Sgt. Slaughter has been a pro wrestling icon for decades.
He’s perhaps the most dreaded drill instructor of all time ― the old E-5 who makes everyone else wonder what he did in order to never make E-6.
It’s been a lucrative run: stints as a wrestling villain with real-life heat who pledged fealty to Saddam Hussein but later fell back in love with America, not to mention a turn as a prominent character in the G.I. Joe cartoon and action figure empire of the 1980s.
Sgt. Slaughter is portrayed by a real-life man named Robert Remus. But the line between Remus and his fictional persona are blurry.
In early 2019, on the Jim Norton & Sam Roberts radio show on SiriusXM, the 71-year-old Remus ― decked out in camouflage, his Smokey the Bear cover adorned with a sparkly gold band ― regaled his hosts about his two Marine combat tours in Vietnam before he started wrestling.
“I was basically just infantry, you know, just making sure all the grunts didn’t AWOL on us, keep ‘em all in line,” Remus said.
“Were you messed up when you came back?” Norton asked. “A lot of people, it took a while to shake it off.”
“Well, we didn’t really talk about it much,” Remus answered.
“We weren’t acknowledged as being heroes or anything like that. So we never talked about it and there’s some, a lot of bad experiences, and did a lot of things I normally wouldn’t have done unless I was ordered to do it.”
But Remus never served in the Marine Corps, according to government records.
World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE ― the wrestling giant known as the World Wrestling Federation at the height of Sgt. Slaughter’s popularity in the early 1990s ― also confirmed to Marine Corps Times that Remus never served.
Questions about Remus’ claims of real-life military service have been reported on for decades.
But accusations of stolen valor have resurfaced recently on pro wrestling news sites, some of which focused on that 2019 radio interview where he spoke of his (apparently fictional) time in combat before becoming a wrestler.
“It’s a bad look, especially since WWE uses him for veterans events,” said Steve Bryant, an Army veteran and founder of the California wrestling news site SoCal Uncensored. “He’s not a veteran.”
WWE told Marine Corps Times that when Remus is in character as Sgt. Slaughter for public appearances, such as the 2019 interview, he is speaking as his character, not as Remus.
But some in the wrestling world now criticizing Remus about his claims of having seen combat in Vietnam say that interview was a so-called “shoot interview,” where the real person is talking, not their wrestling character.
Norton and the show’s co-host, Sam Roberts, did not respond to requests for comment.
Remus could not be reached for comment and WWE did not respond to emailed requests to make him available for an interview.
“The beloved Sarge is now an Ambassador for WWE and busy as ever appearing at charity events all over America,” according to WWE’s website.
At one point during that Jim & Sam show interview, Remus noted that Sgt. Slaughter “is just a character I portray.”
“I didn’t start out as Sgt. Slaughter,” he said. “I just went as myself.”
Bryant said he didn’t buy WWE’s contention that Remus was discussing his time in Vietnam as the Sgt. Slaughter character.
“That interview, he’s talking about behind-the-scenes stuff, how storylines come up,” Bryant told Marine Corps Times. “It’s clearly not in character.”
Bryant said he was troubled by the comments because of all the troops who died in Vietnam or came home with post-traumatic stress.
More than 14,800 Marines died in the Vietnam War, according to the National Archives.
Remus said on the radio show that he decided on the Sgt. Slaughter character after seeing the 1957 film “The D.I.”
“I started watching it and I said that’s a hell of a character for a villain in professional wrestling,” Remus recalled.
“It panned out pretty well for me."
‘Just a wrestling character’
At one point in the 2019 interview, Remus recalled how he once used the The Marines’ Hymn as his wrestling entrance music.
Norton asked if Remus had ever taken part in any unit beatings.
“Full Metal Jacket, there’s that famous scene of the blanket party,” Norton said. “Did you ever see one of those administered?”
“Oh yeah,” Remus answered. “Yeah.”
“Did you ever receive one?”
“I’ve been in one,” Remus answered. “Participating.”
“What did the guy do?”
“He snuck Twinkies into the barracks,” Remus said. “They made us do it.”
Bryant, the founder of SoCal Uncensored, found that exchange particularly galling.
“There are people who legitimately have PTSD, or people who died in Vietnam, and here he is talking about doing blanket parties,” Bryant told Marine Corps Times.
Remus recalled having issues with burning the American flag as part of Sgt. Slaughter’s run as a bad guy.
“You had I’m sure friends who were killed in fighting,” Norton said.
“Oh yeah,” Remus replied.
Norton mentioned how returning Vietnam vets were scorned, and how things have improved throughout the decades.
“Now, there’s so much pro-troop sentiment, support, did you resent that at all, like, what about us?” Norton asked Remus.
“I did, for a while, but then you know I got with the WWE and we started working with the military and, of course, we do an event every year, ‘Tribute to the Troops,’ so it’s a way of me letting all that hostility and anger out and put it toward a good reason,” Remus said.
WWE televises its annual show for the U.S. military, and wrestlers have traveled to war zones and other spots outside the U.S. to put on shows for service members.
“Does it help too, getting into wrestling not too long after that and showing up at these buildings and these arenas where you do have adulation?” asked Roberts, who also hosts a popular wrestling podcast and works the panels for the pre-show of major WWE events. “They’re cheering for you as a wrestler, but you’re still getting that adulation that you didn’t get that you should’ve gotten.”
Playing a Saddam Hussein sympathizer during the Gulf War in the ring got Remus death threats outside of it, he recalled.
At one point, Remus said the FBI recommended he wear a bulletproof vest on his way to the ring.
“I just didn’t want to wear it,” Remus said. “I had bulletproof vests on for most of my military career.”
“These people are not separating, like, oh…Sgt. Slaughter’s just a wrestling character,” Roberts noted.
“Right,” Remus replied.
One old Gulf War-era promo shows an arena howling in fury as Sgt. Slaughter, rocking a keffiyeh scarf, opens up a pair of boots Hussein sent him as a present and swears his loyalty to the tyrant.
“I, Sgt. Slaughter, pledge that my career will follow your lofty standards!" he yelled. "Just as you conquered Kuwait, I, Sgt. Slaughter, will wear these boots, I will wear your gift, and I will conquer the World Wrestling Federation champion, the Ultimate Warrior! After that, there’ll be only one thing left to do! I will go over to Baghdad, and side by side, two conquering heroes will ride down the streets of Baghdad in a parade of celebration!”
Despite death threats to him and his family, and the FBI advising him to wear a vest to the ring, Remus said in the radio interview that he kept up the facade of the character as much as possible, only breaking “kayfabe” ― maintaining the illusion that wrestling and its characters are real ― when he had to go to his kids’ schools.
“I tell them I’m just an actor,” Remus told Norton and Roberts.
Remus recalled being a shy kid, “a farm kid.”
“I was nicknamed Sgt. Slaughter in the Marine Corps,” Remus said.
“Wait, they nicknamed you Sgt. Slaughter in Vietnam?” Norton asked.
All three laughed.
“I cannot tell you what I did over there,” Remus replied, smiling.
Remus told the hosts he got into wrestling while checking out a local show in Minnesota while on leave.
According to Remus, the main trainer told him: “Your last name, Remus. Your father’s named Rudy?”
“I said, yeah,” Remus told the radio show, adding that his dad had roofed the coach’s house.
“When I got out, I didn’t re-enlist, I just went right into the training camp and been doing it ever since,” Remus recounted.
By the end of the interview, which was a few months before the annual WrestleMania event, Roberts and Norton thanked him for coming in.
But first, Remus put Norton in the cobra clutch.
“No pushups for you guys,” Remus said. “You’re dismissed.”
‘Setting the record straight’
Marine Corps spokeswoman Yvonne Carlock said the Corps has not received any requests for information on Remus in at least six years.
But service officials expressed concern over the Sgt. Slaughter character 35 years ago.
Reporters for the Baltimore Sun magazine wrote back in 1985 that Remus had never served, “though he claims to have been a drill instructor from 1966 to 1973.”
“We’ve been ‘interested’ in Slaughter for a couple of years, since he began using our paraphernalia,” then-Marine Corps Capt. Jay Farrar was quoted as saying in the magazine.
Farrar’s office had received “50 complaints in the past year from true-blue marines, citing Slaughter’s abuse of the uniform,” the 1985 article states.
Back then, Congress only recently had passed a law prohibiting civilians from using the Marine Corps emblem and insignia, according to the magazine.
“Sgt. Slaughter isn’t a bad guy,” Farrar is quoted saying. “He’s trying to uphold good things. But he’s abusing something that Marines hold near and dear to us, just for showmanship.”
Karl Stern, a writer for the pop culture nostalgia site WhenItWasCool, wrote in a recent post that Remus’ honesty about his service, and Sgt. Slaughter’s legend, can still coexist.
“I love G.I. Joe,” Stern wrote. “I love pro wrestling. I love the character of Sgt. Slaughter. I humbly ask the man who is 71 year old Robert Remus to consider setting the record straight.”
“There is no shame in being a great character … no shame at all in a job well done,” he added. “Just be clear and don’t steal nor diminish the valor of true real American heroes while doing so.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.