The Great Parris Island Mustache Caper-
or Lessons in Personal Appearance for Seagoing Marines
When I sent the two pictures to Mofak for inclusion on my web page, he mentioned that the only difference in my past and present pictures was the cookie duster. Donít I wish! Actually, I had several mustache episodes in the Corps. I don't know if he remembers or not, but I grew a mustache at Parris Island. In those days if you grew one you had to get your ID card picture changed. Dave Steffanson, my company commander, suggested (after a lot of cutting, biting ridicule at my efforts to grow nose hair) that I wait until General James M. Masters Sr., the CG of MCRD PI, saw me with the beaver broom before I had my ID card changed. If Jungle Jim approved, then it was OK to make it permanent.
I should mention that Jungle Jim Masters frequently ate meals at the recruit mess hall. But, his favorite recruit meal was Breakfast. He would arrive in the early morning darkness when a dozen or so platoons were lined up waiting to enter the mess hall. The General would step up as the last position in one of the four squads of a platoon. He would whisper to the recruit standing at attention directly in front of him, "Give me a cigarette." Or sometimes he would say, "Give me a light. I gotta have a smoke." If a recruit responded with a cigarette or a light the General would walk over and have an appetizer by chowing down on the Drill Instructor.
One day I was walking into the 2nd Battalion mess hall, and Jungle Jim was coming out. He looked at me and said, "What's that under your nose, Praeger?" We were a small, tightly knit community on Parris Island, and the CG knew most of his officers by name. To me that was tacit approval, so I had my ID card changed.
Fast forward to the end of my PI tour. I had received orders to sea duty aboard the USS Ranger. Sporting a firmly fixed mustache with a matching ID card, I went in search of my aircraft carrier, CVA-61, which was in the Gulf of Tonkin conducting combat air operations against North Vietnam. I spent about a week at Subic Bay, Philippines trying to hitch a ride to the carrier, and coincidentally, making my first runs into Olongapo. The liberty runs ultimately became a career pastime of sorts over the years. Anyway, I finally made it to Ranger via means that are not pertinent to this story. I reported to the CO of the Marine Detachment, an officer who ultimately turned out to be one of the sorriest leaders I served under during my career. He will be identified only by a nickname, "Beauregard T. Hashmark", that he later picked up in the 10th Marines at Camp Lejeune. One of the first things Beau said to me was, "Shave off the mustache. Seagoing Marines don't have mustaches." So I whipped out my razor, followed orders, and hustled to the ship's photo lab for a new ID card. That is when the picture was taken of me in dress blues that is now on my web page.
After 30-40 days on the line in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea, we pulled into Yokosuka, Japan for about 10 days of "I ruv you no shit" liberty. The USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) pulled into port in the berth astern of us after we arrived. As seagoing Marines know, whenever two ships with Marine detachments aboard pull into the same port, visits are made to each other's detachments. This is done both as a courtesy and as a chance to be around other Marines instead of being surrounded by sailors all the time. Anyway, the Coral Seaís MarDet CO came to Ranger for a visit. He had one of the best flowing red handlebar mustaches I had ever seen. He looked like the British Sergeant Major from the movie ZULU. I just glared at Beau and raised my eyebrows in a questioning manner, which probably bordered on insubordination. But as time would show, he deserved the contempt. That's the grist for another T.I.N.S. tale in itself.
I also grew a cookie duster in Vietnam, but when you spend as much time in the field as I did as a Company Commander, it just became a depository for C-rations, snot, mud and blood, so I shaved it off most ricky-tick, and remained clean shaven until I retired.
I started growing the broom that I wear today on the day after my retirement parade from the Corps, and itís been there ever since. And yes, MOFAK, I had a retirement parade. If you were stationed anywhere near San Diego and wanted a retirement parade, MCRD San Diego obliged you every Wednesday, just like we used to do at Parris Island. I figured after marching in the damn things for years, I would like to see what one looked like from the other side.
And with that, I rode off into the sunset and became a civilian puke, but you can never shake the Spirit of Semper Fidelis. We all feel just as much Marines today as we ever did.
Fair winds and following seas,