[November 25, 2019] “No guts, no glory!” The Army Drill Sergeant was yelling at us that we were a bunch of no-good maggots, which were also some stinking wimpy momma-boys. Finishing an obstacle course after a strenuous 10-mile forced march was not easy, but we did it anyway thanks to Drill Sergeant Bryant. To be a real man you had to be able to do battle in the mud, the blood, and the beer.
Johnny Cash made this line popular in his song A Boy Named Sue (see him on this YouTube video, 3:23 minutes, link here). A boy with a girl’s name would have a tough time growing up, and that’s the theme of Cash’s ballad. The name made him tough and a fighter to be reckoned with.
Where I grew up in the Deep South, your age didn’t make you a man. You made yourself a man and proved to others you had the guts and determination. Your job, your family, your physical strength, and your attitude were what made you a man. One quick way was to join the U.S. military, but you had to survive combat to be a real man. Or, you could be on the railroad’s rail repair gang or have a dangerous job that was hard work and stick to it for years.
Whatever you did, it was all about getting your hands dirty and proving yourself. If you were not a man, you were seen as being unreliable and a sissy. This was no simple name-calling culture; it was about having courage and honor. Your credibility meant everything. If you were not a “man” then you were not invited to the most prestigious parties or asked to sit with community leaders. Your opinion was also nothing if you weren’t a real man.
Real men went camping. The fewer creature-comforts you took, the better. Real men went hunting. Possessing a powerful gun was better. Real men treated women respectfully; anyone who didn’t have their ass kicked. Real men could take a beating and not complain. Real men had families with kids, lots of them, a job, and were looked up to at work and in the community.
Drill Sergeant Bryant was a complete asshole. I hated him with passion (my dad kept my letters saying so). But Sergeant Bryant was a real man who helped make our Platoon a group of real men. We paid the price but stuck with him and were proud to graduate from Basic Combat Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The rattlesnakes, biting bugs, alligators, heat, humidity, and the constant training made you physically and mentally stronger. Or you were out of the Army.
Real men could get into a fight while scuffling around in the mud and the blood, stand up, shake hands, and have another beer. That is what makes you a man. “A college diploma don’t mean shit,” according to Sergeant Bryant, and he was right.