U.S.MC BIRTHDAY BALL November 4, 2000 Vienna, Austria Remarks by Col. Frederick J. Vogel USMCR (Ret'd)


   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 Catholic priests
-- "Knights in shining armor" -- with apologies to King Arthur, and
-- "Every Marine a rifleman" -- with apologies to no one.
   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 allies.
   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."