It was with considerable sadness that we learned a few weeks back of the passing of our longtime friend and company spokesperson R. Lee Ermey, or as he was better and more affectionately known, The Gunny.
The Gunny was, of all things, a movie star. It’s a little bit hard to see how a man who has made a name for himself by acting in movies could be held in such high regard by so many. Let’s face it – Ermey’s role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket may have been his defining role and anyone who has seen it would have to agree. His performance likely left you blushing a little bit and certainly breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of attending boot camp. Despite his sheer brilliance, that is not to say that this role defined The Gunny at all. He was remembered for his acting but he was only truly defined by his character.
It’s impossible, at times like this, to begin to gauge how much his presence will be missed. For anyone that ever had the privilege to meet the man in person, the experience could only be described as an honor. Gunny had a knack for making each and every person he met feel like they were important to him and, in some little way, I believe they sincerely were. His fans and supporters meant everything to him.
For those who never really had the opportunity to get to know him, the Gunny could best be described as a man that loved his country and his value for those who made it their job to defend her was beyond measure. He loved his family, he enjoyed his collection of firearms and his old Jeep, which he was quick to tell you was nothing fancy- just the way he liked it.
Part of our company’s relationship with The Gunny was his ongoing appearances, on our behalf, in the Rugged Ridge Off-Road Success Center at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas each fall. Despite being in his 70’s, Ermey would tirelessly tend to a never-ending line of fans and admirers for hour after hour and for days on end. Surrounded by military Jeeps and waves of adoring fans, never demanding a break from his post or neglecting to greet every face with a confident smile and a firm handshake. He always seemed to bubble with enthusiasm when one of his more dedicated groupies would beg to be called “maggot” or “scumbag” in that unmistakable stern tone they’d grown to revere. He would never decline and his followers couldn’t get enough.
And then there was the sweet lady who jumped into the line to meet The Gunny at the last minute, right as we were closing down for the day. She knew him, of course, from his role in Full Metal Jacket and was anxious to actually meet him. As we stood there and made conversation during her wait, I mentioned that she should tell The Gunny that she loved him in his role as the Sherriff in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She clearly was not familiar with this obscure role, as most people aren’t. Take my word, this was by all accounts one of the most-vile characters anyone could ever imagine. Fortunately, she was trusting enough and wanted to make a real impression during her brief interaction with him. When she finally reached the front of the que, she delivered her prompted line so well that The Gunny froze, slowly looked up and stared back at her with a look so aghast, as though he might just run for the exit. It was though he could not fathom a female that would find anything appealing in such a despicable role; nonetheless, she was standing in front of him. Impression made!
My own personal observations of R Lee Ermey in the times I was fortunate enough to be around him made a pretty deep impression on me too. The Gunny had given so much of his time over the years lending support to law enforcement and giving of himself for our military troops, that it was very common for fans to show up and spend an hour waiting in line to share just a few moments with him, often holding old pictures of themselves with The Gunny. Photos from a time past when they were stationed overseas or serving on a military base in some bleached-out desert somewhere and The Gunny was there for them. Two soldiers who, despite being world’s apart, shared common values and a mutual respect for the sacrifices each has made for the good of others. The Gunny truly got it and he wanted every soldier to know it.
Ermey’s longtime manager and friend Bill Rogin borrowed from the U.S. Marine Corps Rifleman’s Creed as a written tribute to a man who clearly established himself in a class all his own: “There are many Gunny’s, but this one was OURS. And, we will honor his memory with hope and kindness. Please support your men and women in uniform. That’s what he wanted most of all.”
Semper Fi, Gunny