Veterans Day observance at church yesterday morning included a video of Bob Hope entertaining troops overseas, and set the Colonel's memory machine whirring back 30 years.
In 1985, the Colonel, then a captain, was in the middle of an assignment at The Basic School (TBS) -- the Corps' basic officer training school through which all brand new Marine second lieutenants pass before going on to their primary military occupational specialty school. After serving as a staff platoon commander in two student companies his first year, the Colonel spent his second year in the Command and Leadership instructor branch teaching Drill and Ceremonies and overseeing the Unarmed Combat Course; not-so perfect preparation for his final assignment on the staff -- Chief of Student Support.
The Colonel isn't sure how the position got that title, or if the position and title still exists. The Chief of Student Support (CSS) at the Basic School in 1985 wasn't "Chief" of anything, and there was little in the actual day-to-day that involved supporting students.
CSS was a catch-all job of disparate responsibilities.
As the school's protocol officer, the Chief of Student Support orchestrated the steady stream of VIP (generals, congressmen, foreign dignitaries, etc.) visits to the world's premier basic military officer training ground.
Each student company -- eight or nine per year -- had a formal Commanding General's Reception, a formal Mess Night, and a formal graduation ceremony -- CSS was responsible for teaching the corresponding preparatory classes and supervised the conduct of each.
A handful of foreign military officers (FMOs) were members of each Basic Officer Class -- CSS was responsible for tracking their comings and goings and official correspondence with their respective embassies. One particularly interesting requirement was to take all twenty-five or thirty FMOs to a pre-season Redskins game -- that experience, alone, is gist for several blog posts!
CSS was also nominally charged with purview of the administrative section that maintained each second lieutenant's nascent record book -- the Officer Qualification Record. The Personnel Officer, a crusty old warrant officer, invited the Colonel into his office for a cup of coffee right after he was assigned the CSS job and told him that he had an open invitation to come drink a cup of joe anytime. Otherwise, he'd let the Colonel know if there was ever a problem.
There never was.
The Basic School had a flag football team that played in the Quantico base league. After a disappointing start to the season, the Commanding Officer called the Colonel into his office and commissioned him "Coach." The Colonel played more than he coached, and the season remained in the "disappointing" category.
But, perhaps the duty for which the Colonel was most unprepared was supervision of the Basic School Chorus. The Chorus, 40 or 50 lieutenants with more ambition than skill, performed at formal events -- mostly Mess Nights at which they..., ahem..., excelled at bawdy drinking songs. And, that leads us back to Hope.
Bob Hope was one of six honorees at the 1985 Kennedy Center Honors. For Hope's portion of the evening, the producers of the show invited each service's choral group to perform in a uniformed ensemble salute.
There was only one problem with that.
The Marine Corps ain't got no dedicated choral group.
We got a band. Even got a Marine of two in that band who can sing a drinking song solo. But, we ain't got no bunch o' singin' Jarheads...
When the Commandant of the Marine Corps was told that the Corps wasn't going to be represented on the stage that night, he remembered a recent Mess Night at TBS for which he had been the Guest of Honor.
The Basic School Chorus sang that night for the Commandant.
The next morning, shortly after the CO of TBS got off the phone with the Commandant, the Colonel was called into his office and told that The Basic School Chorus was going to sing for Bob Hope.
And, oh, by the way, President Reagan was going to be sitting next to Hope.
The Colonel remembers a lot of trips to a lot of bosses' offices to receive a lot of off-the-wall assignments, but he remembers none for which he felt so completely unprepared.
The Colonel must have blanched at the assignment, because the C.O. quickly reassured, "Don't sweat it, Ed, the other services will do the singing. The lieutenants will just be there to be seen."
So, on December 8th, 1985, the Colonel and the Basic School Chorus bussed up to D.C., spent a long day in rehearsal, and then provided Marine window dressing for the event.
If you check out the video of the 1985 Kennedy Center Honors program -- particularly the part honoring Bob Hope -- you'll see Marine second lieutenants on stage lustily lip-synching "Thanks for the Memories" for Bob Hope. What you won't see on that stage is Captain Gregory lip-synching -- lustily or otherwise.
You see, the Colonel was one of approximately eighty hard-chargin' Marine captains assigned to teach brand new second lieutenants at TBS. By and large, the Colonel being one of a few notable exceptions, the captains assigned to teach at The Basic School were "the best of the best." There was no little egotistical chest-bumping among that crowd, as you can well imagine.
There wasn't about to be photographic evidence of the Colonel singing. There would have been no end to the grief from his fellow captains.
So, instead, the Colonel (in his dress blues, mind you) stayed backstage during the show.
But, backstage was where the action was!
The Colonel (thanks entirely to the aforementioned dress blues) was the center of attraction. Lucille Ball gave him a hug. Michelle Lee gave him a hug. Carol Burnett gave him a hug. The Colonel shook hands with Walter Cronkite, Jimmy Stewart, Chevy Chase, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rex Harrison, and Kirk Douglas.
Did the Colonel mention that Lucy gave him a hug?
Thanks for the memories, Bob!