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Ribbon Creek PISC Plt #71 1956 S/Sgt Matt McKeon USMC

September 29 2002 at 12:15 PM
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Dick Gaines  (no login)
from IP address 209.130.221.66

 
The following is from

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/usmchist/parris.txt

"Despite the great care thus used in the selection of men assigned to
train recruits, a tragedy resulting from the grievous errors of judgment of a
junior drill instructor occurred on Parris Island in April 1956. Various
regulations and standing orders of the post were violated at the same time.

The offending DI was Staff Sergeant Matthew C. McKeon, assigned to Platoon 71,
"A" Company, 3d Recruit Training Battalion.<81> On Sunday night, 8 April,
between 2000 and 2045, he marched 74 men of Platoon 71 from their barracks to
Ribbon Creek, one of the tidal streams on Parris Island, and led the men into
the water. Some of them got into depths over their heads, panic ensued, and
six recruits drowned in the resulting confusion.

The ostensible purpose of
the march was to teach the recruits discipline.<82> A court of inquiry was convened the next day by Major General Joseph C.
Burger, Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, to
investigate the circumstances. Evidence presented to the court showed that
Sergeant McKeon had graduated from the Drill Instructors' School in February
1956, ranking 14th in a class of 55 graduates; a total of 90 students had
begun the course in his class.

He had been screened by the Psychiatric
Observation Unit on 3 January 1956 and given the highest possible rating on
"motivation," "emotional stability," and "hostility factors," and a
better-than-average rating on "achievement." The conclusion of the
psychiatric unit was that McKeon was a mature, stable appearing career
Marine."<83> 16



The court was of the opinion, after considering all the evidence brought
before it, that the directives governing the recruit-training program were
correct and adequate.<84> These directives, which went into some detail in
prohibiting oppression of recruits and in forbidding training operations in
the nature of punishment, were repeatedly impressed upon students in the Drill
Instructor's School and upon senior and junior drill instructors.<85> In the
opinion of the court, supervision of the training program was adequate.<86>

The court's findings of fact and its opinions based on these findings placed
the blame for the accident squarely on Sergeant McKeon, who, "in conducting an
unauthorized and unnecessary march by night into an area of hazard...which
resulted in the deaths of six brother Marines, not only broke established
regulations but violated the fine traditions of the noncommissioned officers
of the United States Marine Corps and betrayed the trust reposed in him by his
Country, his Corps, his lost comrades and the families of the dead."<87> It
recommended, among other that the sergeant be tried by general
court-martial.<88> After making certain clarifying and supplementary remarks, General Burger
approved the proceedings, findings, opinions, and recommendations.<89>

When the record of proceedings of the court of inquiry was reviewed by
the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Randolph McC. Pate, he was of the
opinion that the court's action in the case had not gone as far as it should
have. The degree of guilt attributable to Sergeant McKeon, he believed, was
only part of the question.

The Marine Corps itself was on trial in a moral
sense for the death of the six recruits, in his opinion, and he believed that
a reorganization of training procedures at Parris Island, "insofar as the
supervision thereof is concerned," was necessary.<90> Thus, a separate recruit training command was established at Parris
Island, to be commanded by a brigadier general selected by the Commandant and
reporting directly to him.

In this way, the Commandant could "personally
control and monitor the steps which must be taken to insure more effective
supervision of our recruit training system." A similar recruit training
command was to be established at San Diego. Each of these recruit training
commands was to be staffed with specially selected officers "to supervise and
monitor but not to supplant the drill instructors" in the training of
recruits.

At Headquarters Marine Corps, in Washington, the Commandant
appointed an Inspector General of Recruit Training to assist him in the close
supervision of this new administrative machinery. These extraordinary
measures would remain in effect, he said, until he was convinced that no
reasonable objection could be made to the Marine Corps training program.<91> 17





Thus Sergeant McKeon's ill-fated march set off immediate repercussions
which shook Marine Corps training from top to bottom. Moreover, an
uninterrupted flood of publicity by the press, radio, and television literally
divided the entire country into two opposing camps, those who condemmed McKeon
for what had happened and those who sympathized with him.

It was in this glare of public gaze that McKeon's court-martial began at
Parris Island on 16 July 1956. A noted New York trial counsel, Emile Zola
Berman, undertook the sergeant's defense before the military court. For three
weeks, the battle ebbed and flowed, concerned as much with the propriety of
the rationale and practices of Marine Corps training as with McKeon's
responsibility for the Ribbon Creek affair. Witnesses came forward to defend
Marine training, others came forth to condemn it.

The defense presentation
culminated in the appearance on the stand of retired Lieutenant General Lewis
B. Puller and the Commandant of the Marine Corps himself.

Finally, on 4 August 1956, the court handed down its decision: McKeon
was acquitted of charges of manslaughter and oppression of troops; he was
found guilty of negligent homicide and drinking on duty. The sentence was a
fine of $270, nine months confinement at hard labor as a private and a
bad-conduct discharge from the Marine Corps. Upon review by the Secretary of
the Navy, the sentence was reduced to three months hard labor and reduction to
the rank of private; the discharge was set aside and the fine remitted.

Having already served part of his term prior to sentencing, McKeon was
released from custody on 19 October 1956 and restored to duty commensurate
with his reduced rank. By then, most of the public tumult had died, but there
was little doubt that 8 April 1956 had become an historic date in the history
of Marine Corps training, whether it be at Parris Island or elsewhere. The
drownings at Ribbon Creek had brought the training system of the Corps to
public attention in an exceedingly unfavorable light. The Marine Corps,
normally a strictly voluntary organization, had always derived much of its
strength and prestige from the confidence reposed in it by the general
citizenry of the United States.

If this confidence, which had been seriously
shaken in many sectors of the populace, could not be restored, the general
cause of the Corps would suffer. In the 41 years of its existence as a major
center of Marine training, Parris Island had never faced a more serious
challenge; for now, in addition to its primary mission of training new
Marines, it was of utmost importance to assure the American people, by the
power of example, that the rigors of recruit discipline and work were
sufficiently tempered by humanity and common sense as to prevent the
recurrence of tragedies such as Ribbon Creek.


18



Basically, nothing was wrong with recruit training at Parris Island, but
some changes were instituted in training procedures, customs, and philosophy.
Most of the changes can be traced to the objective of saving for the drill
instructor his over-all authority while eliminating every reason that might
cause him to abuse it.<92> Drill instructors were more carefully selected, and a special school was
established to assure that only the best of them became recruit trainers.


Three instructors were assigned each recruit platoon instead of two, while
extra pay of $30 a month was provided each DI to help compensate him for the
extra hours his job required. All training was closely supervised by a team
of officers to seek ways of improving procedures so as to best provide the
type of Marine recruit graduate desired. Drill instructors were directed to
put a greater premium on example, persuasion, psychology, and leadership in
bringing a platoon of recruits into shape.<93>

A special training unit was set up at Parris Island to take care of
recruits with specific problems. A conditioning platoon, designed to take
care of those overweight, provided special diet and proper exercise to help
its members lose up to 30 pounds within three weeks. A motivation platoon for
the recalcitrants and a proficiency platoon for the slow learners were
established.

A strength platoon provided for those requiring special
exercises to build up flabby muscles, and a hospital platoon took care of
those requiring medical attention. More than three-fourths of the recruits
sent to such special platoons return to their regular platoons to successfully
complete the training program.

The Marine Corps does not give up on a recruit
until he has had thorough physical and psychiatric examinations and has had
repeated interviews and careful study by a board of officers. Most of them
get through boot camp, with the rejection rate about 4-1/2 percent at Parris
Island in 1959.<94> There is general agreement that the basic training at Parris Island is
professionally excellent and that the physical training is the best in the
history of the Recruit Depot.

It may not be like the 'old Corps,' but Parris
Island is turning out Marines mentally and physically ready to maintain, and
even enhance, the reputation of the Marine Corps. In the words of Commandant
David M. Shoup, "The Marines we are turning out at Parris Island today can cut
the mustard with any Marine who ever lived and fought.<95>


ADDENDUM:
From Gunny G's Maverick Marines....



R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952-72
<>
Gunny G's Marines Sites & Forums!


 
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Dick Gaines
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209.130.221.66

Platoon # 71 Are You Out There? Your comments please...

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September 29 2002, 12:17 PM 

nm

 
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george lauer
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209.246.103.88

platoon # 60-4th battalion-feb-to-may-1956

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December 6 2002, 6:46 PM 

my platoon went through irt at camp giehger,n.c
with platoon # 71. june or july of 56, so long ago i cant remember the exact dates. i know we awaited
transfer from parris island because of the drownings and the investigation that was to come
later on. my di at pi was sgt.m.gonzales.
i made buddies with one of those guys from platoon # 71 but for the heck of me i cant
remember his name- o'niel or something like that.
he was from new jersey. i still have my graduation
book with all the names of my platoon in it from
parris island. great bunch of guys platoon # 71.
they could hack it with the best of us. enough of
my rambling. god bless all of you.
george lauer

 
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gene ervin
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128.114.166.108

platoon 71

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February 9 2003, 1:10 AM 

Hey Gunny,
I'm Gene Ervin from platoon 71. I was the Right Guide for the platoon when we went through in the
winter/spring of '56. I don't know whether you have had the occasion to read a fine book on the incident written by Judge John Stevens from Massachusetts. He wrote the book from a trial standpoint, himself being a lawyer. I'm mentioned in the book several times and I contacted him a couple of years ago.
the name of the book is " Incident at Ribbon Creek " by John C. Stevens published by Naval Press Institute.
Semper Fi
Gene Ervin

 
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Dick G
(Login Dick Gaines)
Forum Owner
209.130.218.4

Hi, Gene....

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February 11 2003, 9:19 AM 

I was hoping you'd see this--lost your e-mail and addy from a couple years ago--hoping this gets you and others in contact w/one another!

SemperFidelis

Dick Gaines

 
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frank fernandez
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141.149.238.7

plt #55

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July 28 2003, 1:57 PM 

GENE,i was in platoon 55 next door to you.i was once a runner for sgt mckeon,when he was on week end duty.we were out marching around when whistles started blowing.we had no ideal what had happened.everthing changed for a couple of days.i understand you took a lot of hell at geiger and where ever you went.you did not deserve it.i hope the rest of your enlistment was better.semper fi

 
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gene ervin
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128.114.166.72

Hey Gunny

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September 8 2003, 5:17 AM 

hey Dick...I was scanning through google.com and came across this site again. I'm glad you're still out there. I got in touch with Jay Stevens who wrote the book on McKeon. get in touch with me at my email and let's cover ground since our last conversation a few years back.
Semper Fi
Gene Ervin Plt 71 1956

 
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frank fernandez
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129.44.206.40

plt #55

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September 9 2003, 9:26 AM 

gene,just wondering if you got e-mail i sent you

 
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Gene Ervin
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128.114.166.72

Hey Frank

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September 20 2003, 5:05 AM 

Frank..I haven't received any Eamils from you yet.
Get back to me at my hotmail address when you have time. What state are you in?

 
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Dick Gaines
(Login Dick Gaines)
Forum Owner
24.99.13.138

Hey. Gene....

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September 10 2003, 5:18 AM 

E=Mail sent to you!
Dick Gaines

 
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william poole
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24.131.98.24

plt71 1956

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September 14 2003, 2:07 PM 

hey gene,
your the very first person from the plt. that i've ran across since boot camp. And we both know how long thats been. i'm curious to know if theres ever been a reunion on the guys from 71. i've watched the leatherneck mag. for several years and have never seen anything. i'm retired from a firm here in ohio now and have a lot of time for the computor. so if you see this give a buzz at my e-mail.

semper- fi

william poole

 
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gene ervin
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128.114.166.72

hey bill

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September 20 2003, 5:01 AM 

Hey there....I remember you, Poole. I was the Right Guide. It's been a while, but I can remember your name adn I have a foggy recollection of how you looked. Do you remember John Sapp from Savannah? I think he was in our platoon...or maybe I met him in ITR.
Get back in touch if you get this.
Gene Ervin
Semper Fidelis

 
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wiil poole
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24.131.98.24

gene, plt guide

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September 27 2003, 9:18 AM 

hi gene, glad you got my e-mail, iwas in the 7th or 8th squad. can't remember which one. ronny geckle and thomas was in my squad. your the first person other than dick drown i've talked to from the plt. i went to jacksonville fla. after we left p.i.
i'm retired now. just loafing all day. how you doing . have you talked to others from 71.
i never knew what happened to sgt. mckeon until i read the book " incedent at ribbon creek" i'm glad it worked out for mckeon. i really think he was a good guy. will poole

 
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gene ervin
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63.249.97.89

Hey Poole

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September 9 2005, 1:35 AM 


Hey Poole,
Gene Ervin here. I was just visiting Gunny's site and saw your name. It's been two years since we spoke. How are you and how's everything where you are since the onslaught of hurricane Katrina. Man, what wrath she brought !
I hope all is well with you and yours.
It's coming up on 50 years since the Incident at Ribbon Creek. I heard that we might be invited back there on that day to commemorate those six men and Sgt. Mac.

Write me back if you get this message.
Semper Fidelis
Gene Ervin, USMC 1956-1960

"Let it roll like a big wheel
down in a Georgia cottonfield. Honey hush."
Big Joe Turner c.1951

 
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will poole
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24.131.98.24

parris island

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September 20 2005, 4:34 PM 

Hey Gene,
Scanning and seen your message. Every Things going quite well for myself, Hope your doing well your self. Yea i can't believe its been 5o years since we made the trip through Parris Island. It would be sorta nice if we could have some type of reunion to remember our six comrades. I'll be 67 years old this comming Febuary so that means every one should be 68 - 69. I joined on my 17 birthday. Idon't know how many would be able [ health wise ] to join us. i still work out every day so i'm am in pretty good shape[for a old man]. You know it would be great if Judge Stevens, The judge who wrote "court Martial At Parris Island' could join us. If you see this answer me and maybe we can get something going. I'm not sure How we could get in touch with anyone else. Richard Drown is Still in Huntington, West Virginia. I don't know about any one else.
William Poole

 
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gene ervin
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68.167.178.192

platoon 71

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October 10 2005, 12:27 AM 

hey Bill..................I just read your post of Sept 20th and thought I'd get back to you. I'm still waiting to hear from Judge Stevens about getting together in P.I. for a rememberance of those 6 guys who died. All these years, no one has said anything about them. Their memory has been supressed because Sgt. Mac was still carrying this around with him and out of respect, the 6 were put on the back burner. Well, we're coming up on 50 years and I believe it's time that these guys got some recognition and closure with all of us who are still alive.
Stay in touch.
Gene Ervin
Plt 71

 
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william poole
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24.131.98.24

plt 71 reunion

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November 16 2005, 9:02 PM 

Hey Gene,
Sorry it took so long to get back to you but, i've been quite busy,
I took a new job a few weeks ago and they have kept me pretty busy.
I tried retirement but it just didn't fit. I still go to the gym daily but it just wasn't enough.
You know Gene i've been re-thinking the memorial thing for the six that didn't come back from Ribbon Creek. Something you said left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm Sure you didn't mean it that way but when you said the six were left on the back burner because Sgt. Mckeon was still alive sorta made me feel a little guilty. You know one thing kept comming to the front of my mind over the years. I wonder What those six would say about the events leading up to their deaths if we could freeze time for 1 minute and get their comments. I would like to know if they thought Sgt. Mckeons actions were justified. Even if justice prevailed at his court martial. You know no matter how we feel about him the fact remains that six innocent recruits died. I to this day don't know if we were that, as a platoon, out of control or if it was just alcohol that got us into the swamp. I never thought that it was a general practice to take platoons into Ribbon Creek.I Thought than that was a fabrication and i still do. That would make it just a really bad decision on his part. A decision undoubtly made partly because of the alcohol.
What i'm leading to is, it seems a little to have a memorial. Let me know how you feel about this.
I still believe Sgt. Mckeon was one fine Marine. After talking to him shortly before his death i know how he felt about the whole thing.
William Poole






 
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will poole
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24.131.98.24

sgt. mckeon

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October 24 2003, 4:48 PM 

hey gene
thought i drop a line and let you know i just talked to sgt. mckeon this morning. he remembered me and the plt. his wife said he was just diagnosed with throat cancer and she said it is terminal. if you want to call i'm enclosing his phone #. 1-508-835-4351. he lives in mass. thank you and semper fi
will poole

 
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Richard Desmarais
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68.227.190.6

Sgt. Mckeon

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December 6 2003, 10:48 PM 

Just to let you know that my wifes uncle Matty passed away on Veterans Day Nov 11, 2003

 
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george f donahue usmc 1951-54
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24.50.106.56

memory of sgt mat mc keon

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December 27 2003, 11:26 AM 

my heavy machine gun was assigned to sgt mckeon's rifle platoon during the last week of the korean war in july 1953. he was an outstanding platoon sgt,and very popular with his men. it turned out that we lived 40 miles away from each other in massachusetts I remember him checking positions even when we were under heavy fire. his presence was an inspiration to all. Our paths never crossed again,but I believe that joe buckley of brookline,mass used to hear from him. I was saddened today(dec 27,03) to find out that he passed on nov 11,o3 .I hope that some member of his family will come across this article . I just wanted them to know what a fine human being and an outstanding Marine mathew C.Mckeon was.

Semper Fi,

george f donahue Dec27,o3


 
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