By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)May 5, 2016
Clint Eastwood played an irreverent, salty Marine gunnery sergeant in the movie "Heartbreak Ridge."
Because of that movie, the Marine Corps Military Police Basic Course training area on Fort Leonard Wood is nicknamed "Heartbreak Ridge." Fitting, since they have their own version of "Gunny Highway."
Walter Bunt is just about everything Eastwood portrayed as Gunny Sgt. Thomas Highway -- combat veteran from a war fought long before his students were born, the same salt-and-pepper-high-and-tight haircut, tall, strong jaw, deceptively strong and a booming command voice to match.
Bunt is as memorable among Marine MPs as Highway is among movie buffs.
"You go back to the Fleet Marine Force and ask any MP who they remember from MP school, they may remember the instructor they had every day, but they will all remember Mr. Bunt," said Marine Sgt. Robert Fraser, MP Basic Course team lead instructor, Military Police Instruction Company, Fort Leonard Wood.
Bunt made an impression on Fraser, because the "old man" could outrun and out perform every Marine at physical training.
"I always followed the Marine Corps tradition you lead by example," Bunt said. "I felt, if I can't keep up with the Marines, I should not be instructing them. That's why I am retiring at 67. I can't run with them like I use to."
There is even a pushup Marines in the company call the "Bunt pushup." The exercise resembles a regular pushup, except the arms and legs are spread, and instead of using arms; you push up with your fingers.
"I have never found 10 percent of a class since I've been here that could do one, including the instructors," Bunt said. "It's a personal accomplishment I hold dear to my heart."
The Marine Corps has served as the bookends on Bunt's career. He started as an enlisted Marine who fought in Vietnam and will close his career in June working with Marines as a civilian instructor.
"I'm going to miss the camaraderie," Bunt said. "I'm going to miss seeing the look on faces when they are finally successful with a technique you teach."
Bunt's career after Vietnam included teaching martial arts to Marines at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, before being influenced to become a police officer. After a 5-year wait, Bunt attended the police academy and spent the next 30 years as a police officer working in nearly every department. Bunt retired as internal affairs captain with the Overland, Missouri Police Department in 2005.
He went back to teaching Marines at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California, before an opening at Fort Leonard Wood came up in 2008.
"When I was given the opportunity to train Marines at the MP school I thought, what a great honor. Especially when I found out I was the first civilian to ever train Marine MPs," he said. "I set a goal to be sure to make a difference in their lives in any way I could."
The difference Bunt made has been felt from the top Marines in the Military Police Instruction Company, all the way to the students.
"He's made a bigger impact to the Marine Corps than I ever will, and I've done 20 years," said Marine Master Sgt. James Fuentes, Military Police Basic Course chief. "He's got 80 bright-eyed, young kids who are sponges trying to get police tactics, and they are looking up to him for that information. To not have that anymore will be crazy."
"As an instructor now, he is one of those guys I go to when I have questions law enforcement wise and even instructor wise," he said. "He is definitely that individual who can guide me in that right path. Future students will miss out on the stories, the years of knowledge and the demeanor this man brought here."
The lowest estimate puts Bunt at providing military police instruction in the areas of defensive tactics, firearms and first aid to more than 8,000 students, since he came to Fort Leonard Wood. He said it was all about providing something for these Marines that he never got in the Corps.
"We didn't get a lot of the information about what's going to happen physically, philologically, psychologically while facing adversaries," he said. "I'm just trying to give them as much life-experience in law enforcement and Marine Corps combat I think they need. I did not want them not knowing what it would be like, as I had found out in Vietnam."
Fuentes called Bunt a humble professional who lives what he teaches.
"He is all about training," Fuentes said. "He sleeps, eats and breathes cop. I don't do that, and I'm the course chief."
For Bunt, he does it all for the next generation of Marine military police.
"I tell all of these young Marines they have to come back one day and give back. I think we all need to give back. Because if you don't, what good is your life," Bunt said. "I tell these instructors, we're here to make a difference in their lives. If we are successful teaching one technique to a Marine that might help him down the road, no matter what happens the rest of your life, you are not a failure."
The proof is felt among the current staff and instructors who said they would miss his experience and his presence in general.
"He's going to be missed. Everybody here knows him and loves him," Fuentes said. "There is no one who could fill his shoes, no way. Not with his resume, not with where he has been, not with his knowledge."
Bunt, misty eyed, reflected on the end of his career and the things he will miss the most about being at Fort Leonard Wood.
"I've seen a part of the Marine Corps here I didn't see when I was in the Corps," he said. "I got out as a sergeant. The camaraderie I had as a radio operator and grunt is not the same I get in the MP field. I've built closer relationships here with the Marines in the company than I did when I was in the Corps."
"It's Semper Fi. Once a Marine, always a Marine," Bunt added.