It's a dirty, rotten shame.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Paul T. Archie deserves a better ending after defending his nation in uniform for 26 years.
Archie was forced last week to resign his post as sergeant major at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and the Eastern Recruiting Region. He is no longer senior enlisted advisor to Parris Island's commanding general because he got into an altercation with a protester outside the gates of the boot camp in Port Royal.
Archie confronted Marine veteran Ethan Arguello because Arguello wore the distinctive head covering of the depot's drill instructors during his protest. Arguello is upset with President Barack Obama's negotiated swap of imprisoned Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners.
But it was the headgear, not the swap that's divided the nation, that brought Archie and the protester nose-to-nose as television cameras recorded a scene that tens of thousands of viewers would click to see.
The headgear the Marines call a "campaign cover" came off. Archie grabbed it in midair and drove off with it. The protester filed a charge of third-degree assault and battery. Archie was jailed and released. Three days later, he resigned after Headquarters Marine Corps asked him to retire or be relieved of his duty. A statement from the depot said the commanding general accepted his retirement with regret.
Obviously, the Marine Corps can't have its leadership on the police blotter. And Archie must be held accountable for his choices.
But this whole episode is a dirty, rotten shame.
Archie, 44, was an 18-year-old kid from Texas when he enlisted in the Marine Corps and shipped out to boot camp in San Diego.
Like the protester who is acting on behalf of seven colleagues killed while he served in the Middle East, Archie ended up seeing plenty of stuff we folks at home don't have to. In Iraq, his Marines were hit by roadside bombs about every other day.
When a friend was killed in Afghanistan, Archie told the Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for military personnel, about a letter the first sergeant had sent home just two days before he was killed. "Don't feel sorry for us," it read. "We're doing exactly what we want to do, which is protecting America from those who want to do harm to us."
Archie was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism in Iraq.
When Archie took his final assignment on Parris Island in February, he was returning to familiar Lowcountry sand. For three years, he had "made Marines" here as a drill instructor, and trained the men and women who make Marines in the Drill Instructor School.
Archie and the protester, a former drill instructor, were both painfully familiar with the Ribbon Creek incident on Parris Island. They all learn about the night in April 1956 that a drill instructor marched his platoon into tidal waters behind the firing range and six of them drowned.
From the tragedy emerged a quick effort to improve the quality of life for drill instructors. They got better housing, better pay, free laundry service -- and a distinctive "campaign cover" to engender greater respect for the role they play.
From one of the Corps' lowest moments came a new resolve. Its symbol was the drill instructor's stiff, slightly cocked campaign cover.
That's why a piece of felt that the uninformed call a "hat" is worth fighting about.
DROP THE CHARGE
I've met many Marines over the years while working in Beaufort County, home of Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Some civilians think they come across as too self-confident, too bossy, too loud, too dogmatic or maybe too pushy.
I'm glad they're on my side.
I'm glad Archie was on my side. I'm glad he appreciated the far-reaching significance of what drill instructors represent to America, and our freedom to protest against the president.
I don't care what codes and laws may say about the use of military uniforms by veterans or civilians. Common sense dictates that you don't stand at the gates of Parris Island, or anywhere else, in civvies and use a campaign cover to draw attention to a personal cause.
From what I saw on the video, the protester was just as confrontational as the sergeant major. The episode is a dirty, rotten shame that never should have happened.
Archie has paid enough for his choices that day.
The misdemeanor charge against him should be dropped.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.