Forty years ago this fall, the Colonel officially became an Ole Miss Rebel.
He joined approximately 1500 fellow freshmen, about 60 of whom were enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) -- most on a scholarship to become Navy ensigns upon graduation. The Colonel and two others in that group were Marine Options -- on scholarship to be commissioned as second lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps upon graduation.
We three -- J. D. Henley, Rhett Anthony, and the Colonel -- bonded quickly. We had little choice, outnumbered as we were.
Sporting our closely cropped Marine "high and tight" haircuts we would have blended in quite well with the rest of the men in the freshman class... if it had been ten years previous.
But, this was the seventies -- freshman hazing was out and hair was long.
The Colonel, then an NROTC Midshipman 4th Class, had reported in and introduced himself to the Marine Officer Instructor -- then Captain H. L. Gerlach -- at the beginning of the semester with a fresh haircut. It wasn't fresh, nor cut, enough.
"Nice to meet you, Midshipman Gregory. Get a haircut."
When the Colonel protested that he had just gotten a haircut, he received the first of many very valuable and equally memorable "periods of instruction" from Captain Gerlach.
In the Colonel's experience, there were two distinctly different types of leaders in the Marine Corps. There were screamers, whose high decibel, vein-popping reactions to "teachable moments" soon lost their impact on screamees who learned to shut down most conscious systems and retreat into a metaphysical cocoon for the duration of the verbal assault -- emerging only when their faces detected a significant lessening of spittle impact.
The other, far more effective, leaders were those who could gnaw furiously on an errant subordinate's hindquarters all the while maintaining a collegial tone of voice. Their correction of mistakes sometimes even brought a smile to the face of the correctee, who, reflecting later on the lesson-learned, often gasped at the realization that they had smiled during what they then realized was not really a smiling moment.
Captain Gerlach was one of the latter leaders.
This coming weekend, at one point during which the Colonel's Rebels will go to war with the Tennessee Volunteers, a small group of the men and women, taught by Gerlach and a handful of other unsung American heroes during the mid to late '70's, will gather in reunion. These former Navy and Marine officers, all with distinguished careers in and out of uniform, will renew acquaintance, reminisce, show off pictures of grandchildren (!), talk bad about those who for one reason or another failed to join them this year, and pause to honor those among their early number whose presence at the gathering is prevented only by their passing.
The Colonel looks forward to this weekend every year, if only for the opportunity to parade his trophy wife, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda.
Oh, and one more thing -- Go Rebs! Beat Tennessee!