MOVE OVER BAMBI LIN Finney. It turns out you were not the first naked marine to pose for a magazine like Playboy nor the first naked marine to get in trouble.
Meet Marine Corps Maj. Alastair Livingston, 36, now of Camp Lejeune, N.C.Livingston, a Vietnam war hero, helped make history in early days of Playgirl magazine when he posed naked for the magazine with his teammates on the San Diego State rugby team. At the time, Livingston was a Marine Corps captain studying at San Diego State. The rugby team posed for the pictures as a way to raise money, and if the pictures were in the finest tradition of American rugby teams, they were not in the finest tradition of the Marine Corps. Capt. Livingston got in trouble.
The question, of course, is whether Capt. Livingston got in as much trouble as Bambi Lin Finney, the Marine Corps sergeant who posed in the nude for the April issue of Playboy magazine. Finney was promptly given an honorable discharge nine months before the end of her tour of duty and there has been enough of a flap to land her on the talk shows. Livingston is still in the Marine Corps and has even been promoted to major. What is going on here? Could it be that the Marine Corps is, perish the thought, sexist? Could it be, as a Marine Corps spokesman put it, that "an officer is a little different than an enlisted person?"
Let me stop briefly, here, to note that I am finding out much more about the adventures of naked marines than I even cared to and I am beginning to wish I had never written about Bambi Lin Finney. But the phone started ringing after that column appeared last week. Marines said they had heard that once before a male Marine had posed in the nude. No one knew what had happened. Some callers said he'd been discharged. Others said he'd gotten promoted. That's the kind of tipster information worth pursuing. And there is a kind of ethical obligation to write, as they say, the rest of the story.
Alastair Livingston was tracked down to his office at Camp Leieune where he has been stationed for the last three years -- first as a company commander, and lately as a battalion executive officer. Livingston, a native of Scotland, says the incident occured in late 1976 or 1974 while he was assigned to a Marine Corps academic program at San Diego State. "Streaking was in at that time," he says.
Livingston says he was identified in the Playgirl pictures and accompanying interview as a spokesman for the rugby team and as a player, not as a Marine Corps officer. He does not know how or who, but someone in the Marine Corps got wind of what he had done and shortly after the magazine came out he got a call to report to his commanding officer.
"I was told that a determination was made at Marine Corps headquarters that my academic program should be terminated at that time and I was to return to Camp Pendleton. There were two grounds. One was conduct unbecoming an officer and the other was failure to conform to Marine Corps clothing and grooming standards. My hair was longer than allowed." He also received a letter of reprimand, a level of punishment just below a judicial proceeding.
The matter was handled quietly, discreetly. "Internally," says Livingston, "in 1974 there was quite a bit of knowledge as to what I had done. Externally, there was not."
Livingston says things did not go so well for him after the Playgirl photos, but he feels they would have gone worse had he not served in Vietnam and won a Navy Commendation Medal, two Purple Hearts, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Silver Star -- the third-highest award given for valor.
"I feel that under normal conditions, a letter of reprimand would effectively terminate the promotion prospects of an officer," he says. He was passed over once by a promotion board before making major last year. A captain who is passed over twice is out of the corps.
"There's a lot of feeling that either (because) Sgt. Finney was a woman or an enlisted person that was handled unfairly," Livingston says. "I think an actual practice, under today's guide-lines, that if an officer had done it, an officer would have received far greater punishment than she did . . . I honestly don't feel there can be any case made that she was handled more unfairly than I was . . . I think we were both handled fairly and equally justly."
Lt. Col. Art Brill, a Marine Corps spokesman, says the Livingston incident happened "years ago. And if a male marine posed in exactly the same circumstances that Sgt. Finney did, be he officer or enlisted or what have you, I can guaarantee you that the same identical treatment would take place. He would no longer be a male Mrine. He would be a former Marine."
Brill says people may see sexism in the way the two cases were handled and "the Marines Corps will have to bit the bullet on it, for a decision made years ago."
You can argue sexism. You can argue that Livingston, an officer and someone expected to set an example, merely got a letter of reprimand instead of getting bounced out like Sgt. Finney. But he did not pose as a Marine Corps captain. He posed as a rugby player.
And if the circumstances of their posing were different, so were their careers. Finney had been in the corps for four years, repaired teletype machines and was scheduled to get out in nine months. Livingston was a nine-year man with a Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, a Navy Commendation Medal, and hopes for a 20-year military career.
Livingston got a chance to retrieve and pursue his career, and you can argue that he got a substantially better deal than Finney. But if you look at his personnel file, you might agree that he was owed a little something.