The ‘Full Metal Jacket’ Drill Instructor

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R. Lee Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman, the drill instructor, berating Matthew Modine’s Pvt. “Joker” in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket

R. Lee Ermey, the real life U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant who made a significant impression on movie audiences for his portrayal of the drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, in Stanley Kubrick’s dark Vietnam War picture, Full Metal Jacket, died April 15, 2018, from complications of pneumonia at 74. His death was announced on his social media accounts by his longtime manager, Bill Rogin.

Ermey, born in Kansas on March 24, 1944, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1961 at age 17. From 1965 to 1967, he was a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Beginning in 1968, he spent 14 months in Vietnam and then served another decade, based in Okinawa, Japan, as a staff sergeant. He was given a medical discharge in 1972.

Ermey’s first acting role was as a helicopter pilot in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now. Kubrick’ Full Metal Jacket production hired Ermey as a technical advisor but the legendary director ultimately hired him for the role after watching an instructional tape that showed the war veteran berating some of the film’s extras.

The 1987 film’s Sgt. Hartman’s no-nonsense style was so memorable film audiences couldn’t believe they were watching a novice actor. It’s said that Ermey wrote much of his characters extensive speeches, in which he goaded the troops–in particular Vincent D’Onofrio’s dimwitted Private “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence. When giving orders to clean the barracks latrine, Ermey’s character said: “I want that head so sanitary and squared away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump.”

Watch Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman lead his troops (and other scenes)

As the second part of the film begins, the troop is now in Vietnam and Matthew Modine’s Pvt. “Joker” encounters a prostitute in a memorable “Me Love You Long Time” scene that begins with the 1966 Nancy Sinatra smash, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

As Ermey’s manager wrote in announcing his client and friend’s death: “There is a quote made famous in Full Metal Jacket. It’s actually the Riflemen’s Creed. ‘This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.’

“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.

Related: A farewell to those who left us in 2018

Full Metal Jacket is available for streaming or purchase here.

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2 Comments so far

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  1. Dandy
    #1 Dandy 16 April, 2022, 01:21

    Love this film! R, Lee Emery was fantastic! Really liked all his subsequent work too!

    Reply this comment
  2. Gimme Shelter
    #2 Gimme Shelter 16 April, 2023, 05:39

    The second I saw and heard Ermey on film I knew he was the ‘real deal’. You can’t fake that shit. ‘Semper Fi’ !.

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