Letter to Lee
With the entire world at war in the 1940s, the Marvin family did their part in the fight against the fascist Axis. Oldest son Robert enlisted in the army at the outbreak of WWII, while Lee joined the Marines before finishing high school. Marvin family patriarch Monte was also desperate to get into the fight and had sought out the advice of his sons. Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank are fully aware of the touching letter Lee wrote his father on the subject, but what of Monte’s response?
As shown in the letter to Lee below, by early April 1943, Monte had pretty much made up his mind and wrote both of his sons back telling them so. At the time, Lee had just become his company’s platoon sergeant — a position he did not hold very long — and had then sought out his father’s advice on how to perform his duties. Having been in a similar position in an earlier war, Monte delicately yet firmly advised his son. Between the lines, one can easily read Monte’s anxiousness to get in the war, his concern for his son, and his hopes for the future….
Civilian Lamont ‘Monte’ Marvin (left) poses with his son Lee (right), who had just completed his Marine Corp. basic training in December, 1942.
I have just received your letter and hasten to answer in view of the questions you ask me. First, though, I want to thank you for your excellent opinions on the matter of my getting back into the army. Robert also wrote me a fine letter expressing much the same view. I went to the recruiting station today and they felt I should apply for a commission as a new order came out on the subject about a month ago. In any case, they said they were sure they could get a waiver on my age if I don’t make out on the commission. I have to apply for it in NY, as that is where we live, so will see them tomorrow afternoon. Lacking a college education may stand in my way, as it has in past attempts, so in that case I shall probably enlist very soon. Even though Mother will be very lonely, she thinks it is the best thing for me to do.
But whether I do anything about it or not, just receiving those two letters means much to me. I shall always keep them as reminders of what fine sons I have, not that I need any reminders though.
Now Lee, as to your new job. It is difficult as hell to tell you how to handle a bunch of roughnecks, or is it leathernecks. But the first thing you need to have a clear understanding about is your duties and responsibilities. I am sure you know these. If you have any questions on this point, seek an opportunity to talk with your superior on the subject. He knows you are new at it and such a discussion at the outset is very much in order. But once having had that talk, don’t keep running back to him. If you do, he’ll begin to wonder whether you can handle the job. Then knowing your duties and responsibilties , carry them out to the letter. If it is your job to get the men out for roll call, then get them out. It is better to do that then to report them absent if they are in the barracks. If they are out of sight, however, there is nothing you can do about that. If you let them stay in bed, depending upon reporting them absent you are placing a burden upon your lieutenant because he is not supposed to bother with things like that. Of course, I don’t know what the Marine rules are as to physically handling the men but I remember when I got in the army we didn’t oversleep because we would get batted over the feet with a club. As you say, you can’t give them an inch. You will simply have to go through the barracks and herd them out if necessary. But don’t make a habit of that either, because then they may come to depend upon being prodded all the time.
Having been a Lieutenant in WWI, Monte Marvin eventually joined the army in his forties as a sergeant in WWII stationed in Europe.
It is hard as the devil to give you any general rules that work in particular cases. The only thing to do when any of these situations comes up is to quickly figure out what your duty is, and then do it, just as quickly. Your 180 lbs of weight will help, but don’t throw it around. Don’t make any unreasonable requirements of your men, and be fair and square with them, remembering nevertheless that the Service comes first, personal consideration second. Don’t be wise with them, or overbearing, just quiet, efficient, and goddam firm. If you let them get away with it once, they will be back for more. Above all, don’t ever let them get the idea that you have to lean on the lieutenant to get them to obey. You make them obey because you are the platoon sergeant! Any outfit that requires a lot of punishment is not a very good outfit. Well handled outfits need little of that, and it’s all due to the officers and non-coms.
The reason I am giving you some of the finer points is because I know you can handle the job. The one iron-bound rule to follow at all times is if it is your job to see that they do certain things, you make them do it, even if you have to pick them up and lam them down. That is the reason for your being in the job. Do as little reporting as possible. See to it that you don’t have to report anyone. Of course, for any infraction of the rules which is beyond your responsibility, you should then report it.
Now don’t think I am criticizing you for reporting the four men who stayed in their bunks. That was the proper thing to do at the beginning, before you had a chance to establish yourself with the men. But try not to have to do it too often. Of course, if you come across a guy who is unmanageable, turn him when you are convinced you can’t handle him. But I doubt you will have anyone like that to deal with. As for the dirty rifles, make them clean them, and make them keep them clean. Because when the lieutenant inspects the platoon, it will be your responsibility if the rifles are dirty. At least you should feel it is your responsibility. Then you will always have an outfit that is on its toes.
I really shouldn’t have gone into such detail because you have what it takes. You really don’t need much advice. You have been in the Marines long enough to see how a good sergeant handles himself. It was just that I wanted to give you a few points because I feel you might eventually have a chance at officers school. They are looking for guys like you. Of course, in the Marines, they require that the officers have a lot of real hard experience and the place to get that is is in the ranks, not in officers training school. Then too, they want leaders, and leaders are usually quiet guys. They don’t throw their weight around too much but they are always there in a pinch.
So good luck to you, son. I know you will make the grade. And we are all proud of you! Keep me advised. Love from us all,
Lee and Monte Marvin pose for LIFE Magazine’s photographer in the Woodstock family home in 1965.