Bells chiming in the distance and a soft, quiet new layer of snow covering the ground at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Friday might have made a perfect juxtaposition to the man and Marine being buried that morning.
Prior Marine Staff. Sgt. R. Lee Ermey lived his life in a way that was “outspoken, rebellious, and creative," as his obituary states, even until his last breaths at 74 years old.
Ermey, or “the Gunny" as he’s known from his most famous acting role — he appeared in more than 60 feature films — as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the legendary 1987 Marine film, “Full Metal Jacket,” died April 15, 2018, in his home state of California from complications with pneumonia.
And now, nine months later, the iconic Marine drill instructor has finally been laid to rest.
Marines are known for having an element of surprise, and “Ron always had that element of surprise,” Ermey’s brother Terry said alongside another brother, Jack, in some remarks to family and friends after the official military ceremony.
Ermey had decided to buy a unicycle at age 60 and had tried to learn how to ride, two of his six children, Betty and Clinton Ermey, said in remarks about their father.
There also was the time he bought a full buffalo robe and had to wear it on the airplane in order to get it home, the now-retired 12th Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Harold Overstreet recalled.
“I can only imagine him getting on the plane with those buffalo horns on,” Overstreet said, a cowboy hat on his own head as he spoke. “And I have no doubt he did. He was just like that.”
Timing for the Arlington burial was up to the family, said Arlington National Cemetery spokeswoman Barbara Lewandrowski.
A crowd of nearly 100 family members, friends and admirers gathered in the snow for the burial of Ermey’s cremated remains. The funeral included full military honors: a Marine Corps bugler, folding of the American flag — presented by Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green — and the firing of three volleys by Marines from nearby Washington barracks at 8th and I. A bagpiper was also in attendance.
The newly expanded “millennium” section of Arlington National Cemetery, where “the Gunny” is now buried, was just opened in Sept. 6, 2018.
Two unknown Union service members from the Civil War had been found in Manassas, Virginia, and were the first buried there.
The section where each veteran is buried is chosen based on timing, the number of guests and funerals for that day.
“Everything is based on each individual family feeling like they’re the only one” in the cemetery, said Lewandrowski.
Section 82 is where Ermey’s remains will lie under a temporary marker. His permanent headstone likely will arrive in 30 to 90 days, according to Lewandrowski.
Ermey left a legacy. And it’s more than just the one that Arlington chaplain Navy Cmdr. John Carter opened his initial remarks with: “ a legacy of honorable and faithful service.”
Ermey left a family legacy.
“He loved his Marines and loved his family even more,” Carter said.
Ermey left a wife of 38 years, Marianila. He left six children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
He also left a heritage and persona among Marines that may perhaps never be matched.
R. Lee Ermey will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on January 18.
Ermey joined the Marine Corps after high school, and “often credited the military with saving his life,” according to his obituary.
His passion for the troops was apparent in his avid philanthropic work with organizations like Young Marines, Fisher House and Toys for Tots.
“If it was for veterans of young Marines he was in," Overstreet said.
As Ermey’s son Clinton said with admiration, standing next to his father’s ashes, Ermey served honorably, and now, “he’s off on a new adventure.”
Andrea Scott is editor of Marine Corps Times. On Twitter: _andreascott.