When Chuck Betz saw R. Lee Ermey's portrayal of a Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island drill instructor in a Beaufort theater in 1987, he knew.
"You could tell (Ermey) was a Marine," Betz said Monday as he sat in a recliner covered with a blanket sporting the Corps eagle, globe and anchor emblem.
"He was great for the part," Betz said. "I don't think anyone else could've done it but him."
Ermey, indeed a former Marine and best known for his portrayal of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam War film "Full Metal Jacket, died Sunday of complications from pneumonia, according to his agent. He was 74. His is the legacy of a seasoned Hollywood character actor and, of course, Marine icon.
And his character — one that was at least partially formed by his own experience as a Vietnam War-era drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego — still holds the power to stop a channel-surfing DI mid-click, even if his foul language and antics might not accurately reflect the job.
Betz, who was a Parris Island drill instructor when Kubrick's flick debuted in 1987, remembers his senior drill instructor cutting him loose early one night so he could go to town and take in a show.
That year, Betz, who graduated recruit training on Halloween Day in 1978, found himself supervising the same barracks — Delta Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion — he'd lived in as a recruit.
And it just so happened that the platoon he was overseeing was on the rifle range.
Which meant meant he'd get off early some nights — the first phase of training, when DIs are in the barracks from lights-on to lights-out, was over.
"There are parts of ("Full Metal Jacket") where it's like training," he said, "but it's just a movie."
As a DI, there was no time to pull the kind of antics Hartman performs in the movie, Betz said.
Parris Island Vietnam-era DI Bud Apple, who retired at gunnery sergeant in 1985 after 23 years in the Corps, echoed Betz's sentiments.
"I knew some senior drill instructors who'd slap the tar out of a junior DI for doing something like that," Apple said, referring to the scene where Hartman marches the recruits around the barracks in their underwear as they hold their rifles and grab their crotches.
"There was a lot of Hollywood put into it," Apple said.
And Betz, who spent 21 years in the Corps, over half on active duty, said the profanity that Hartman spewed wasn't accurate — from his experience as a DI and a recruit.
"We'd say 'Daggumit!' or 'Friggin'!', but we never used curse words," he said. "If you cursed in DI School, you'd have to do pushups."
Neither men knew Ermey personally; neither emulated Hartman in the performance of their duties.
Still, they appreciate Ermey's renown among Marines.
"I think his legacy's going to be that he was a dedicated individual," Apple said, "and a dedicated Marine."
As for Betz, he always wished he could have met him.
"Not only because of that role," he said, "but because (Ermey) was a Marine in Vietnam — any Marine combat veteran gets my total respect."
If you drive around Beaufort today, you won't find much trace of Ermey or Hartman.
The clothing stores that cater to recruits and their families sell garments with Parris Island's four training battalions on them, not Hollywood souvenirs.
But Betz said Ermey's memory will endure through Hartman's catchphrases, such as: "But always remember this: Marines die. That's what we're here for. But the Marine Corps lives forever, and that means you live forever."
And Ermey will live on through Hartman, who will survive in art and an island that makes thousands of Marines each year.
That's the job of the drill instructors, and Betz took it seriously.
He enjoyed Ermey's performance that night on the big screen.
He drove back to Parris Island.
It was a good movie.
But it was time to go back to work.