Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, August 10, 2001

Commandant Gen. James L. Jones pinned lance-corporal
stripes on Jim Nabors yesterday at Camp Smith. Nabors
was honored for his role as Gomer Pyle, who represented
the humanitarian side of being a Marine.

Marines promote
Gomer Pyle
at last

A ceremony held at
Camp Smith honors
actor Jim Nabors

By Burl Burlingame

FROM THE HALLS OF MONTEZUMA to the shores of Tripoli, no one handles public-relations stunts with quite the élan of the Marine Corps.

Look here: a marching band, stands full of spectators, hundreds of Marines at attention, a herd of local and international media, more brass hats than you can count -- including the commandant of the Marine Corps himself -- bomb-sniffing dogs, high security, a sunny day with blue skies and a gorgeous panorama of Pearl Harbor, a flag for each of the 50 states, representatives from the militaries of the Pacific Rim, a snappy color guard and a somewhat nonplused Hollywood entertainer, all here to promote a fictional character who has been a private in the Marines for 37 years.

And no one's kidding.

Commandant Gen. James L. Jones pinned lance-corporal stripes onto the collars of Jim Nabors, a k a Gomer Pyle, USMC, at Camp Smith yesterday, and the band swung into the theme song of the long-ago situation comedy, and those in the audience who remembered laughed and applauded.

"As Pvt. Pyle you brought to life a compassionate character who demonstrated that there is more to a Marine than just battlefield prowess," noted Jones. "Pyle, who was honest to a fault and always put the welfare of others first, revealed to the American viewing public the humanitarian aspect of being a Marine."

"Gawlly, I don't know if I can handle this much power," laughed Nabors, a longtime resident of Honolulu.

"Gomer Pyle, USMC" ran for 150 episodes from 1964 to 1969, during CBS's corn-pone era, a spinoff from the "Andy Griffith Show." Although it was typical of service comedies of the period, such as "McHale's Navy" and "You'll Never Get Rich" -- a k a "Sgt. Bilko" -- Nabors' character of Gomer Pyle was different in that he respected and embraced his Marine Corps lifestyle.

He just had to work a little harder. Jones said that to this day, Parris Island drill instructors refer to recruits who "need a little extra training" as "gomers."

Nabors said that when the spinoff was being planned, he was offered any service he wanted for the Gomer character, and he personally chose the Marines. "It just worked better to put the ol' goof-up among the best of the best, and that's what the Marines represent. They were great to us while the series was on," said Nabors.

The late Frank Sutton, who played Pyle's nemesis -- and later friend -- Sgt. Vince Carter, often went to Vietnam to entertain and meet real Marines.

Although the show went off the air during the height of the Vietnam War, it was actually canceled due to CBS's wish to shed its country image and become a more urban-directed network. "Gomer Pyle" has recently been reprised by cable outlets such as TNT and TV Land, and Nabors said the character has begun to enter the public consciousness once more.

"In fact, I was walking through the airport the other day, and a little kid looked at me and said to his parents, 'Look! An old Gomer Pyle!'"

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