7 April 1997

“Blood Pinning”

Anthony F. Milavic 
Major, United States Marine Corps (Retired)


You speak for the overwhelming majority who cannot air their views.  Thank you ever so much for your words.
       Semper Fidelis
       Gunnery Sergeant of Marines

The preceding was received by me three days ago and follows other active duty Marines, officer and SNCO, writing and either requesting anonymity or prefacing their remarks with the equivalent of “For Your Eyes Only.” Some have even expressed fear of punishment if their thoughts were aired. All focused on the 1991 and 1993 incidents of “blood pinning” golden jump wings (Navy/Marine Corps Parachutist’s Wings) broadcast on national television in February 1997 and what followed. Based on the 1991 incident, one MGySgt and one captain have been recommended for administrative discharge and nine others have been counseled and/or had entries made in their service records; in other words, the careers of 11 Marines have been ruined--so far. And Marines “cannot air their views.”

On 8 April 1956, SSgt Mathew C. McKeon marched his platoon into Ribbon Creek at Parris Island, S.C. and lost six recruits. The Commandant, General Randolf McCall Pate, immediately relieved the commanding general of the recruit depot and told Congress that McKeon would be punished “to the full extent allowed by our Uniform Code of Military Justice [UCMJ].” This tragedy became a media cause célèbre and the topic of wide spread conversation by active duty Marines. The conduct of his court martial, including LtGen. “Chesty” Puller’s testimony, was widely reported in the media and discussed by all of us on active duty. Ultimately, SSGT McKeon was found guilty of negligent homicide and drinking on duty and we talked about that as well. In fact, Marines were split for and against what McKeon did on that dimly moonlit Sunday night, but there was a consensus on one thing: this new UCMJ thing worked for it gave him “his day in court.” (The UCMJ had been signed into law only five years earlier in an attempt to codify a uniform system of justice between and within the Services.) In our discussions, we reluctantly admitted that justice had been served for even a general officer was “busted.” This incident was certainly of greater severity and appears to have had even greater media attention than the “blood pinning” incidents. If so, why are Marines--commissioned officers and staff non-commissioned officers--afraid “to air their views?”

The Uniform Code of Military Justice is not the instrument being used to prosecute those involved in these “pinning” incidents--its statute of limitations has expired for the 1991 and 1993 events. The Marine Corps is using an “administrative” instrument. Under this process there is no statute of limitations; no protection against self-incrimination and the rules of evidence are not as stringent as in the UCMJ. Based on my personal experience: “blood pinnings”--be they for jump wings, aviator wings, officer insignia, diver’s insignia, etc.--have been going on since the early 1960s; and, the “pinning” of chevrons has been practiced in the Marine Corps since at least 1953. How many Marines have participated in or know about these rituals/traditions/hazings/events? I would guess, thousands. Also, MajGen Patrick G. Howard, the consolidated disposition authority for these cases, is cited in the Navy Times as having “determined that no ‘formal’ Marine policy existed in 1991 that defined or banned hazing.” In 1997, the Commandant declared that these acts were wrong and, by extension, punishable. The 17 February Marine Corps edition of the Navy Times reads, in part: “...Krulak’s strong words mean one thing, many Marines worry: The witch hunt has begun. ‘They’re going to go after whoever they get,’ said one restricted officer who echoed a fear heard among other officers in the Washington area. ‘They’re calling in anybody who’s been with ANGLICO, recon any of these groups. Heads are going to roll.’”  The article closed with a quote from the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, SgtMaj Lewis G. Lee: “’If you don’t SEE  [emphasis mine] anything wrong with it,’ he said, ‘the commandant or I frankly don’t need you in our Corps.’” The 7 April edition of the Navy Times reported the first 11 “heads” to roll--one captain, one MGySgt recommended for “administrative separation” and nine other Marines counseled and/or entries made in their record books.

The Marine Corps enjoys a long tradition of being “A band of brothers a Corps of Marines.” The fear to air one’s views or the proscription against “see[ing] something wrong” with a Corps’ policy are alien to that tradition.  Marines are afraid to talk because this administrative action thing has become a big stick of authority. No, I am not saying it is illegal: I am saying that it mocks UNIFORM JUSTICE. Marines are now threatened with prosecution for what they know/knew/had known/”see” irrespective of when. That does not enhance trust in authority; it instills fear in authority! As evidenced above, the impact of that atmosphere is changing what I have reverently called “The Corps,” for more years than I can remember, to: “Our Corps” and, I presume, “Their Corps.” If the Commandant wants to arrest the emergence of that fragmenting philosophy, he needs to get rid of the fear that currently pervades “The Corps” and not those who don’t see eye-to-eye with him and the Sergeant Major. 

Semper No Fear,

Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC(Ret)