The critically acclaimed 1992 film A Few Good Men tells the story of a Marine hazing gone awry, which leaves a man dead. Not many realize, however, that there is a true story behind A Few Good Men but in real life, a different man actually died. A hazing ritual at Guantanamo Bay conducted by US Marines, including PFC David Cox, left one man severely injured. While the victim ultimately survived, other aspects of the story are far more unsettling than its cinematic retelling.
In 1994, the real-life Cox and several others had a pending suit against Castle Rock Entertainment over what they believed to be defamation of truth and character through the film's portrayal of the hazing. When Cox disappeared, then turned up murdered months later, there was some suspicion his death was related to his vocal complaints about the film. While no one may ever know for sure what happened to David Cox, his legacy lives on as friends and family seek to honor his memory as a dedicated and ethical Marine.
In the real-life version of the tale, William Alvarado ("William Santiago" in the film) became the target of a violent hazing due to a rumor circulating amongst the Marines stationed at Guantanamo. Allegedly, Alvarado had informed on a Marine who fired shots into Cuba. While the story was unsubstantiated, it was enough for the Marines to call a “Code Red.” This was jargon used to indicate a hazing ritual. Allegedly, the marines claimed did not intend to seriously harm Alvarado; they were merely trying to teach him a lesson, following their superior's orders.
While William Santiago dies from a hazing ritual in A Few Good Men, the real-life events played out less tragically. One night in July 1986, the Guantanamo Marines were inspired to haze Alvarado after they watched Animal House. Alvarado was blindfolded and gagged while the Marines beat him. They also cut his hair.
Things grew dangerous, however, when Cox noticed Alvarado was turning blue. The Marines had taken the hazing too far, which caused Alvarado's lungs to fill with fluid. He nearly died from the attack but luckily recovered after receiving care in a nearby hospital.
It wasn’t easy for Cox to fight the charges against him. He was offered a plea bargain in which the charges would be dropped if he accepted an "other than honorable discharge" from the Marines. Seven of the men involved took the deal, but Cox refused. He wanted to clear his name and continue his duties. He chose to fight the charges in trial and faced the potential punishment of a court-martial and up to a 20-year prison sentence.
Cox's attorney, Don Marcari, took a somewhat risky defense. He fell on what is called the "obedience to order" defense, alleging that Cox was following the command of a higher ranking official. As the "Code Red" Cox responded to was more of an implied rather than official command, this defense had a good chance of falling through. Nevertheless, Cox was determined to clear his name and went through with the trial.
In the midst of the controversy surrounding A Few Good Men, David Cox was murdered under mysterious circumstances. On January 5, 1994, Cox’s girlfriend arrived at the apartment they shared. She knew right away something was wrong. The pet rabbit he had given her for her birthday was hopping around the kitchen. Cox was not there. A few glasses were turned over, but there were no obvious signs of a struggle. Cox’s car remained in the driveway with his gun and paycheck inside, and nothing appeared to be out of place. Cox’s girlfriend filed a missing person’s report, but he was gone for three months.