February 23, 2006

What's special about a Marine?

From a recent e-mail. Perhaps this description of their philosophy
is what made the Marines' arguably the worlds most formidable
warriors.

Ask a Marine what's so special about the Marines and the answerwould be "Esprit de Corps", an unhelpful French phrase that meansexactly what it looks like - the spirit of the Corps, but what is thatspirit, and where does it come from?

The Marine Corps is the only branch of the U.S. Armed Forces thatrecruits people specifically to fight.

The Army emphasizes personal development (an Army of One), theNavy promises fun (let the journey begin), the Air Force offers security(its a great way of life).

Missing from all the advertisements is the hard fact that a soldier'slot is to suffer and perhaps to die for his people, and take lives at therisk of his/her own. Even the thematic music of the services reflectsthis evasion.

The Army's Caisson Song describes a pleasant country outing. Overhill and dale, lacking only a picnic basket.

Anchors Aweigh, the Navy's celebration of the joys of sailing, couldhave been penned by Jimmy Buffet.

The Air Force song is a lyric poem of blue skies and engine thrust. Allis joyful, invigorating, and safe.

There are no land mines in the dales nor snipers behind the hills, nosubmarines or cruise missiles threaten the ocean jaunt, no bandits arelurking in the wild blue yonder.

The Marines Hymn, by contrast, is all-combat. We fight our Country'sbattles, First to fight for right and freedom, we have fought in everyclime and place where we could take a gun, in many a strife we havefought for life and never lost our nerve.

The choice is made clear. You may join the Army to go to adventuretraining, or join the Navy to go to Bangkok, or join the Air Force to goto computer school. You join the Marine Corps to go to War!

But the mere act of signing the enlistment contract confers no statusin the Corps.

The Army recruit is told from his first minute in uniform that "your inthe Army now", soldier. The Navy and Air Force enlistees are sailors orairmen as soon as they get off bus at the training center.

The new arrival at Marine Corps boot camp is called a recruit, or worse,but never a MARINE. Not yet, maybe never. He or she must earn theright to claim the title of UNITED STATES MARINE, and failure returnsyou to civilian life without hesitation or ceremony.

Recruit Platoon 2210 at San Diego, California trained from Octoberthrough December of 1968. In Viet Nam the Marines were taking twohundred casualties a week, and the major rainy season operation MeadeRiver, had not even begun. Yet Drill Instructors had no qualms aboutwinnowing out almost a quarter of their 112 recruits, graduatingeighty-one. Note that this was post - enlistment attrition; every oneof those who were dropped had been passed by the recruiters as fit forservice.

But they failed the test of Boot Camp, and not necessarily for physicalreasons; at least two were outstanding high school athletes for whomthe calisthenics and running were child's play. The cause of theirfailure was not in the biceps nor the legs, but in the spirit. They hadlacked the will to endure the mental and emotional strain, so they wouldnot be Marines. Heavy commitments and high casualties not withstanding,the Corps reserves the right to pick and choose.

History classes in boot camp? Stop a soldier on the street and ask himto name a battle of World War One. Pick a sailor at random to describethe epic fight of the Bon Homme Richard. Everyone has heard of McGuireAir Force Base. So ask any airman who Major Thomes McGuire was, andwhy he is so commemorated.

I am not carping, and there is no sneer in this criticism. All of theservices have glorious traditions, but no one teaches the young soldier,sailor or airman what his uniform means and why he should be proud of it.
But ask a Marine about World War One, and you will hear of the wheat field
at Belleau Wood and the courage of the Fourth Marine Brigade, fifth andsixth regiments.

Faced with an enemy of superior numbers entrenched in tangled forestundergrowth, the Marines received an order to attack that even thecharitable cannot call ill - advised. It was insane. Artillery supportwas absent and air support had not yet been invented, so the Brigade
charged German machine guns with only bayonets, grenades, and
indomitable fighting spirit. A bandy-legged little barrel of a gunnery
sergeant, Daniel J. Daly, rallied his company with a shout, "Come on you
sons a bitches, do you want to live forever"?

He took out three machine guns himself, and they would give him the Medal
of Honor except for a technicality, he already had two of them.

French liaison officers, hardened though they were by four years of trench
bound slaughter, were shocked as the Marines charged across the open
wheat field under a blazing sun directly into the teeth of enemy fire. Theiraction was anachronistic on the twentieth-century battlefield; so much so that
they might as well have been swinging cutlasses. But the enemy was only
human; they could not stand up to this. So the Marines took Belleau Wood.
The Germans called them "Dogs from the Devil."

Every Marine knows this story and dozens more. We are taught them inboot camp as a regular part of the curriculum. Every Marine will alwaysbe taught them! You can learn to don a gas mask anytime, even on the
plane in route to the war zone, but before you can wear the Eagle Globe &
Anchor and claim the title "Marine", you must know about the Marines who
made that emblem and title meaningful. So long as you can march and
shoot and revere the legacy of the Corps, you can take your place in line.And that line is unified spirit as in purpose.

A soldier wears branch of service insignia on his collar, metal shoulderpins and cloth sleeve patches to identify his unit. Sailors wear a rating
badge that identifies what they do for the Navy.

Marines wear only the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, together with personalribbons and their CHERISHED marksmanship badges. There is nothing on
a Marine's uniform to indicate what he or she does, nor what unit the Marinebelongs to. You cannot tell by looking at a Marine whether you are seeing a
truck driver, a computer programmer, or a machine gunner. The Corps
explains this as a security measure to conceal the identity and location of
units, but the Marines' penchant for publicity makes that the least likely of
explanations. No, the Marine is amorphous, even anonymous, by conscious
design.

Every Marine is a rifleman first and foremost, a Marine first, last and always!
You may serve a four-year enlistment or even a twenty plus year career
withoutseeing action, but if the word is given you'll charge across that
wheatfield! Whether a Marine has been schooled in automated supply,
automotive mechanics, or aviation electronics, is immaterial. Those things
are secondary - the Corps does them because it must. The modern
battlefield requires the technical appliances, and since the enemy has them,
so do we, but no Marine boasts mastery of them. Our pride is in our
marksmanship, our discipline, and our membership in a fraternity of courage
and sacrifice."For the honor of the fallen, for the glory of the dead", EdgarGuest wrote of Belleau Wood,"the living line of courage kept the faithand moved ahead."

They are all gone now, those Marines who made a French farmer's littlewheatfield into one of the most enduring of Marine Corps legends. Manyof them did not survive the day,and eight long decades have claimed therest. But their actions are immortal. The Corps remembers them andhonors what they did, and so they live forever.

Dan Daly's shouted challenge takes on its true meaning - if you lie inthe trenches you may survive for now, but someday you will die and noone will care. If you charge the guns you may die in the next twominutes, but you will be one of the immortals.

All Marines die; some in the red flash of battle, some in the white coldof the nursing home. In the vigor of youth or the infirmity of age, allwill eventually die. But the Marine Corps lives on. Every Marine whoever lived is living still - in the Marines who claim the title today. It is that
sense of belonging to something that will outlive your own mortality, which
gives people a light to live by and a flame to mark their passing.

Maj. Daniel L. Hooker, officer-in-charge, II MEF ISU,

Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, commanding general, II MEF

II Marine Expeditionary Force Injured Support Unit


Commanding General
II Marine Expeditionary Force
PSC Box 20080
Camp Lejeune, NC 28542-0080

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