The sergeant major living next door |

The sergeant major living next door

Doug served in the Marine Corps for 32 years, attaining the lofty status of sergeant major. A rumor persists out here in Smith Valley that Doug has walked the entire distance from Long Beach, Calif., to Catalina Island on several different occasions. The truth is, everyone from generals on down respect and admire sergeant majors.

Doug has just sawed down four dead trees in my front yard and is worn to a frazzle. This is my chance to get the answer to a question that’s been on my mind for a long time.

“How’d you do it, Doug? How’d you manage to stay in the Marine Corps for 32 years?” I ask.

Doug looks at me as if I’ve lost my marbles. Taking a few moments, he replies, “Being honest is the most important thing. If you make a mistake, own up to it. If your work ethic is right, you’ll be all right, it’s when you don’t do what is expected of you that the trouble starts. You know, Ron, I’ve told so many of my contemporaries, the Marine Corps doesn’t owe you a darn thing. When I was assigned somewhere, I went to the officer, and said, ‘You may not like me, or you won’t like what I have to say sometimes, but I will always be honest with you. I’ll make mistakes, but you’ll know about them. I won’t cover them up, so if you can accept that much honesty, we can work together.’ It’s all about having a good work ethic and being honest,” he says.

And Doug lives that way today. He doesn’t make idle chatter or promise things he can’t produce. There are many kinds of honesty, and Doug knows them all.

“OK, but how did you manage it when you came up against a deadbeat?” I ask.

“Well, Ron, sometimes someone will slip through the cracks, and doesn’t measure up, but it doesn’t happen very often, so I choose my words carefully when it does, but it’s still all about being honest. When I started out, some officers would say, ‘Hey, take it easy’ when they saw me working so hard, and they’d take me in for a Coke,” he tells me.

For saddles and such, several storage sheds, a chicken coop, and he and Gretchen, his fabulous wife, now supply the neighborhood with fresh eggs. They run seven horses in two pastures and have been blessed with eight marvelous children and numerous grandchildren.

Many mornings, when I go for a walk, I see Doug running up the colors on the flagpole in his front yard. How many men do you know who have had the good fortune to love their work and have used “being honest” as their secret to success? Doug is a tough Marine, but also a smiling one. Semper Fidelis.

Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at