‘Mail Call’ star Ermey all smiles on Pacific tour
November 7, 2006
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — R. Lee Ermey, the grizzled, hard-core former Marine drill instructor who rose to fame two decades ago in “Full Metal Jacket,” is visiting Japan and Okinawa military bases and appearing as guest speaker at several Marine Corps balls this month.
On Saturday, the 62-year-old actor and retired honorary gunnery sergeant stopped by the Yokota Officers’ Club to chat with base residents, sign autographs and pose for photos. He was at Camp Fuji a day earlier and also toured Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni earlier in his Pacific trip.
After the Yokota stop, Ermey was headed to Okinawa for two weeks to take part in another round of Marine Corps balls.
Ermey spent a dozen years in the Marines, doing a Vietnam tour and two more on Okinawa. Now host of “Mail Call” on The History Channel, he has a new book out with the same title .
“The Marine Corps saved my life back in ’61,” Ermey said, recounting how he had a “little juvenile problem with the law.” He said he enlisted at 17 with his mother’s signature.
“They taught me how to be an honorable human being. It worked out good for me. … I owe the Marine Corps everything.”
According to his Web site, Ermey was studying drama at the University of Manila in the Philippines when legendary director Francis Ford Coppola discovered him while filming “Apocalypse Now” nearby. He’s gone on to star or appear in about 40 films.
“My main objective is to try to get people to realize if you have dreams, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish,” he said.
But unlike others in Hollywood, Ermey says he considers himself a Marine first. He attends up to 15 Marine Corps balls a year.
He said he has the utmost respect for today’s servicemembers and gets the same in return during his many visits.
When he was active duty, Ermey said he was sent to Camp Fuji twice in 1963 and again the following year for short stints. “There was no permanent building or even a fence there back then,” he recalled.
Darlene Roberts, the secretary for Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force, helped arrange Ermey’s Yokota visit.
“It’s nice to see a celebrity take time out, especially for the military,” she said Saturday. “So many negative things are said about the military today. This brings a positive light. For him to come out and do this, it makes you feel great and makes it all worth it in the end.”
Her husband, Charles, a 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron master sergeant, said he’s waited 20 years to meet the former drill instructor, ever since the release of “Full Metal Jacket.”
“Just to see him, it’s overwhelming,” he said. “I didn’t get to meet Patton. That would’ve been nice. But now I’ve met Lee Ermey.”
The U.S. military could take a cue from Ermey’s infamous boot-camp scenes in “Full Metal Jacket,” Charles Roberts added.
“I’d hate to be on the other side of that,” he said, “but we need a whole lot more of that in today’s military.”