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They're out to get the Marine Corps once again.

Here was this full column story out of Washington by Eric Schmitt in The New York Times the other day with the headline, "For Marines, Dining Room Has Priority."

With that headline you sort of knew what was coming. The subhead corroborated suspicions: "Corps Chief Is Having $45,000 Room Built."

According to the Times, when the Marines move into new quarters in the Pentagon from their HQ at Arlington in an old warehouse, the commandant will be the only member of the Joint Chiefs not to have his own dining room. And so despite offers of hospitality from the Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral Jeremy M. Boorda said he'd be glad to share his dining room with Marine General Charles Krulak), the Marine Corps is going ahead with an outrageous project to build a dining room of their own.

Neither reporter Schmitt nor anyone else seemed to find it extraordinary that they are actually going to be able do this for a lousy 45 grand at a time when carpenters are making Bill Gates money. But let's forget the dough for the moment; do the Marines really need a dining room?

Said Colonel Fred Peck:

"The last thing we want is to invite Senator Chafee over for lunch, find out the dining room is full and have to take him to McDonald's."

Since John Chafee is a very senior Republican senator, a former Secretary of the Navy and a veteran Marine combat officer in two wars (to say nothing of being a Yale man!), I should hope not.

According to the Times, for their 45 thousand the Marines are going to get not only a room, but the removal of two walls containing asbestos, the construction of two new walls, four new doorways, the moving of other doorways, plus purchase and installation of cabinets, a pantry, ceiling lighting, table, chairs, drapes, wallpaper and other furnishings.

Martha (by God!) Stewart couldn't get all that for $45,000 and I think instead of beating up on poor General Krulak and the Corps, someone ought to strike a medal.

At NASA they'll spend millions on an anti-gravity toilet seat and the Air Force thousands on a monkey wrench and the Marines are able to build and decorate what is apparently a fairly large dining room and pantry and do it for under $50,000, which strikes me as quite a feat.

But that's the Marine Corps for you. Thrifty. Compared with the other branches of the American military, the USMC is sort of like European ski resorts. Over there it is said that when the cable for a French ski lift wears out they sell it to the Swiss and when the Swiss consider the cable no longer safe they sell it to the Austrians and so on down the line until Cortina d'Ampezzo or some other Italian resort buys the cable and declares itself pleased to have it and at such a good price.

An old Marine fighter pilot of my acquaintance, Captain Ramon Gibson of Texas, flew propeller-driven Corsairs in Korea in 1951 when our Air Force and Navy were flying jets and the bad guys had brand new MiGs. Ray told me there was a solemn pact among Marine aviators that if one of them by any fluke succeeded in actually shooting down an enemy jet, the other Marines would shoot down the offending Corsair because otherwise the Marine Corps, as much in love with a bargain as the Italian ski resorts, would buy a hundred more second-hand Corsairs and the Marines would still be flying them in the Second Interplanetary War.

Although we had M-1 Garand rifles in Korea, which dated back only to World War II, some Marines were still lugging Springfield ought-threes, named for the year they were first issued, 1903. I mean, we're talking Boer War era here; we're talking Sergeant York here; we're talking old! Of course I must admit the guys with the ought-threes liked them because they were for their time, and maybe forever, one of the greatest sniper rifles ever produced. You put a good scope on those babies and you could hit a man in the head 5,000 yards away (about three miles).

I don't know much about tanks but the Marine Corps is always one generation behind the Army. They get the new tanks and pass on their trade-ins to the Marines. If the Marines won't take them, they melt them down. The Haitian Army wouldn't take stuff the Marines discard.

At late as 1952 I can report from personal knowledge, while the American Army was all togged out in those combat boots that take such a nice shine, Marines were still wearing boondockers, leather workshoes of a sort with the rough side of the leather out, with yellow canvas leggings. The first day you're in the Marine Corps consists of people shoving needles into both arms which are then consequently so swollen and feverish that your fingers don't work. The second day you learn how to put on leggings. And it's a long day, I assure you. The Chinese army had a nickname for the Marines in Korea. Never mind "leatherneck." They called us, "yellow-legs."

I kind of liked that because it clearly differentiated us from the Army and to a Marine, that's always a desirable thing.

Further to this business of spartan economies, I thought Captain Chafee had taken a seizure and gone mad when, in the middle of a Korean winter, up in the mountains, with a couple of feet of snow on the ground, he passed on to us platoon leaders an order to "police up the brass." I kid you not, anytime a Marine fired a shot, he was to retrieve the brass shell casing to be turned in and recycled.

So I salute General Krulak for sticking to his guns and getting himself a damned dining room over there in the Pentagon. With all the money we've saved by flying Corsairs and driving old tanks and wearing canvas leggings and picking up the brass out of the snow, 45 grand sounds like a bargain.

So get off our case, Schmitt! And let's not have senators eating Big Macs with the general!

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