Nov 10, 2014

Veterans Day Roll Call

Today we call the roll:

Bunker Hill. The Battle of Bladensburg. San Juan Hill. Chateau Thierry. Monte Cassino. Guadalcanal. Midway. Chosin Reservoir. Khe Sanh. An Nasiriyah. Fallujah. Garmsir. Today is the day to honor those men and women who helped found and protect the United States: the American Veteran.

America has been blessed with a citizenry that has produced some extraordinary Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen through its history. William Travis drawing a line in the sand at the Alamo. Cpl. Alvin York in the Argonne. Sgt. Dan Daly rallying the surviving Marines to charge the German machine guns at Belleau Wood, "Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?" Gen. O.P. Smith from Chosin Reservoir, "We're walking out, and we're bringing our wounded and our dead with us." Sgt. Robert Banfield, Marine Artilleryman at An-Nasiriyah, "Hurry up! We've got Marines dying up there!"

"I enlisted. I was drafted. I served in the Guard." While Americans enlist for a variety of reasons, it's worth remembering that in the depths of the 2005-2006 carnage in the Sunni Triangle, US Marine recruiting offices were jammed with young men and women wanting to do their part for their country.

Many make it a family tradition. Linda Woodland's father, Sgt Hamilton Woodland served in the Army Air Corps in WW2, as did her uncle Ralph Howell 3rd, but their tradition dates back much further; while her great-grandfather John C. Howell enrolled in 1862 as sergeant of Company H, Twenty-seventh New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, and fought at both Fredericksburg and Vicksburg, ancestor John Pellet, Jr. fought in the Revolution.

Sgt Adam Grau is another whose family tradition dates back to the Civil War. Both grandfathers plus a grandmother served; Sgt. Irv Schulwolf, Army, Korean War, Cpl. Wallace E. Grau, 9th U.S. Army Air Force, WW2, and Petty Officer Dorothy Slivka Grau, Navy, WW2. So did his great-grandfather Pvt. Walter Grau, American Expeditionary Force, WW1 who was a machine gunner like Adam. Their tradition began with Cpl. Albin Knolle, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 11th Corps, Army of the Potomac, who received a battlefield promotion the evening of 7/1/1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and later WIA at the Battle of Lookout Mtn. TN. Died of war wounds 1886.

The freedoms enjoyed by Americans today have not come easily. Spanish-American War: 2,446 killed; WWI 116,708 - WWII: 405,399 - Korea: 53,686 - Vietnam: 58,236 - Iraq: 4,427 - Afghanistan: 2,350 The totals unfortunately include such fine men and women as Sgt. Justin Noyes, Fallujah; HN3 Chris "Doc" Anderson, Ramadi - Maj. Megan McClung, Ramadi; Capt. Travis Patriquin, Ramadi, and Lance Cpl. Gavin Brummond, Marjah.

From where does America get such men, author James Michener once wondered. Noyes came from a little town in Oklahoma, Doc from outside of Denver. Iwo Jima flag raiser Sgt. Mike Strank came from Pittsburgh by way of Czechoslovakia, while his fellow flag raiser, Pvt. Ira Hayes, came off an Arizona Indian reservation, as did the Marines' famed Navajo Code Talkers. The Army's Nisei Battalion, the most heavily decorated — and wounded — of WWII, was of Japanese ancestry, and it's worth noting that 57,000+ immigrants became citizens since 9/11 while forward-deployed.

While WW2's Rosie the Riveter received the publicity, women in the military wrote their own chapters. After 22 Army nurses were captured by the Japanese when the Army surrendered at Corregidor, women rushed to enlist. Sgt. Clare Mendell (later wife of Marine Capt. James Lubin) commanded the women's unit at Quantico that wrote "The Letter" to the families of the KIA Marines, and during the war, most of the Army Air Force planes ferried to England were flown by women – with 36 of them crashing and dying on the way. Women Marines and soldiers have earned Bronze and Silver Stars while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and America's Women Warriors have received their fair share of Purple Hearts. The valor and capabilities of America's female combat veterans is not a topic that needs debating.

Thank you, all who serve or have served; it's you who protects America.

Nov 9, 2014

239 Years and Counting!

The 239th birthday of the Marine Corps is tomorrow; 10 November. This past weekend Marines -both active and former - throughout the world were attending celebrations and galas. Young Marines in their first set of dress blues, accompanied by their equally young girlfriends perhaps wearing last year’s high-school prom dresses, proudly rubbed elbows with their captains, majors, and other senior officers under whom they serve.

But a formal occasion isn't necessary; all over the country fathers dress up to take their Marine sons out for an evening, or a son will be sure to take his old man out for a few drinks. You see, tradition isn’t built on dining and dancing, it’s built on the remembrance and recognition of those who came before.

In many cases, being a Marine is a family tradition. There are birthday balls where sons, daughters, fathers, uncles, and cousins attend en masse—a family fire-team or a 155-mm gun crew, if you like—and they’ll tell you that becoming a Marine was one way of following in Dad’s footsteps. In many cases, becoming a Marine was something they’d wanted to do since they were little boys.

It’s hard to know what came first, the mystique of being a Marine, or the history and traditions that built the mystique; regardless, these Marines grabbed the concept and never let it go. Maybe they liked the way Dad carried himself, or maybe the stories of Tarawa, Chosin, or Hue city appealed to them. But being a Marine was part of their essential nature, part of their reason for being.

Some careers come with their own lasting dignity: hard jobs like steel worker, policeman, or Marine. Jobs where by the end of the day I-beams have been produced, drug dealers arrested, or villages cleared of insurgents. Jobs where sweat, effort, and dedication are more important than where someone went to college.

It’s an unusual thing about these jobs: those who have them look at life in moral, instead of economic terms. They tend to ignore income levels, job titles, and frequent-flyer miles earned, and instead rank others in terms of who can provide for their families, or who has the courage to dash out into the street under fire to drag back a wounded buddy. You can spot them by the way they look you in the eye and the way they carry themselves.

So 10 November is their day and Marines will celebrate the birthday of their Corps. Around the globe, in various climes and places, this year, last year, and next year, the following scene will play out: Whether the celebration is big or small, there is a birthday cake. Even though in Ramadi or those little COPS along the Helmand River, it was likely an MRE brownie, it was a cake, and in the tradition of the Corps, the oldest Marine at the service will present the first piece to the youngest. This is Marine tradition, the passing of the cake symbolizing “You are one of us. You are part of an organization that is older than the United States itself. The courage of your predecessors is part of your heritage. You are one of us—now go and pass it on.”

And that’s what brings us back to the 239th birthday of the Marine Corps, where being part of something larger than themselves, where hard work, sweat, brotherhood, and tradition are part of every day, and where terms like “honor,” “courage,” and “commitment” remain the way of life for The Few, The Proud, The Marines.

Happy Birthday Marines!!