When I was younger, my father and I debated who was the greatest movie hero ever. Dad is a John Wayne man, and I’ve always been partial to Clint Eastwood. All respect to The Duke. A legendary icon. Maybe it was a generational thing, but between Dirty Harry, Philo Beddoe and the various awesomely grumpy old man parts he’s played in the last couple of decades, Eastwood is still my guy.
One of my favorite Eastwood movies is his Heartbreak Ridge, where he played Marine Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway…Gunny Highway.
Though the ‘love story’ in Heartbreak Ridge is almost tacked on as an afterthought, there’s plenty of good military marriage advice offered by Gunny. Even if he didn't intend to offer it.
(Spoiler alert: Questionable language and judgment to follow…)
“Well, it seemed like the thing to do, Sir.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Yeah, life can be grueling and routine…punishingly monotonous even. Even the most overscheduled couple can afford some wacky spontaneity once in a while.
“Sergeant, you get that contraband stogie out of my face, before I shove it so far up your ass, you’ll have to set fire to your nose to light it.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Once you start cutting corners or down the slippery slope of minor ethical lapses, all hell follows. You wake up one day and don’t even recognize yourself anymore. Stay the course. If you have to ask, “Is (texting an old flame, looking at questionable material online, etc.) cheating?”, the answer is probably ‘yes’.
“I’ll never tell, at least not while the sun’s shining.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Keep most of your personal stuff on a 'need to know' basis. Gossip is some military folks’ cure for boredom. Don’t feed the monster. Close friends, family. Yeah, everyone needs to share sometimes to get things off their chests. But don’t air your (or others’) dirty laundry if you can help it..
“It’s clusterf*%k. Marines are fighting men, Sir. They shouldn’t be sitting around on their sorry a**** filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.” - Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Take care of the important stuff. Core essentials should be the only priority. Everything else is just time consuming noise. Don’t get too worked-up over largely inconsequential nonsense.
I’m not sure I like the way you say “Marine”. – Gunny Highway
I can say “Marine” any damn way I choose. I earned that right. – Aggie, Highway’s Ex-wife
“That’s right. You have.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Military spouses endure a lot of grief. Deployments. Moving all the time. They shouldn’t be a bunch of bellyaching crybabies, but stuff builds up. Servicemembers should expect a little blowback from time to time. Spouses have earned that right.
“…where we proceed to get the clap and the drip and the crabs…and generally a poor attitude towards the female of the specie.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Don’t give your spouse an STD.
“This is the AK-47 assault rifle, the preferred weapon of your enemy; and it makes a distinctive sound when fired at you, so remember it.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Over time, you will learn to recognize a tone of voice or a facial expression that your spouse uses…only in the event of war. Tread very carefully when you see it.
“Sir, I'll wait outside for the MPs to come.” –Swede Johanson (who just confronted Gunny and got his tail handed to him in seconds)
“Negative, Johanson. You're going to become a Marine, right now.” –Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Marriage is tough. Especially when you add kids to the equation. You may often feel like heading for the hills, running away from home, whatever. Marriage is easy when it’s all honeymoons and hugs. Real marriage starts when the going gets rough.
“Jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft is not a natural act. So do it right, and enjoy the view.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Some people say the same thing about monogamy, that it’s unnatural, an artificial social construct. Hey, enjoy the view. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’ve become blind to the natural (and, um, artificial) beauty/beauties around you. But do marriage right. It doesn’t matter where you get hungry, only that you come home for dinner. (Side note to my wife: Gunny said this, not me.)
“Sensual communication, meaningful…(growl)…panther piss.” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Your servicemember might have gooey insides and really want to be your Sensitive New Age Guy In Shining Armor. But don’t be surprised if your servicemember, whose business is warfare, isn’t always ready to talk about his feelings.
“I’m afraid I’ll dent that think skull of yours with this frying pan.” – Aggie, Highway’s Ex-wife
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time for that now, would it?” – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: Physical violence between spouses is a pretty good sign that things have passed the point of no return. Still, many things that seem monumental and catastrophic at the time might be just the things that you both laugh over years later.
"What did you want out of our relationship?” - Gunny Highway
“Relationship? Hell, I thought we were married.” – Aggie, Highway's Ex-wife
Gunny says: More often than not, marriage is a life-management partnership. Domestic tranquility, bills, shopping and errands. And kids’ homework and sports and birthday parties and bedtimes. Even if your life has become more ‘running around’ than ‘romantic comedy’, just don’t forget to keep the relationship alive, if only for fleeting moments.
"You can run me...and you can starve me...and you can beat me and you can kill me. Just don't bore me." – Gunny Highway
Gunny says: The Hurt Locker opens with a quote, “…war is a drug.” Not every servicemember is an adrenaline junkie, but being in the military is more of an identity than a job. A reflection of who you are. Keep that in mind. There’s no avoiding the fact that life can’t be fireworks and adventure all of the time. Just don’t make it ‘none of the time’.