I just found an old friend

About 30 years ago I was a young Marine who had managed to make some bad decisions and gotten myself in trouble with the Corps. Being relieved from duty at the American Embassy in Kingston Jamaica, I was transferred to Beaufort SC and stuck in an office.

The Marines (as I assume is true of the other services) have a very long memory. If you ever screw up - it's never forgotten. There's an old saying: One aww shit wipes out a hundred attaboys. But in the service, one aww shit tends to wipe out all past AND future attaboys! And so I checked in to a new duty station and found myself very nearly a pariah among my "brother" Marines.

However there was a crusty old Staff Sergeant who watched me for a time, took my measure as a Marine, and decided that I was one of the good guys. He took me under his wing made me feel like I was still part of the team. That is NOT to say he coddled me. Far from it! He was a demanding hardass who had no compunctions about straightening out human error by getting loud and in your face. But he evaluated a man on his conduct in the here-and-now, as opposed to what one had done in the dim misty past.

For the record, my "crime" was to have a woman in the Marine House - a woman I eventually married and had two kids with. The Corps can be quite prudish you see.

Ssgt Dennis Hendry had once been a drill instructor on Parris Island. His tour of duty was not successful and he was - like me - relieved from this highly prestigious duty. I suppose that's why he tended to identity with me. He was destined to remain forever a Staff Sergeant, just as I was destined to never progress beyond the rank of Sergeant (and it took a ridiculous 3 years as a Corporal to get THAT far)

I don't know the circumstances of his relief from the drill field. I imagine his drinking problem played a role, though I have no direct knowledge that it did. By the time I knew Dennis in 1981, he had been off the drill field for a couple of years, and his drinking could well have been the result of his feelings about being relieved.

I do however know the circumstances of how Dennis handled himself in the office where I worked with him. He took care of his people! He was a Marine Staff NCO and those young enlisted Marines belonged to him. They looked to him for leadership - and he gave it. During working hours Dennis was all business and all Marine.

After working hours ... well... he came down among the troops and comported himself as one of them.

He knew that I loved to hunt, and that I had a personal rifle stored in the armory. So one Friday he asked me if I want to go hunting with him. Sure!

Shortly after working hours he picked me up at the barracks and we drove to Yemasee SC. Even though it was only an hour or so after we got off work, Dennis was already pretty well sloshed. That was a car ride I will never forget!

Arriving at a little isolated fishcamp / bar out in the South Carolina boonies, it was instantly apparent that a) Dennis was a regular patron, and b) hunting was NOT the primary purpose of our mission. For the next several hours we drank, played pool and socialized. As the night slipped away into the wee hours of the morning, and it was clear we were going to "close the joint", I began to seriously wonder where I would be laying my weary head.

Closing time did indeed come, and Dennis and I were escorted out the back by one of the bar matrons to a one room cabin that she occupied. I'm no shrinking violet, but I really did NOT want to assist my drunken boss in his coming carnal episode with this ... woman!

Inside I was shown the floor at the foot of the bed, and handed a rolled up towel for a pillow. Dennis flopped on the bed with his new friend, and the lights went out. To say I was uncomfortable on a variety of levels really wouldn't be doing it justice. I expected any moment to hear the symphony of dueling bedsprings accompanied by the sound of the beast with two backs.

There were some indistinguishable sounds, some muttering, and then a loud exclamation: "What? You ain't gonna gimmie no head?! Well F*uck you then!" In less than a second (it seemed) there was loud snoring to be heard and I was free to settle down somewhat restfully for the remainder of the night.

Being a natural early riser, I was awake at a hunting-appropriate early hour, and so I got up and flicked on the light (being somewhat trepidatious about what exactly I would see). My bleary eyes beheld a buck naked Staff sergeant spread-eagled and occupying 90% of the bed; his previous evening's temporary girlfriend forced to the very edge.

I slapped him on the foot, we got dressed, and hit the door in under a minute. I marveled at the man's ability to get moving apparently so effortlessly under the conditions of so little sleep and so much booze. But Dennis showed no signs of being discomfited. In fact, I'm pretty sure he was still drunk.

On foot we crossed the highway in front of the fishcamp / bar and set out down a dirt road for a short distance - me with a .30-30, and Dennis with a 12 gauge shotgun.

Maybe five minutes down the road an old cow bird rose up from a ditch off to our left and to my amazement Dennis shot at it.

He missed.

Not knowing what to say (remember he's my boss) I stood there noting the look of disappointment on his face. In a moment his remark was "Hell... there ain't no deer 'round here no how".

Without another word he turned around and led us back up the road, across the highway, and back into the now open bar. I think you know how the rest of this tale plays out.

Yes... Dennis was a character alright. I recognized his faults, but they were truly overshadowed by his good qualities. It was with genuine sadness that I rec'd the news of his death about four years later. His drinking mixed with his driving just one time too many, and he wrapped his car around a South Carolina oak tree.

Today he lies in the shade of another South Carolina oak tree in the Beaufort National Cemetery.

Rest in peace Staff Sergeant Hendry

Semper Fi my friend


Brock Townsend said...

I enjoyed your words. Thanks.

ASM826 said...

I know that cemetery, recognize the brick wall. Knew some Staff NCOs like that too. A good post and a story well told.

GunRights4US said...

Thank you!