India Company Goes Out in Style…Kind of
A party for the ages
BLT 3/8’s time in the Med was coming to a close. After an extended port visit on the French Riviera we departed Nice and Ville Franche in mid-April 1971 and headed for the Italian port of Livorno. There is a U.S. Army logistics base there and many of the deployed Marine units in the Med went there to wash down all vehicles and make final preparations for going home. Outgoing units would transfer Landing Force Mediterranean responsibilities to the incoming Marine Amphibious Unit at the Naval Station at Rota, Spain. 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines was the last pure Battalion Landing Team to be deployed to the Med. We were relieved by 32nd MAU, who had their own helicopters and an expanded logistic support capability. We had no helicopter capability in the BLT. There was one helo in the Amphibious Squadron…the Commodore’s. Fat chance of the Marines getting to use that.
During the entire deployment a major concern was minimizing the occurrence of liberty incidents ashore during port calls. The pressure to prevent potential misbehavior, any of which could possibly turn into an international incident, was intense…from 2nd Marine Division back at Camp Lejeune onto the battalion commander, and on down the chain of command to the junior private in each rifle company or other BLT organization. We company commanders seemingly never heard the end of dire warnings of the consequences if one of our troops screwed up while ashore. Of course we passed the word down the chain with threats of our own. No major "international incidents" occurred during our six month cruise. Of course there were the usual drunk Marine and minor fist fights with sailors stuff that happens in every port of call the world over, but nothing big. Nonetheless, the pressure was intense on both commanders and troops the entire time.
At some point during the deployment India Company received its allotment of funds from Special Services or the Welfare and Recreation fund…I can’t remember the source or the amount, to spend as we saw fit, within reason and legality of course. Mike Brock and Ernest Bradford, the Executive Officer and First Sergeant, approached me early during our port stay in Livorno and suggested that we throw a company party with the money. They recommended that this not be just any old typical company party with charcoal grills, hot dogs, hamburgers, other delicacies caged from the battalion mess sergeant, and iced down garbage cans of beer and soda. They suggested a real honest to God fling with catered food, entertainment, and beer, soda, wine and spirits. The party would be held out in the country away from MPs and shore patrol and would be policed by the officers and Staff NCOs of India Company. The idea was to give the company a chance to let their hair down (what little Marines have) without the pressures for proper liberty behavior that had been imposed during the past six months. I thought it an excellent idea and directed the XO and First Sergeant to proceed. As you will see, we were wildly successful in this endeavor. There were no female guests…fortunately, as things turned out, I might add.
Mike and Ernest went to work arranging things and with the help of Lieutenant Rich Jefferies, the second platoon commander, they found and rented an outdoor pavilion in the country several miles from Livorno. They set up catered food and found a band somewhere. They bought up all the beer, soda and booze from the Army Class VI store at the base that funding would allow. Army busses from the base were laid on and any and all Marine watches on the Terrebonne Parrish, India Company’s LST, were filled by volunteer sailors from the T-Bone’s crew. The stage was set and, as I had directed Mike and Ernest…we proceeded. The busses dropped us off at the pavilion and were instructed to return around 2300 or so, as I recall.
What followed was one of the most amazing spectacles of overseas liberty drink induced mayhem I ever witnessed as a Marine. There have always been drunken Marines and sailors being hauled back to the ship or aboard base by shipmates since 1775. We’ve all witnessed those incidents. But to observe almost an entire rifle company and attachments in such a state is a sight to see. Things started out calmly enough with dinner served and the band playing. But as the evening progressed and the booze started to flow, India Company finally really let its hair down. The pressure was off. I don’t remember if there were any fist fights, but if there were they were minor. Ernest and I were sitting together finishing our meal with me sipping on a drink. Ernest did not drink. Our table was slightly elevated above the lower floor of the pavilion and we could see almost everything. The antics that were going on as my Marines became more and more soused were so hilarious that I quit drinking just to watch.
Great peals of laughter rang from the pavilion as various members of India staggered around and fell over each other. Minor food fights broke out. As the evening progressed more and more Marines passed out in various locations in and around the pavilion…on tables, under tables, draped across chairs, on the ground. And the band played on.
At some point Ernest suggested that we ensure that at least two thirds of the company remain sober enough to carry the remaining third back aboard the T-Bone upon our return to the base. I agreed and the officers and SNCOs who remained standing started to police up the situation as best we could.
Two other vivid memories of the evening have remained with me. At one point I noticed that Sergeant Hare, the company supply sergeant, was crawling across the dance floor on his hands and knees. He stopped, puked on the dance floor, and continued to crawl straight through the mess to his destination on the other side of the floor. Yuk!
The other involved the company gunnery sergeant. Dick Duenow was the best company gunny I ever served with during my career as a Marine. He was physically the strongest member of India Company. He had played some junior college football and could kick 45 yard field goals wearing sneakers. He was a superb fast pitch softball pitcher. He resembled the actor Charlton Hesston in appearance. He was unflappable. He was a great leader of Marines. During meetings before going to the field or before any other evolution, he never took notes, while all other platoon leaders and attendees busily scribbled in their little green notebooks (I still have all the little green notebooks I used while commanding India Company). I never caught him missing anything as a result of not taking notes. He was superb in all respects. At some point near the end of the party Mike Brock and I decided to walk around the area and see if anyone had fallen into the bushes or otherwise indisposed himself. As we left the pavilion we found Gunny Duenow passed out cold sitting in a folding chair in the middle of the crushed rock parking lot. Although the gunny would have an occasional drink, I never saw him appear even slightly tipsy. Mike and I were both amazed at the sight. We gently roused the gunny from his slumber and moved him and his chair to the side of the parking lot so the busses wouldn’t run over him when the returned shortly.
Finally it was time to police up everyone and get them back aboard the buses. We cleaned up the pavilion as best we could. We identified the most sober NCO of each platoon and section and ensured that they accounted for all their members. Then Mike, Ernest and the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants swept the entire area of the pavilion for stragglers. After all were aboard, we headed back to Livorno. The buses pulled up to the pier next to the T-Bone and we off loaded India Company and attachments. Those who could walk made their way up the brow and properly saluted the Officer of the Deck and requested permission to board. Those who had to be carried aboard…and there were quite a few…were excused from saluting the OOD, as were the Marines who were carrying them. I told Mike and Ernest to get everyone bedded down in the troop compartments, and I thanked the bus drivers and sent them on their way.
And thus ended the India Company party for the ages. Hangovers the next morning were monumental throughout, but it was a great way to end our six months in the Med. The pressures that bore down on us every time we visited a port of call were gone on this night, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was there who fondly remembers as the years go by. And I can’t end this without again giving credit where it is due. This was the brainchild of Mike Brock and Ernest Bradford and it was wildly successful. Semper Fi to you both, XO and First Sergeant.
Dirck Praeger sends