8 Things R. Lee Ermey Taught Us About the Military

FILE - In this May 15, 2006, file photo, retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey takes a break for a smoke outside New River Air Station's Staff NCO club in Jacksonville, N.C. (Randy Davey/The Jacksonville Daily News via AP, File)
FILE - In this May 15, 2006, file photo, retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey takes a break for a smoke outside New River Air Station's Staff NCO club in Jacksonville, N.C. (Randy Davey/The Jacksonville Daily News via AP, File)

Marine Corps drill instructor and Hollywood actor R. Lee Ermey was robbed of an Oscar for his legendary portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 classic “Full Metal Jacket" and snubbed by the Academy's Oscar "memoriam" montage

But while the Academy may not have thought his contribution worth recognition, we know the Gunny knew a thing or two we should all remember about military service. 

Ermey had a long career. As well as his iconic role in "Full Metal Jacket," where he improvised most of his dialog, and that long run on “Mail Call,” he played iconic roles as the police captain in “Se7en,” the voice of Sarge in the “Toy Story” movies, the mayor in “Mississippi Burning” and a chilling serial rapist in a 2010 episode of “Law & Order: SVU.”

Ermey also had a wicked sense of humor, one that allowed him to play the over-the-top movie director Titus Scroad in the cult TV series “Action” and the lead kidnapper in the “Run Ronnie Run,” the bizarre comedy from “Mr. Show With Bob and David” guys Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.

He left us on April 15, 2018 and he’s now at rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

So what did his TV and movie appearances teach us about service? Here are nine great examples.

1. Once a Marine, always a Marine

In his “Full Metal Jacket” rants, Gunny Hartman tells his recruits that their Marine Corps training had permanently changed them. They’re no longer mere men: They’ve become Marines.

“Today, you people are no longer maggots. Today, you are Marines. You're part of a brotherhood. From now on, until the day you die, wherever you are, every Marine is your brother. Most of you will go to Vietnam. Some of you will not come back. But always remember this: Marines die. That's what we're here for. But the Marine Corps lives forever and that means you live forever.”

2. You gotta break someone before you build them up

Few civilians understand the bonds of trust required for a military unit to function and even fewer can grasp the process that goes into tearing down the idea of the individual so a person can be truly absorbed into the group. Gunnery Sgt. Hartman can help you with that.

“If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized grab-ass-tic pieces of amphibian shit! Because I am hard, you will not like me! But the more you hate me, the more you will learn! I am hard, but I am fair! There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops, or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless. And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not packed the gear to serve in my beloved corps. Do you maggots understand that?”

3. Modern art is not good art.

Gunny Hartman may have been talking about Pablo Picasso's 1939 portrait of Dora Maar.

Hidden in Gunny Hartman’s psychological tear down are some important observations about other parts of our world. He’s also an art critic.

“You're so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!”

4. Comedy is not pretty

Truthfully, Gunny Hartman's material is closer to Don Rickles than Steve Martin but Steve's the one who said, "Comedy is not pretty."

He’s a talented insult comic.

“Well I've got a joke for you, I'm going to tear you a new a--hole.”

5. A clean toilet is a holy toilet

Ask yourself: "Is my toilet clean enough that I could invite the mother of Our Savior to use my bathroom?"

He’s concerned that our religious icons have a good bathroom experience.

“I want that head so sanitary and squared away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump.”

6. A great catchphrase works in any situation

What's YOUR major malfunction?

Ask anyone who grew-up in a household where dad always asked “What’s your major malfunction?” Every Single Time they did something he didn’t like.

7. The Heart is the Deadliest Weapon

He even operates on multiple levels. He may SAY a Marine is the deadliest weapon but listen closely: The threat really comes from a Marine’s cold, cold heart.

“The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle. It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong, you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead Marines. And then you will be in a world of s***. Because Marines are not allowed to die without permission. Do you maggots understand?”

8. Everyone Needs Mail

Retired Honorary Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey sits on the set of "Mail Call" (Photo courtesy of History Channel).

Ermey did his part on his long-running History Channel series to educate a generation of Americans who knew nothing about the military. He also reminded everyone that communication is critical for men and women who are serving their country. If you want to remember Ermey, write a letter, send an email or make a phone call in honor of his service.

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