Not only were deployments made to the Caribbean and Mediterranean, but training was also held with the 82d Airborne Division, both at Fort Bragg and in the Camp Lejeune area. In 1973, during DesEx Alkali Canyon, USMCR units from the 4th Marine Division were successfully integrated into a major exercise. This was valuable to all the participants. Also, planning was started for Alpine Warrior 74, to be held at Camp Drum, New York. In 1974, training with U.S. Army units at Camp Pickett, Virginia, took place during Exercise Solid Punch, involving Army armor and armored infantry units. Cold-weather training at Camp Drum took place, as did other types of routine training.

 

Finally, the Twenty-sixth Commandant, General Lewis H. Wilson, took office. He had earned the Medal of Honor on Guam during World War II, and was a strict disciplinarian. This was on 1 July 1975, after his predecessor requested an early retirement.

Wilson immediately started to clean out the true misfits from the Marine Corps. The 6th Marines themselves offered a typical example. An article by Walter V. Robinson of the Boston Globe staff, dated 6 June 1976, set forth the situation. It was written from Camp Lejeune. Mr. Robinson was writing about an amphibious operation conducted by the 6th Marines. Commenting on the high seas encountered, and the fact that five Marines were injured by lightning, he still felt that the operation was more satisfactory than a similar one the year before. He said:

 

Last year the same could not be said, Although 2,500 men of the 3,000-man 6th Regiment were slated to participate, only 1200 them waded ashore in Operation Solid Shield 1975. Of the remaining 1,300 men, 800 were back in their barracks awaiting undesirable discharges. More than 200 others were over the hill—AWOL.

Still others were on the regimental rolls; they had been classified as deserters. And 267 of the 6th Regiment’s Marines had been administratively reassigned to the brig where they were imprisoned for a variety of offenses.

 

The career officers and NCOs previously had been disgusted. The reforms instituted by General Wilson, however, got rid of more than 6,000 problem Marines out of a total strength of 196,000. Enlistment standards were raised. Physical training and discipline were improved. The percentage of high school graduates in the 2d Division had dropped to 38 percent. Their commanding general had estimated perhaps 80 percent of the Marines had tried marijuana. One rifle company commander recalled he had only 17 of 189 men available for training because of personnel problems. The 2d Division discharged as undesirable 2,400 men in 1975. Of those, 1,027 belonged to the 3,000-man 6th Marines. Since December of 1975 another 600 2d Division Marines had left early under an “expeditious discharge program” initiated by the Commandant.

 

When Colonel (later Major General) Harold G. Glasgow took command of the 6th Marines in May 1975, he found 294 of his Marines were carried in an unauthorized leave status and 231 more were either confined or under restraint. He told a reporter later that at the time he was lucky if one in every five Marines saluted him. Between 10 percent and 15 percent were intentionally trying to fail their physical fitness tests.

 

The problems encountered by the commanders in training and administering their units were complex and challenging. Their strength of character was tested many times in a variety of ways. In fact, company commanders were so involved in Office Hours, Request Masts, and writing up administrative discharges it was difficult to maintain a semblance of a training program.

 

Nevertheless, operational and training exercises were held, including a Mediterranean deployment of the 1st Battalion; Solid Shield 75 locally; two battalion-size exercises at Fort Pickett; two special exercises (reinforced rifle companies) to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; a combined-arms exercise at Twenty-nine Palms, California; a cold-weather exercise at Fort Drum; and a Division CPX. A full schedule indeed, and one to cut down on the time the Marines had to be drawn into unwanted incidents.

 

During August 1976, the 36th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) was formed around the 6th Marines. The 2d Battalion became the ground element, a composite squadron from MAGs 26 and 29 became the aviation combat element, while the MAU Service Support Group (MSSG) was formed from the 2d Force Service Support Group (FSSG). After the very detailed planning required and appropriate training, the 36th MAU deployed to Europe for participation in Operation Straffe Zugel and Operation Triple Jubilee.

 

Operation Straffe Zugel was part of Reforger Exercise 75 and was conducted in the central plains of West Germany near the city of Hanover. The 36th MAU’s participation represented the first Marine Corps maneuver elements in Germany since World War I. This exercise further paved the way for subsequent Marine participation in larger training exercises in Germany —Teamwork / Bonded Item and Northern Wedding/Bold Guard. The Marine Corps was again becoming involved in the defense of western Europe, as it was in World War I.

 

Operation Triple Jubilee was conducted in three separate locations in the United Kingdom. According to the account of then Colonel Glasgow, the first phase was near Plymouth. This exercise concentrated on small-unit training with the Royal Marines. A memorable occurrence was the celebration of the 200th Marine Corps Birthday at the Royal Marines’ Stonehouse Barracks. The Royal Marines were hosts, then-Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps General Samuel Jaskilka was the guest of honor, and the other guests included both General Peter Whitely, Commandant General of the Royal Marines, and General A. C. Lammers, Commandant of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps.

 

The second phase of Triple Jubilee was conducted on Salisbury Plain near Portsmouth and Southhampton. The 3d Brigade of the Royal Marines both controlled the exercise and acted as aggressors. It was a rewarding, excellent exercise.

 

The third phase of Triple Jubilee consisted of an amphibious landing across the beach at Barry Buddon, Scotland, near Arbroath. The North Sea was rough, and the weather cold, but the 6th Marines looked like real professionals. After liberty at Dundee, the regiment returned to Camp Lejeune exhilarated by the many interesting and satisfying times it experienced.

 

Between the two main operations, 36th MAU made port visits to Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Brest and Le Havre, in France.

 

The stiffer enlistment standards paid off. The 2d Division’s high-school-completion rate jumped to 60 percent within a year. The greater emphasis on physical fitness soon made a leaner, stronger, and more confident Marine Corps.

 

Already a marked change could be seen. The quality of the Marines had improved, morale was high, the disciplinary rate was falling—the Marine Corps had won its fight. As the Boston Globe article of 6 June 1976 had labeled it—"The Marines’ Toughest Fight: Long Battle for Respectability."

 

[This article has been excerpted from “A Brief History of the 6th Marines,” written by Lieutenant General William K. Jones USMC-Retired and published in 1987 by the History and Museum Division, Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps Washington, D.C., a copy of which was obtained by our former G-2-6 member, Retired Staff Sergeant John Hart, USMC.]

 



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