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February 24, 1972 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1972-02-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Thursday, FebrCiary 24, 1 9 7 2 rHE MICHIGAN DAILY rage five

........................ _...

"I

Thursday, February '24, 1912

I HE MICHIGAN DAILY

,-,696 F-fV461

Pershing

Rifles:

ROTC's

real

life

tin

soldiers

"I guess we are just a bunch of frustrated jocks," says Pershing Rifles
commnander Richard (ray, '72. But to a campus afflicted with
anti-militarisn, the PRIs, as they call themselves, look more insidious than
that. With their gung-ho "shut-p and straighten-up" attitude towards life
in general and precision drilling in particular, the least you can say is
that they stand apart ,...

I

By MARTY PORTER
A BELLOWING SHOUT echoed in the.
wet night air as I spotted a band of
khaki-colored men parade in formation
across the Diag. My eyes discovered
!t rifles carried against shoulders belong-
ing to tight-lipped, muddied faces of
ten to fifteen soldiers.
"Halt "
Pictures of Kent State played with
my thoughts as I tucked my hair un-
der my collar. No it couldn't be, the
campuses are quiet this year - at least
that is what Time magazine said. Be-
sides. there was no demonstration, no
trouble that would warrant a visit by
the National Guard. I moved to the
periphery - something was going on.
"Are you tired soldier . .. straight-
en up ... you are a sorry bunch."
Perhaps they were a guerilla thea-
tre troupe. The theatre of protest, the-
atre of the streets, they were bringing
the reality of the Vietnam war back
home. But what were they doing on
the Diag at midnight? Where was the
sacrificial blood to brighten up their
performance; where was the killing and
the rape, where was the audience par-
ticipation? I was disappointed, there
was no show. The soldiers stood stoic-
ally against the insults hurled at them
by their superiors.
Has the University, the bastion of
liberalism in the Midwest, resorted to
hiring military mercenaries to protect

THE PERSHING RIFLE'S insignia,
tis wooden plaque, occupies its place
of honor in ROTC's North Hall. It
hangs on a coat hook.
itself from further troubles? This would
keep the students in their place. But
there had been no trouble, no issue
besides Attica; and the student activ-
ists had simply reacted with the mun-
dane prank of painting neat slogans
on prominent walls.
"All right, bend over and start to
rub . . . I mean rub . .. put some el-
bow grease into it soldier . .. I want
to see it shine."
The unarmed soldiers proceeded to
shine the giant "M" that greets thou-
sands daily on their traipse through
central campus.
"Start rubbing already . . . you
have another minute to make that
"M" shine."
As the crowd gathered, the officers
seemed to become edgy. I checked my
collar for any extraneous buttons that
a member of the armed forces would
find objectionable, swallowed a few
times and approached an officer who
was mingling with the crowd.
"Excuse me . . . sir - I had watched
enough Sgt. Bilko in my time to realize
that this precautionary title would be
effective could you tell me what is
going on?
"THEY ARE SHINING the "M" on
the Diag," he replied. I was surpris-
ed by his youthful smile.
"Yes, I know, but what for?" I was
not going to be satisfied with a rhetori-
cal answer.
"This is the Pershing Rifles' annual
service to the University." He blew a

whistle, and the soldiers snapped into
formation. A scream, another whistle,
and some incomprehensible order was
shouted as the troops started to run
towards South State St. I had a great
urge to follow but realized that I had
had enough for one night.
For the past couple of months I ask-
ed who exactly were those men in
khaki, those Pershing Rifles? I have
been greeted with innumerable replies.
"They are just a bunch of fascists,"
said'a decrepit radical who still haunts
the campus about the 1969 ROTC dis-
orders.
"They 'are the sharpshooters from
ROTC, watch out for them;" replied
some cock-robinish character.
"They are an elite fighting corps,"
exclaimed a comic-book addict friend.
It took me a while to -discover that
the Pershing Rifles are nothing more
than a group of twenty to twenty-five
members of the three services of ROTC
who specialize in "military exhibition
drill." They are the Busby Berkeleys of
the armed forces. They are men who
exercise elaborate, mechanical
marching.
THREE EVENINGS A WEEK, faces
expressionless, eyes staring blindly in
space, they unfold routines that would
make Gower Champion shudder with
envy routines of "Queen Anne sa-
lutes," "Single-spins," and "cross-
rank - rifle - tosses." They hurl ten
pound plugged 1903 Springfields - the
kind your grandpa used to shoot in the

i

BERETS PERCHED NATTILY atop their closely cropped heads, the men of the Pershing Rifles stand stoically as they clutch
their plugged, 1903 Springfields-the kind your grandpa used to shoot in the big war-like tennis balls.

sor says, "that teaches the future offi-
cer leadership and the art of control-
ling people."
"According to Richard Gray '72, com-
manding officer of the "PR", the Per-
shing Rifles is a practical application
of many of the principles that are
taught in the ROTC program. "It is

"Excuse me .. . sir," I say. I have watched enough Sgt. Bilko
in my time to realize that this precautionary title would be
effective. "Could you tell me what is going on?" "They are
shining the 'M' on the diag," he replies. I was surprised by
his youthful smile. "This is the Pershing Rifles' annual serv-
ice to tie University."
.. sim ssasssii.. . *. .> .::: . *.::.. *. ..........

big war - like tennis balls. They ex-
tend bent arms like carpenters' tri-
squares. They mesh and march like
precision gears. They are not entertain-
ers, they are soldiers who entertain.
The Pershing -Rifles, although they
participate in three to four competi-
tions a year, and march with orna-
mented motions and steps, are not a
theatrical organization. Rather, "It is
a military fraternity," as ROTC Capt.
Philip Shoemaker, their faculty spon-

THREE EVENINGS A WEEK, faces
expressionless, they unfold routines that
would make Gower Champion shuddder
with envy.

closer to the real military organization
than ROTC. Here we learn a lot about
human nature," he says. Many mem-
bers agree that the most important as-
pect of being a part of "PR" is that it
teaches them to work as a group, as a
single unit.
Commander Gray is amazingly cool
and unofficious as he describes another
function of the Pershing Rifles. "PR"
builds up self-confidence, you learn the
principles of leadership, especially the
idea of purveying your confidence to
the group, and you learn how to take
and deliver orders effectively," he says.
Although there is a great difference
between an exhibition drill and battle,
many of the men feel the training is
still applicable. Another officer says,
"there is nothing harder than being a
leader to a group of peers." He explains
that it is much more difficult to give
orders to a group of friends than to en-
listed men. The fact that the armed
forces is primarily composed of enlist-
ed men who are draftees and not career
men is insignificant. He explains: "In
the service we have military law to
back up our orders, here we have noth-
ing but faith."
THE PERSHING RIFLES is organ-
ized with its own mini-military bu-
reaucracy, with its Commander, of-
ficers, and enlisted men. It is this bu-
reaucracy that gives its members the
sense of achievement which is import-
ant to the morale of the organization.
Gray says, "PR is a place where I can
achieve. I have worked my way up
from enlisted man to Commander.'
One enlisted man believes that this
bureaucracy teaches the soldier how to
take an order. "You learn that there
are only two ways of answering an ,or-
der: yes, sir, and no excuse sir." When
asked how he could be sure that his
orders will be correct and his officer
always competent he replied, "he
wouldn't be a leader if he wasn't good."
To many of the members "PR" gives
a chance to achieve a goal, a chance

The sense of pride is exemplified by
the fact, that the members of PR foot
almost all of their $3000 budget from
their own pockets. The organization
only receives a $190 annual subsidy
from the three services. Recently, de-
spite the enthusiasm of its members,
there has been a rapid decline in mem-
bership. Capt. Shoemaker says that
this decline reflects the lessening in-
terest in military careers in general.
Most of the men in PR do not believe
that they are isolated from the rest of
the campus. But that doesn't mean
that many people are not antagonistic
towards them. This antagonism reach-'
ed its peak during the big-bang-bang-
ROTC-disorders of 1969. During this
period PR continued to march through
campus three times weekly with their
green berets, ominous formationand
inactivated rifles. Attempts were made
upon the lives of the members, says
Gray, and at one point an accusation
of assault was brought against the or-
ganization.
Commander Gray, a sophomore at
the time said, "I could understand how
they must have felt seeing us march-
ing through campus . . . probably
the same way I would feel if I saw a
guy walk down the street burning an
American flag."
Even though the Pershing Rifles
were called "a'group of hoodlums," by
a student writing in The Daily, they
were never found guilty In court of
any improper actions. But today PR
men do not march across campus to
drill practice anymore, and their rifles
are brought down to practice in a pri-
vate car. "We never try to make trou-

ble and we always try to avoid it," says
Shoemaker.
ALTHOUGH THEIR drills are not
discreetly hidden, in some barren base-
ment of North Hall, but in Yost Field-
house, the group does not, go out of
their way to be noticed. As Gray says,
"We don't need publicity."
Members of the Pershing Rifles ad-
mit that they experience some pres-

"WE NEVER TRY TO make trouble and
we always try to avoid it."
sure on campus, because of their af4
\filiation, but as one enlisted man says,
'it is nothing that we can't handle."
"We are going to meet people who
are automatically antagonistic to us
throughout our future career."
"You were slow, we had fifteen slaps
instead of sixteen, get it right. The
rifle is to be held at a forty-fiye de
gree angle ... don't duck your head."

Photography by
James Judkis

.*f.s.. .. . . *. ***..*...

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