Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 5th, 2003, 8:37 am #51


...for your post--appreciated!

I spoke to Matt McKeon, briefly, last week--I had been attempting to find him for several years for Marines of Plt #71; however, I had been advised that he passed away, and I had accepted that as factual and abandoned my search, until learning recently that he was still about.

 

Semper Fidelis

Dick Gaines

 
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 16th, 2003, 12:46 am #52

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!
http://www.network54.com/Forum/message? ... 1068917339
http://www.network54.com/Forum/message? ... 1068917339
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will poole
will poole

November 16th, 2003, 6:45 pm #53

hey gunny,
i seen your message that sgt. mckeon had pass away.
i talked to his daughter and son-in-law a few days before. it was a very emotional conversation. they are a very close knit family it seems.
I was very happy i was able to retrieve sgts. phone number and was able to have the conversation with him. i hope other members of the plt. were able to talk to him.
i seen the author of incident at ribbon e-mailed you . i wrote several e-mails to him. and erased them with out sending. just thought i leave sleeping dogs lay.
i've always thought the sgt. was really a good guy. very soft spoken. he just got put in a bad situation.
enough said. good night sgt. mckeon.
will poole
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 16th, 2003, 8:10 pm #54

...might be a good idea if you do write to Stevens--remember, he's not just the author of that book, he's a Marine too!
You're the one who prompted me to call Matt McKeon on the Friday before his death, you know--and I feel better for it, and I was certainly not anywhere near as close to him as you and the other Plt #71 Marines. And, too, S/Sgt McKeon and 1956 has become a part of all of us who were in the Corps back then, and, maybe to a lesser extent, all Marines since.

I want you guys to keep in touch.
Best, and Semper fidleis!
Dick
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 17th, 2003, 12:36 pm #55

17 November

MILINET: Resp "Taps for Mathew C. McKeon"

===============================

Surely there are other 63-year-olds out there who have the same thing to say that I have to say on the passing of SSgt. McKeon.

In 1956 when he disciplined his recruits on Ribbon Creek, I was 16. It hit the news - recruits at P.I. died. With my 17th birthday coming up the next February I was bound and determined to tell my girl friends that I was going to go where people died. And so I did, 35 years later to retire. If I made any contributuion in those 35 years to Country and Corps, Mathew McKeon deserves the credit.

God rest his soul.

Semper Fi,

Mike Wyly
Col., USMC (ret)
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John Stevens
John Stevens

November 18th, 2003, 12:33 am #56

...might be a good idea if you do write to Stevens--remember, he's not just the author of that book, he's a Marine too!
You're the one who prompted me to call Matt McKeon on the Friday before his death, you know--and I feel better for it, and I was certainly not anywhere near as close to him as you and the other Plt #71 Marines. And, too, S/Sgt McKeon and 1956 has become a part of all of us who were in the Corps back then, and, maybe to a lesser extent, all Marines since.

I want you guys to keep in touch.
Best, and Semper fidleis!
Dick
Gunny,

I thought you and the other Marines who knew or knew of Matt McKeon might be interested in the obituary I wrote after attending his funeral last Saturday:
November 15, 2003




On a hardscrabble hill overlooking the rural neighborhood where he was born, Matthew McKeon was buried today. More than a hundred of his friends and family huddled together in the face of the late autumn winds as an admixture of Catholic blessings and Marine Corps salutes paid final tribute to the flawed but noble spirit whose lifeless embodiment was laid to its final rest.

Forty-seven years ago, this same man was reviled by all too many people as a heartless butcher, a sadist whose momentous error of judgment caused six Marine recruits to drown in the black waters of Ribbon Creek. His life thereafter was in many ways an effort to seek redemption for the act that he could never undo. At his court-martial he testified that had he been asked to walk to the gallows he would have done so. A devout man, he prayed every day of his life thereafter for the souls of his lost recruits and for forgiveness.

But there was so much more to this man than was revealed by the publicity surrounding the events from which he derived such notoriety. Until that time he had an unblemished military record, serving in World War II aboard the carrier “Essex” and as a machine gunner on the frigid battlefields at the Chosin Reservoir. He was a battle-tested Marine who had faithfully and honorably served his country in the face of peril.

Matt McKeon was a gregarious man without hint of guile or pretense. Tears flowed down his cheeks as he recounted to me the events of Ribbon Creek forty years earlier. He was faithful to his wife, Betty, loyal to his friends, and loving to his extended family. He never sought to escape responsibility or to cast the burden on others for the deaths at Parris Island. Say what one will, he was a man of character.

Matt McKeon died at his home, quite appropriately on Veterans Day, his family at his side. May he rest in peace enjoying now the redemption never attainable in his lifetime. If there is a place beyond, may he forever be joined in serenity with the six young men who preceded him there.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 18th, 2003, 1:59 am #57

Your words are needed, and appreciated, at this time for the many Marines who will read this.

Again, thank you, Marine.

Semper Fidelis
Dick
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 18th, 2003, 1:07 pm #58

18 November

MILINET: 2nd Resps (3) "Taps for Mathew C. McKeon"

============================================

History and perspective change many things, while time has a tendency to forgive and even forget.

I entered the Marine Corps a few months after April 1956 and arrived at Parris Island when the incident at Ribbon Creek was still fresh in the headlines. I had just turned 17.

I remember seeing McKeon being escorted, in handcuffs, by two MP's and our DI bringing it to our attention by saying he had "...violated the code of Marines...." I did not understand what he meant by that. I wrote a letter to my brother, a USMC captain at the time, teaching the 60mm Mortar at The Basic School in Quantico. I asked him what he knew and what it meant. He replied that he knew McKeon from Korea, and knew him to be a fine Marine with an outstanding combat record. He went on to say that the unfortunate incident at Ribbon Creek will not tarnish the reputation of the Corps, and that he supported the statements made at McKeon's court-martial by LtGen Lewis B. Puller in mitigation of the incident.

Two different perspectives of a Marine and a tragedy that had great impact on our Marine Corps.

I remember for the remainder of my time and training at Parris Island, it seemed that everywhere we looked there was an officer, usually a Field Grade officer, watching and noting every aspect of our training and process to becoming Marines. Everyone was under close scrutiny. I was not sure why, but things were changing even as our Parris Island "adventure" was ongoing.

I don't know what Parris Island was like before "my time" or before Ribbon Creek. I know, however, that we were not "abused" during my training, but did "enjoy" some of the more unorthodox methods of instilling discipline. None of us were the worst for it but took pride in the fact that we graduated from what we considered a "rigorous" experience that tested us, and our reward for passing the test was most worthy-- we were Marines!

In hindsight, I do believe that Ribbon Creek marked a line of demarcation from training practices that may have become a bit arcane, to a more rigorous, structured and evolving program that has proven to be critical in preserving the ethos of Marines that we espouse today. Marines since then, in Vietnam, Beirut, Desert Storm and today in Iraq, have all acquitted themselves with distinction in the finest of Marine Corps traditions and continue to earn the respect of other military forces and the world as an elite, courageous, and disciplined fighting force.

Those of us who hold the title "Marine" and do so with pride, still speak of "Old Corps" versus "New Breed."Â We poke at each other in bravado gesticulation, pontificating on which era was the most arduous-- like bantering for position of who is the "Best of the Best."Â Beneath it all I do believe that we love and respect each other as Marines; and that will always hold true because we share the common bond of having endured a great personal trial and earned the respect and title of Marine.

Mathew C. McKeon has passed away. He was a principal character in a vital chapter in the annals of our history. He served well, at least as well as he knew how. In spite of the tragic training accident that had a life-long impact on McKeon and the Marine Corps, I believe our Corps is better and stronger for it. I salute him and bid him farewell. Semper Fi, Marine!Â

And let us not forget those six recruits from Platoon 71 who perished that fateful day, 8 April 1956. They, too, have served and are worthy of the title, Marine.

Mitchell P. Paradis
MGySgt USMC (Ret)

----------------------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------

Anthony, In April 1956 when I heard the news of the drowning of six recruits at Parris Island I was a Corporal on an APA somewhere in the Pacific Ocean heading for Japan. We heard the news over the loud-speakers. Later we heard that Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant McKeon was being court-martialed. When the book came out later called "Ribbon Creek: The Marine Corps on Trial" I bought the book. There were many at the time that believe McKeon was a good Marine who made a horrible mistake when he took his platoon on a night disciplinary march in the tidal swamps near the rifle range at PI. There was an unusually high tide that night. Major General Chesty Puller testified for the defense stating that Marines did not get enough night-training. None-the-less, McKeon was found guilty and busted to Private. I believe that he made it back to Sergeant before being discharged for a medical problem. I also understand he was remorseful and felt guilty for the rest of his life.

There were a lot of reforms that resulted from the Ribbon Creek incident that prevail to this day. After that Drill Instructors had to be NCO's. Before that a DI could be a PFC and I had two of them. There was closer supervision of recruits by Officers. I didn't see an Officer until my third week. Also, it was about that time that DI's started wearing Campaign Hats.

Semper Fi.
Major Bob Farmer USMC (retired)Â

--------------------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------

November 15, 2003

Tribute to a fallen Marine

by John Stevens

On a hardscrabble hill overlooking the rural
neighborhood where he was born, Matthew McKeon
was buried today. More than a hundred of his
friends and family huddled together in the face
of the late autumn winds as an admixture of
Catholic blessings and Marine Corps salutes paid
final tribute to the flawed but noble spirit
whose lifeless embodiment was laid to its final
rest.

Forty-seven years ago, this same man was reviled
by all too many people as a heartless butcher, a
sadist whose momentous error of judgment caused
six Marine recruits to drown in the black waters
of Ribbon Creek. His life thereafter was in many
ways an effort to seek redemption for the act
that he could never undo. At his court-martial he
testified that had he been asked to walk to the
gallows he would have done so. A devout man, he
prayed every day of his life thereafter for the
souls of his lost recruits and for forgiveness.

But there was so much more to this man than was
revealed by the publicity surrounding the events
from which he derived such notoriety. Until that
time he had an unblemished military record,
serving in World War II aboard the carrier
“Essex” and as a machine gunner on the frigid
battlefields at the Chosin Reservoir. He was a
battle-tested Marine who had faithfully and
honorably served his country in the face of
peril.

Matt McKeon was a gregarious man without hint of
guile or pretense. Tears flowed down his cheeks
as he recounted to me the events of Ribbon Creek
forty years earlier. He was faithful to his wife,
Betty, loyal to his friends, and loving to his
extended family. He never sought to escape
responsibility or to cast the burden on others
for the deaths at Parris Island. Say what one
will, he was a man of character.

Matt McKeon died at his home, quite appropriately
on Veterans Day, his family at his side. May he
rest in peace enjoying now the redemption never
attainable in his lifetime. If there is a place
beyond, may he forever be joined in serenity with
the six young men who preceded him there.

http://www.network54.com/Forum/message? ... 1069115614

Note:
Former Marine John Stevens is the author of,
"Court-martial At Parris island: The Ribbon Creek Incident"

---------------------------------------END RESPONSES----------


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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

November 19th, 2003, 12:14 pm #59

19 November

MILINET: 3rd Resps (2) "Taps for Mathew C. McKeon"

=================================

Thanks, Anthony. I think your email dispatch is a nice tribute to a Marine who was very misunderstood, but stood accountable for his actions in true Marine fashion. I especially like the tribute by John Stevens. It shows that MeKeon was a man of some character after all.

Well done.

Mitch Paradis

-----------------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------

I was a Sergeant, stationed at Headquarters, 12th Marine Corps Reserve & Recruitment District, 100 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA when we heard the news of "Ribbon Creek," and the tragic loss of some Marine Recruit's lives, involving Drill Instructor S/Sgt McKeon.

Of course we were shocked that this could happen, but realized that accidents can, and do happen during the course of training. We were proud to hear that my former regimental commanding officer at the Chosin Reservoir, LtGen Lewis B. (Chesty) Puller would be testifying on behalf of S/Sgt McKeon. May S/Sgt McKeon be remembered for the remorse that he felt, and for the good Marine that he was. God Bless him, and may he rest in eternal peace.


Clyde H. Queen, Sr.
Former S/Sgt USMC

-----------------------------------END RESPONSES--------

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Kevin Coughlin
Kevin Coughlin

November 20th, 2003, 3:22 am #60

Gunny,

I thought you and the other Marines who knew or knew of Matt McKeon might be interested in the obituary I wrote after attending his funeral last Saturday:
November 15, 2003




On a hardscrabble hill overlooking the rural neighborhood where he was born, Matthew McKeon was buried today. More than a hundred of his friends and family huddled together in the face of the late autumn winds as an admixture of Catholic blessings and Marine Corps salutes paid final tribute to the flawed but noble spirit whose lifeless embodiment was laid to its final rest.

Forty-seven years ago, this same man was reviled by all too many people as a heartless butcher, a sadist whose momentous error of judgment caused six Marine recruits to drown in the black waters of Ribbon Creek. His life thereafter was in many ways an effort to seek redemption for the act that he could never undo. At his court-martial he testified that had he been asked to walk to the gallows he would have done so. A devout man, he prayed every day of his life thereafter for the souls of his lost recruits and for forgiveness.

But there was so much more to this man than was revealed by the publicity surrounding the events from which he derived such notoriety. Until that time he had an unblemished military record, serving in World War II aboard the carrier “Essex” and as a machine gunner on the frigid battlefields at the Chosin Reservoir. He was a battle-tested Marine who had faithfully and honorably served his country in the face of peril.

Matt McKeon was a gregarious man without hint of guile or pretense. Tears flowed down his cheeks as he recounted to me the events of Ribbon Creek forty years earlier. He was faithful to his wife, Betty, loyal to his friends, and loving to his extended family. He never sought to escape responsibility or to cast the burden on others for the deaths at Parris Island. Say what one will, he was a man of character.

Matt McKeon died at his home, quite appropriately on Veterans Day, his family at his side. May he rest in peace enjoying now the redemption never attainable in his lifetime. If there is a place beyond, may he forever be joined in serenity with the six young men who preceded him there.
May Almighty God richly bless John Stevens, Dick Gaines, Matt McKeon, his family, the families of the deceased recruits, and all Marines, especially the ones in uniform today going in harm's way.

Semper Fi!
Kevin Coughlin
USMC 2327700
CAP Marine South of Phu Bai
Village of Loc Bon
July '67-April '68
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