ONCE A MARINE ...:
The Gunny asked me to speak briefly - I promise
briefly - about Marine things.
I should just tell you that for the last couple
of years, I had the dubious honor of being the Oldest Marine in
Vienna (if not the world). But I can remember my first Marine
Ball, at the Basic School in Quantico, where the oldest Marine
was a veteran of the WWI battle of Belleau Wood. The guy was so
old, they had to carbon-date him to get his real age. Then, before
I knew what was happening, turn around and I was the Oldest Marine.
How the years fly by. I was actually preceded for a couple of
years here by my esteemed colleague, Charles Oleszycki. Now, Charles
is himself so old that they had to date him by the geological
strata around him.
So, with the indulgence of colleagues and friends,
I will address my remarks primarily to our honored hosts, the
Marines themselves. And I would make just three points:
-- "Thou art a Marine forever" -- with apologies to
-- "Knights in shining armor" -- with apologies to King
-- "Every Marine a rifleman" -- with apologies to no
On the first point, Marines have a saying: "Once
a Marine, always a Marine." I remember a presentation made
by former Commandant Chuck Krulak at the Army War College some
years ago. He made the point that the Marine Corps doesn't promise
anyone a college education, business skills for the private sector,
or a rose garden by any other name. What the Marine Corps does
promise is to change a young man or woman forever, to break a
recruit down to bedrock, then build that recruit into a new person,
a United States Marine. When you put on that eagle, globe and
anchor, you join the ranks of Marines from those in the rigging
of the Bonhomme Richard to the victors of latter day battles,
such as Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, the Choison Reservoir, Hue City
and Khe Sahn, and Kuwait City.
Now, you know the story of John Paul Jones and
the Bonhomme Richard, don't you? A cannon ball from the British
warship Serapis cut down the U.S. flag and the British captain,
quite honorably, asked Captain Jones if he had struck his colors
(surrendered). Jones delivered his immortal reply of defiance:
"Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!" To which a Marine
in the rigging grumbled, "There's always that ten percent
who don't get the word!"
On my second point, I recall the recruiting
campaigns launched by the various armed services over the past
few years. The other services have very effective, very impressive
programs. The Navy's program actually focuses on a variation of
"join the Navy and see the world." What they don't mention
is that world is three-quarters ocean and most of what you see
is water. (I say that as one who spent a total of a year at sea
- and I loved it.) But the Marine Corps recruiting campaign shows
- what? Do you remember? It shows a knight in shining armor, overcoming
impossible odds, slaying dragons. The reason for this is that
this is the image you have among the American people. Knights
in shining armor, defenders of the right, true to your motto "Semper
Fidelis" -- faithful even unto death. As a United States
Marine, you are one with all those who have gone before you who
have committed their "lives, their fortunes, their sacred
honor" in a great cause, beyond politics or self-interest,
but borne up by a sense of duty and honor, and the true spirit
of chivalry. To quote an earlier writer, "Model yourself
upon them, Posterity, if you would be praised."
The third point I would make is that of every
Marine a rifleman. And for that, I will have to break the golden
rule not to tell war stories. There is actually a philosophical
principle, that when men - not women, but only men - start to
flatulate bombastically on three subjects, there is an inverse
relationship between talk and action. And those three subjects
are War, Sports and their prowess with the Ladies.
But I will tell you a couple of stories, mostly
about others. So, I guess it's OK. Picture if you will the Mini-Tet
Offensive of 1968. The First Marine Division Headquarters at Hill
327 near Danang is under attack all along its perimeter. But this
is only a diversion. The real objective of the attack is a special
communications facility on the top of the hill. An elite commando
unit of the enemy - the R-20 Sapper Battalion - has scaled a vertical
cliff in the dead of night and is attacking toward the communications
center. There is no one around to stop them but the Division reaction
force, the 1st MarDiv Band. You have to understand that these
guys normally spend their days playing music and marching in ceremonial
parades. But come nightfall in a combat zone, the bandsmen doffed
their drums and bugles and donned their flack jackets and helmets,
took up weapons, and became the most stalwart of modern-day warriors,
the Marine rifleman.
We could watch the action from our position
at the base of the hill, by the muzzle flashes of small arms and
the explosions of grenades and satchel charges. You could see
the lines go back and forth, depending on who was attacking or
counterattacking, and every time the momentum changed there were
fewer of the muzzle flashes from the other side. Finally, we watched
with the greatest pride and admiration as our side swept the remnants
of the Sapper Battalion from the crest of the hill. I doubt that
the bandsmen heard it, but the Marines of the 1st Recon Battalion
were cheering like a bunch of Redskins fans. Every Marine a Rifleman.
Later, towards dawn, the south end of the Danang
airfield came under concerted attack by several regiments of the
enemy. But when the smoke had cleared, regular main force enemy
units had been stopped dead in their tracks - literally - by aircrewmen,
aircraft mechanics, MP's of the 1st MAW. At first light, a composite
company from 1st Recon Battalion, consisting of recon Marines
augmented by mess cooks, truck drivers, admin clerks, relieved
the Air Wing in place and immediately launched into the assault,
driving the enemy before them. I tell you, that day it was the
cooks, bakers and candlestick makers of the Marines that bore
the battle and won the victory. Every Marine a Rifleman.
In closing, I would like to refer back to that
battle the bandsmen fought on the top of Hill 327. As the R-20
Sapper Battalion was withdrawing, a lone NVA corpsman (a medic),
after dragging off his dead and wounded, stood up in full sight
right in front of a lone Marine bunker - a pillbox with two young
Marines in it. He came to attention and saluted, did an about-face
and marched off with the rest of his battalion.
There is a much longer story there, but the
lesson in life, beyond mere wars and battles, is this: that there
is no greater honor than to earn the respect of your enemies.
There is also no honor in doing battle with an unworthy opponent.
Choose your enemies wisely. Do not take up arms lightly, but when
you do, chastise your enemies like the very wrath of God. When
the cannons fall silent and the battlefield is strewn with dead
and dying, fight on. Never admit defeat. Be magnanimous in victory.
Treat your enemies with the honor they are due - they are your
brothers, they have suffered as you have. And although they may
now follow another flag, in the next battle, they may be your
I will leave you tonight with this thought,
and ask that you to let it serve as your guide in the Marine Corps
and throughout life itself. I have taken this from the eulogy
of Sir Ector upon the death of his brother Sir Lancelot du Lac
of the Round Table:
"Ah, Lancelot, thou wert head of all Christian
knights. And now I dare say, thou Sir Lancelot there thou liest,
that thou were never matched of earthly knight's hand. And thou
were the courtliest knight that ever bare shield. And thou were
the truest friend of thy lover that ever bestrode horse. And thou
were the truest lover, of a sinful man, that ever loved woman.
And thou were the kindest man that ever strake with sword. And
thou were the godliest person that ever came among press of knights.
And thou were the meekest man and gentlest that ever ate in hall
among ladies. And thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal
foe that ever put spear in rest."