Death Before Dishonor

Death Before Dishonor
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Death Before Dishonor

I’m not sure you have seen this one, it is from the late 80s and well, it is kind of cheesy.

Disclaimer: For some reason, this has always been one of my favorite USMC movies, well favorite is a strong word, more like one of the first Marine Corps movies that I remember. And I had always liked Brian Keith, so that is likely why I liked this movie so much, and I probably watched it shortly before or after boot camp, so it held a place in my brain. However, the movie and the plot are very cheesy.

The official description of the movie is: American Sergeant Joseph Burns and his company of Marines are ready to die but not to disgrace the honor of their country. They are confronted by Arab rebel leader Abu Jihar and two of the most wanted terrorists in the world, who will also spare no life in fighting for their cause. Between them is a beautiful photojournalist who takes a mortal risk for the sake of objective information.

This movie was trying to capture the then-current movie craze of gung-ho films that starred the likes of Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallon, and Charles Bronson to make a few. And Fred Dryer was in the middle of filming the very popular, hit TV series ‘Hunter‘.

“Death Before Dishonor”, Is a Marine Corps saying. Meaning you will die before you dishonor GOD, COUNTRY, or CORPS. It can also be related to anything you believe in that much. Family, friends, THE CAUSE, whatever you feel you would rather die before you dishonor it. Hence DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR, SEMPER FI!!

Death Before Dishonor is a 1987 American Action, Drama film written by John Gatliff and Lawrence Kubik, starring Brian Keith (Family Affair) and Fred Dryer (Hunter) in his big-screen debut and directed by Terry J. Leonard, in his directorial debut. The film is about United States Marine Corps Colonel Halloran and Gunnery Sergeant Burns who are stationed in the middle east. The film was shot in Israel (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Nebbi Mussa, and Jaffa). The film is rated ‘R’ by the Motion Picture Association and earned $1.8 million on its opening weekend, and $4.5 million domestically. Death Before Dishonor went up against blockbuster films like Platoon, Mannequin, and Black Widow. 

The film is centered around the two main characters United States Marine Corps Colonel Halloran (Brian Keith) and Gunnery Sergeant Burns (Fred Dryer). Colonel Halloran is the commanding officer of the United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command 1st Recon Battalion, Bravo Company,  and Gunny Burns is an instructor under Colonel Halloran. The Colonel accepts orders to be the Commanding Officer at a Marine Security Group detachment at a United States embassy in the set in the fictional middle east country of Jemal. The Colonel takes Gunny Burns and two other Marines (Sergeant Ramirez and Corporal James) with him to the embassy.

The Ambassador (Paul Winfield), is more concerned about upsetting the host nation’s government than he is about security. As a result, he has severely restricted the Marines who protect the embassy.

Gunnery Sergeant Burns is handing off weapons to the host nation when they are attacked by militants. The Gunny fights them off and takes chase, with the end result of the militants’ convoy being destroyed along with all the weapons. Gunny Burns and the Colonel are ordered by the Ambassador to not upset the host nation and to stand down.

On the way into the embassy, the Colonel and Sgt Ramirez are both captured and held hostage by militants. Gunny Burns and Corporal James fight to rescue the Colonel and Sgt Ramirez. Sgt Ramirez fights back and is killed in the process and his body is dumped in front of the embassy. This enrages Gunny and he pulls out all the stops to find the Colonel. A street vendor had valuable information on the Colonel’s whereabouts, which allows the Gunny to find him, but he is outgunned and a small group escapes along with the Colonel.

The by-the-book Ambassador learns the hard way how savage the militants can be when they attack and then destroy the embassy by crashing a car bomb into the front gate

Gunny Burns befriends Eli, a local journalist/photographer (Joanna Pacula) who he saw filming the attack on the convoy earlier. She agrees to help Gunny Burns and provides the location of the Colonel. The Gunny meets up with Mossad agents and finds out that Eli is an undercover Mossad agent. The Gunny, Cpl James, and several Mossad agents attack the compound where the Colonel is held captive, ultimately freeing the Colonel.

Major cast members were:

  • Fred Dryer as Gunnery Sergeant Burns, USMC
  • Brian Keith as Colonel Halloran, USMC – (Brian is a Veteran of the Marine Corps – Sgt United States Marine Corp, where he served from 1942 to 1945 as an air gunner in World War II and received an Air Medal)
  • Kasey Walker as Maude
  • Joanna Pacula as Elli
  • Joseph Gian as Sergeant Manuel Ramirez, USMC
  • Sasha Mitchell as LCpl Dino Ruggieri, USMC
  • Peter Parros as Cpl James, USMC
  • Paul Winfield as The Ambassador
  • Rockne Tarkington as “Jihad”

My Take On The Flick
The opening titles are done in the Superman font. Though the superman font was so cool back in the late 80s and early 90s, looking back on it now so 35 years later, damn that crap was so lame.

Death Before Dishonor title sequece

The start of the movie takes place in Camp Pendleton, CA and the remainder takes place in the fictional country of Jemal (aka Lebanon). The movie loosely uses the Marine Barracks Bombing in Lebanon in 1983 as the storyline and plot.

In the opening scene when the Force Recon Marines are taking the beachhead, there are tactics errors, mostly the method the Marines are using to move closer to their objective. We were always taught a little saying of “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down”, and several of the Marines are just running up the beachhead like it is cool and they are filming a slow-motion job sequence. They are also very much silhouetted and crossing into each other’s fields of fire. And every single “Recon Marine” is advancing with their finger on the damn trigger of their M16A1 rifles.

When Gunny Burns (Fred Dryer) takes his K-Bar and throws it up at the Marines in the bleachers, a Marine would never do that. If one did and it was reported, the entire Corps would have to stand some type of safety stand down and K-Bar safety training, just saying (the Corps loved their safety stand-downs). Furthermore, Marines wouldn’t be running their mouths like that as the Gunny would have their ass. In the Corps, the Gunny is a very respected rank, usually the Marine, who is knowledgable and hasn’t gotten too old or too high up that he loses his balls.

So they drop from a pair of helos (it looks like a Bell 206 Jetranger, and it would likely have been a Huey in that time period, yes, I know the Marine Corps had Bell helos – TH-57 Sea Ranger, but likely this would have been done from a Heuy or a CH-46/47) into the drink and come out dry. I wish I had a pair of those cammies when I was in the Corps. Plus they jumped from inside the bird, instead of on the skids, and their damn legs are spread wide open when they jump, ouch! The time period of this movie was prior to wearing names tapes (which came in October 1991, the USMC began the wearing of nametapes on their utilities in order to comply with the NATO Standardization Agreement (STANAG), becoming mandatory by October 1992.). This was also in the days of the woodland cammies (well before the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform (MCCUU)), and during the time when the rank was worn on the covers (1986 – 1988), the Marines are wearing green t-shirts sometimes and white t-shirts other times, so that makes this movie set around 1986 when the white t-shirt was being phased out and brown undershirts are being phased into the Marine Corps Supply System.

I noticed the standard Hollywood long hair, for some reason, an actor will gain and lose large amounts of weight for a part, but not cut their damn hair.

My observations
With each movie, I will detail the military (more specifically the Marine Corps) things that I notice were inaccurate or just wrong.

The scene when the two Marines are painting the rocks and they are wearing white skivvy shirts (t-shirts) with the utilities. I was in boot camp in 1988 (a year before this film was released) and we were issued white v-neck skivvy shirts and later switched to green skivvy shirts. The joke was that then CMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) Gen P.X. Kelley wanted to see the tuffs of his hairy chest while in uniform, so he made the Marines wear V-necks. CMC Gen Al Gray wanted green as a more tactical look (he was all about tactical). I will point out that the shooting badge placement on all the Marines in the movie is off, they have their badges placed on the outside of the pocket edges when they should be centered.

Painting Rocks

I noticed at the Recon School, in the bleachers when the Gunny is giving his period of instruction, I noticed that none of the Marines in the bleachers are wearing rank (except the LCpl who is running his mouth). A class full of Privates I guess, which is rare considering, you would have already been assigned a primary MOS before you tried to qualify for special forces like Recon.

Gunny Burns’s “Gunny” rolls on his sleeves look like hell and they are low for my liking, but they are technically within regulations.

By the way, those that bitch about the rank on the cover, that was a thing during General P.X. Kelly’s era as CMC (1986-1988). In fact, I recall seeing Marines at MCRD in 1988 wearing it, but I never did when I got into the fleet.

Those that are questioning the name tags, worn at the Recon School and while in Charlies at the Embassy. I wore a name tag as an Intel instructor and I know that other schools wore them as well. I had several friends who were on Embassy duty (MSG Duty) and they wore name tags as well.

Terminology and Lingo:
The Gunny does get the language correct “Shitbirds” is a very acceptable term to call some Marines.

The gunny refers to the Marines as “you people” as a gunny, he would certainly be using something like “you Marines” or “you Jarheads“.

The logo for 1st Recon Battalion, Bravo Company in the rock painting scene looks right, but I have never seen it with the cover on the skull, but I know that many units customize their logo often.

There are Marines in the background in the rock painting scene wearing cammies and their sleeves are down, while the Gunny is wearing Charlies. One of these two things doesn’t go together. The Marine Corps changes from sleeves up or sleeves down as a whole, not unit by unit or Marine by Marine.

During Sgt Ramirez’s “funeral”, the uniforms actually look good. All the collar emblems are facing inboard, the covers don’t look bad. They even got the blood stripes and waist plates correct, which is amazing (one Marine was a LCpl, who doesn’t rate the blood stripes). The only real thing that I noticed was the cover on the dark green SSgt is huge, but beyond that everything looks pretty spot on, except haircuts and mustaches. They even had an authentic-looking CH-53 on the flight line.

Sgt Ramirez's Funeral

The pinning on the jump wings actually happens in the Corps along with pinning on rank, and blood stripes. But it is very much a right of passage and seldom reported. But I recall having a safety stand-down early on in my enlistment that the topic of pinning on was talked about.

Pinning on Ceremony

First, OMG, the Gunny tends to close his eyes when he is shooting his pistol and he is an expert at it according to his shooting badges

When Gunny Burns is in Colonel Halloran’s office (Marine Corps Veteran and Actor Brian Keith), the office looks very realistic, that is because it was actually a real Marine Corps office at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. When the Colonel lights up his cigar, that was back in the days when you could smoke in a Government office. I loved how the Gunny pulls out the lighter from his socks. We stored so much in our socks in our dress uniforms.

I just love how Hollywood throws around classified documents like it is cool. A top-secret (or in this case, they made up the term ‘Top Priority’) document would never be out of the SCIF or secured facility like that and controlled by a TSCO (Top Secret Control Officer), not just lying around in a desk drawer, even if a Colonel wanted them (BTW, a Colonel though Hollywood makes it sound like has a ton of clout in the military, they do not, they are in the middle of the officer ranks, not the top). And he would never be able to show them to someone on a whim as he did in the movie. I have had a security clearance for 30+ years, and have worked in SCIFs all my adult life, I know the rules and Hollywood always seems to get them wrong.

I love how in every movie a random weapon is just available to the good guys. Like in the chase scene when Gunny Burns pulls out a M72 LAW that just so happened to be in his jeep. I know he gave it to the Jemal Captain, who was walking around with it like it was cool and he left it in the Jeep, but you get my point. Anyway, the Gunny while driving the jeep at high-speed, kicks out the window and accurately fires the LAW, hitting the intended target.

Firing the M72 LAW

And why is the good guy Jarhead in every movie driving an antique military surplus Jeep (CJ-6)? In this movie, he drove on in the States and two in Jemal. I served 10 years in the Marine Corps (1988-1998) and I never once even saw a military Jeep (HMMWVs yet, but Jeeps, nope). Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with them and I would love to own one just to beat the hell out of it, but it is like every single movie.

During the shootout in the streets of Jemal, the Gunny pulls out his M1911A1 .45 and starts shooting at the bad guys. But he is holding what appears to be a magazine for that weapon in his hands. It looks like it is loaded with .45 rounds, but they are not copper which is what NATO uses. I have never seen this before, nor was I ever taught to hole a magazine like that. But I was never a Recon Marine, so that might be something they train.

Open your eyes, and what's up with the magazine
Open your eyes, and what’s up with the magazine?

There were several scenes of the Marines wearing a cover indoors, which is a Hollywood thing.

When the Colonel and Sgt Ramirez are captured and held captive, the “Jemal Daily Journal is showing headlines from May 12, 1986, and appear to be from the “International Herald Tribune.

When Sgt Ramirez dies and at his “funeral”, there wouldn’t be a 9 fire volley in his honor on the flight line, nor a bugle, but it works for Hollywood. Plus the casket would travel feet first and the union (blue field) of the flag would be draped over the head of the fallen. In the movie, the coffin is carried with the union first into the helicopter. Like every Hollywood movie, the Marine goes rogue (Gunny Burns), which would never happen.

I like the John Wayne “Life’s tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid!” from ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ hand-drawn poster in Gunny’s office in the Embassy and there is a photo of the then-current CMC General P. X. Kelley on the wall as well.

Life's tough. It's tougher if you're stupid!
Life’s tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid!

The covers look like hell and for Marines on Embassy duty, that wouldn’t happen. Weapon slings being loose is also very taboo in the Marine Corps. And like every other action movie, there is endless ammo, no magazine changes, and no stopping to refill magazines, just pulling the trigger and shooting magic bullets. And what is up with Fred Dryer not wearing a cammie blouse during the action scenes, always in a t-shirt, while everyone else is in uniform?

I like how in every movie, the shooting stops just long enough for a character (in this case Fred Dryer) to mourn the loss of one of the wounded (in this case LCpl Dino Ruggieri) in the middle of a firefight.

There is a John Wayne-style scene where the Gunny is carrying a Galil SAR by the pistol grip with damn loose slings and a LAW over his shoulder. The other two Marines are actually carrying ammo bags as well, which is something you don’t see in a movie that often.

Final fire-fight

The duece or web gear is correct for the period and unlike the Gunny, Cpl James and LCpl Ruggieri have trigger control at least most of the time.

And one last thing, the photojournalist (Israeli Mossad) Elli Bowman (Joanna Pacula) is smokin’


Colonel Halloran: Yeah, you’re just as hard-headed as your old man.
Colonel Halloran: The OCS was good enough for me, butt hole.
Gunnery Sergeant Jack Burns: Well, will that be all, sir?

Gunnery Sgt. Burns: Both sides of those rocks.
Lcpl Ruggieri: Why we got to paint both sides of the rocks?
Cpl James: I don’t know.
Gunnery Sgt. Burns: You boys ever heard of Korea?
Cpl James: Yes sir, Gunny.
Gunnery Sgt. Burns: Well then you are probably very familiar with the conflict at Hill 442. Is that right?
Lcpl Ruggieri: Yes sir. Everyone has heard of that battle.
Gunnery Sgt. Burns: And did you know your Colonel is personally responsible for pulling 52 marines off that hill? Alive.
Gunnery Sgt. Burns: So don’t you think the Colonel deserves to have his rocks painted tops and bottoms?
Gunnery Sgt. Burns: Good; paint the rocks.




On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 35% based on over 1,000 reviews. Roger Ebert gave it 1 out of 4 stars, stating “There isn’t a lick of original thinking in it.”

The final credits offer special thanks to LtCol Fred Peck and the United States Marine Corps for their cooperation in the making of this motion picture. Fred Peck was the military advisor for this film along with other films like “Heartbreak Ridge” and “Return to Iwo Jima”

Sources: – Whoever edits this page, must have not actually watched the movie, as they got the plot all wrong.

At the end of the credits, special thanks is given to Colonel Fred Peck. He was the Marine Corps technical advisor on this movie

For all my ribbon nazi’s, there is your page

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Average Joe

Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.


  • Average Joe

    Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.

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By Average Joe

Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.

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