A 4-foot-7-inch man completed Marine boot camp in September, possibly making him the shortest U.S. service member ever.
Pfc. Nathaniel Laprade graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, on Sept. 1, as the Marine chosen to carry the guidon representing his entire series, according to a Marine Corps news release Tuesday.
As a teen, Laprade joined his high school’s Army JROTC program. But he said he was pulled toward the Marine Corps because it offered the “snap precision” his program instructor, retired Army 1st Sgt. Thomas Gent, instilled in his students.
“One day in the cafeteria there was a Marine recruiter standing there and his uniform was perfect, no flaws no nothing,” Laprade said in the release. “You just felt something, stood there, strong and disciplined, a solid statue of determination of honor, courage and commitment.”
A year later, when Laprade was set to graduate, he was one of the first students the recruiter approached. The recruiter told Laprade his name was the first that was pulled from his system “because he saw something in me,” the private first class recounted in the release.
At boot camp, Laprade was part of Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, according to the release. He said his peers treated him with respect and even were motivated by his own motivation — a cycle that further motivated him.
“I think they kind of looked up to me in a way,” Laprade said. “I had one recruit, now a Marine, who told me that I was his motivation.”
Many of the obstacles in the obstacle courses were taller than Laprade. But his drill instructors saw him make his way over them “with little to no trouble,” the news release stated.
Laprade just had to push himself to jump a little higher, he said.
The hikes were tougher. As the lead guide for his series, Laprade led the formation alongside the lanky guide of his platoon, according to the release.
“Little legs with a little body weight, a lot of weight in the pack and a lot of miles in the hikes,” Laprade said. “That was the hardest part for me, the hikes.”
Laprade’s occupational field is logistics, though he hasn’t been assigned a specific military occupational specialty yet, according to Marine spokesman Maj. Philip Kulczewski.
Some occupational fields within the Marine Corps have specific height requirements, like aviation support, engineering and construction, motor transport, and military police and corrections, according to Jim Edwards, a spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
Laprade’s next stop, after 10 days of leave, is Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, according to the release.
Is Laprade the shortest service member of all time? It’s hard to say for sure.
The minimum height for Marine applicants is 4 feet, 8 inches, while the maximum height is 6 feet, 10 inches, according to Kulczewski.
“However, individual cases are subject to waivers on a case by case basis,” the spokesman said.
During his enlistment process, Laprade heard from recruiters about Richard Flaherty, a 4-foot-9-inch former Army captain who became known as the “Giant Killer” for his service as a Green Beret in Vietnam. Some have claimed Flaherty was the shortest man in U.S. military history.
But there may have been competition for that historical title: In 1951, a Connecticut newspaper called the 4-foot-9-inch Sgt. Robert Perkins the “second shortest man in the air force,” leaving inquiring minds to wonder who clocked in at No. 1.
Learning about Flaherty spurred Laprade to one-up the slightly taller soldier.
“The main part that inspired me was that he was Army and 4 foot 9 inches,” Laprade said in the release. “If I go Marines when I’m 4 foot 7 inches, I will beat him in two ways.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.