"Irish pennants" is Marine Corps lingua franka for a cardinal sin in uniform inspections.
The often tiny threads so commonly disregarded in normal circumstances of civilian life become the fine line between an ordinary performance and an outstanding effort when the points are added up. This perceived meaningless exercise in nitpicking actually has intrinsic value in the training objective of teaching young American males to leave their "good enough" attitudes behind. It stresses the importance of thoroughness and the elusive "attention to detail" that often spells success or failure on the battlefield. When carefully applied, this principle has been proven to pay high dividends in combat situations.
Private Adam Beckner was a good marine.
Everyone said so and even the Company Commander noticed his finely tuned attention to the smallest of details. He always gave a sharp salute. His "Yes, Sirs" were immediate and laden with respect. He had the supreme good fortune of being able to run like the wind or as Sergeant Major Johnson remarked, "Beckner runs like the devil is right on his heels."
No matter what the sport or competition, he was always the first choice of any team leader. Adam was punctual, neat, pleasing in personality and physical appearance and was wise enough to keep his mouth shut unless he was asked a direct question.
What impressed his drill instructors the most was his canny ability to remain attentive in the classroom, never sleeping, not even dozing or nodding his head no matter how boring the subject was or how hot the classroom would become. This amazing accomplishment gave more insight into Beckner's soul than the most intrusive of psychological evaluations.
The other marines in Private Beckner's platoon never forgot his habit of checking each of them over before an inspection for the telltale "Irish pennants". They were heard asking each other, "Did you get Becknered?" in the final minutes for the call to attention. Of course, no one ever suggested checking young Private Beckner because you knew it was a total waste of valuable time.
If young Adam had any flaw, it was certainly not a minor one.
Beckner enjoyed killing people.
Now, for a marine, that was not necessarily a flaw in character. Beckner was smart enough to appreciate his particular vice was held in poor regard by most of society, so he keeps his weakness his own private secret. The Marine Corps instructors who stressed the value of aggressive behavior never guessed the hair trigger of his kill zone.
He controlled himself in the hand-to-hand combat class and the use of deadly weapons course, ever considerate of his opponent. His closest call came on the grenade range when he held the cold, heavy "frag" in his hand. The knowledge that he had the power of life or death in his hand caused him to shake and break out in a sweat. His instructor misread his reaction and reassured him that all he had to do was pull the pin and arch the deadly pill away from the bunker. Everyone liked Beckner a little better after that because he had shown himself to be human after all. None of them realized how close they all were to eternity itself.
The truth of the matter was that before he became a marine, Beckner had killed 9 people. He was not guilty about it. In fact, he liked to think of his victims because in a strange way they were a part of him. Only one of his victims was suspected to have met death by foul play. It was a kill that he regretted because he had allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment. Despite having a tenuous connection to most of the victims, Beckner had never been questioned by any of the overworked homicide detectives in the major city where he lived. Half of the victims had been classified as "Female runaways" and possibly drug related. That was an almost automatic dump into the "File 13" of the murder squad. They knew they would never solve that kind of killing unless someone came forward and confessed.
Beckner had volunteered for the Marine Corps, because he suspected the one killing that involved the younger sister of a classmate might draw him into scrutiny sooner or later. He surmised it was far better to be "out of sight, out of mind".
Vietnam was a blessing in disguise for Private Beckner.
When he received his overseas order, tears of relief flowed down Beckner's cheeks. Later, his best friend who never lasted more than 30 days in-country, was heard to remark, "I never thought ole Beckner would turn out to be a pussy!"
It didn't take Beckner long to adapt to combat. The fact that his patrols always managed to find the enemy was put down to a combination of luck and coincidence. After a couple of months, the older combat vets hesitated to volunteer for any patrol Beckner was assigned to. It soon became an in-house joke that the quickest way to get a purple heart was to stay close to Beckner.
What his marine buddies failed to recognize in Beckner, the enemy saw almost immediately. All it took was his silent presence to get a reluctant prisoner to open up. No one knew why the mere sight of the thin marine cleaning his rifle or sharpening his k-bar caused the usually tight-lipped Cong to spill the beans. It was as if he exuded the stench of death in a land that held little value on human life.
A translation at the S-2 office from one prisoner was attributed to an unexplained religious comment.
"I fear not the arms of death but the evil one seeks my soul. Keep him away and I will tell all I know."
The American political solution to the Vietnam problem robbed Beckner of his "no holds barred" killing playground. He did not want to leave his paradise of death. Late at night, he was carried on board a troop ship after his buddies had gotten him falling down drunk on a surefire combination of 33 Beer and French Cognac.