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Matthew McKeon Court-Martial: 1956

Panic In The Mud, Was The Drill Sergeant Drunk?

Defendant: Matthew McKeon
Crimes Charged: Drinking in enlisted barracks, oppression of 74 recruits, culpable negligence in the deaths of six recruits, oppression of the six dead recruits, drinking in front of a recruit
Chief Defense Lawyers: Emile Zola Berman, Thomas Costello
Chief Prosecutors: Charles B. Sevier, Frederick M. Haden, William Otten, Jr.
Judges: Edward L. Hutchinson (President), Nicholas A. Sisak, Robert D. Shaffer, Walter Gall, Edwin T. Carlton, John Demas, Hampton Huddard
Date of Trial: July 17-August 4, 1956
Verdict: Guilty of involuntary manslaughter and drinking in the barracks
Sentence: Nine months hard labor, reduction to the rank of private, forfeiture of $30 per month in pay, and a bad-conduct discharge from the Marine Corps; later reduced to four months hard labor and no severance from the service

SIGNIFICANCE: The McKeon court-martial was a public relations nightmare for the Marine Corps, which had to act quickly to reform its training methods in order to rehabilitate its public image.

On the night of April 8, 1956, at the Marine Corps training center at Parris Island, South Carolina, Staff Sergeant Matthew McKeon marched Platoon 71 into the swampy waters of Ribbon Creek. Six of the recruits did not emerge alive.

For five and a half weeks McKeon had been trying to instill the pride and discipline necessary to good marines in his "boots," but he was unhappy with the results he had gotten. In his opinion "about three-fourths of the platoon was squared away, but the remainder were foul balls." Earlier in the day he had decided to straighten out those unsatisfactory recruits by shocking them into working as a disciplined unit.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962