Born in Emporia, Kansas, Ermey enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1961, after being arrested several times as a teenager. A court judge gave him the choice of the military or jail. He later joked that the Marine Corps "put a screeching halt to my unconventional manner." He spent two years as a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in San Diego, California from 1965 to 1967. In 1968, Ermey arrived in Vietnam where he served for 14 months with the Marine Wing Support Group 17. He then served two tours of duty in Okinawa, Japan, during which he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant and was medically discharged in 1972 for several injuries incurred during his tours. He did not receive a Purple Heart due to his injuries being noncombat in origin. Ermey has admitted that he still has nightmares about his combat experiences, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ermey was later bestowed with the honorary rank of Gunnery Sergeant by the Marine Corps.
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