A Call for Marines, 1965

EGA 2014-002The official mission of the United States Marine Corps is to serve as an expeditionary force in readiness, as outlined within the National Security Act of 1947, with three primary areas of responsibility: Seize or defend advanced naval bases and other land operations in support of naval campaigns, the development of tactics, techniques, and equipment used for amphibious operations in coordination with the Army and Air Force, and to fulfill such other duties as the President of the United States may direct.

Given the fact that the President of the United States is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, that last clause (above) may appear to some as a redundant mission, but “…other duties as the President may direct” has been specifically addressed to the Marines since 1798, reaffirmed in 1834 and 1951. The Marine Corps has more often than not performed combat operations of a non-naval nature since Tripoli, the War of 1812, the battle at Chapultepec, numerous campaigns in Central America and the Caribbean, during World War I, and the Korean War. The common thread for each of these is that the President of the United States ordered the Marines to perform them —but of course, this was back when we still had a commander in chief.

The Marines, as with its sister service the U. S. Navy and other branches of the Armed Forces, continually develop, review, exercise, and modify (as necessary) various contingency operations plans at locations throughout the entire world. It is this process of operational planning that enables Marine Corps commands to “execute” combat operations within a short time frame once the national command authority that combat operations are necessary. This is what happened in 1965 —sort of.

9th MABIn January 1965, Fleet Marine Force headquarters placed the 3rd Marine Division (Okinawa) on alert status. Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch, a veteran of several amphibious operations during World War II, was then serving as the Assistant Division Commander of the 3rd Marine Division, was detailed to form a brigade around the 9th Marine Regiment, designated 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade [1]. In 1965, the 9th MAB consisted of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines and 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines —both of which were at sea with the US Navy’s Task Force 76, then called an amphibious ready group (ARG).

Five months following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Lyndon Johnson [2] was still struggling with having to make a decision about the US role in South Vietnam. A flurry of messages between Washington, Hawaii, and Saigon served to confuse the alert status of the Marines. By the end of January, General Westmoreland (Commanding the Military Advisory Command, Vietnam) requested that Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp [3] (Commander in Chief, Pacific) support him by stationing the US Seventh Fleet off the coast of Vietnam for an extended period. With nearly forty years service in the Navy, Admiral Sharp knew better than most that the only thing gained from keeping Marines penned up aboard ship is that it makes them testy. Accordingly, Admiral Sharp declined Westmoreland’s request, offering instead a 72-hour window.

Meanwhile, General Karch was flying back and forth between Okinawa, the Special Landing Force Camp at Subic Bay, and Saigon attempting to plan training exercises in Thailand, and concurrently, making final plans for possible combat operations in Vietnam.

In early February, Viet Cong forces attacked a US compound at Pleiku in the Central Highlands. They killed nine Americans, wounded 128, and damaged or destroyed 122 aircraft. Higher authority ordered the Marines to station a battery of HAWK missiles at Đà Nẵng as part of a defense shield. The movement of one battery was no easy task; it required 27 aircraft to move personnel and equipment from Okinawa to Đà Nẵng.

Operational reappraisals were occurring almost by the minute in Washington, Hawaii, and Saigon. President Johnson sent a delegation to Vietnam to confer with Westmoreland and Ambassador Maxwell D. Taylor and determine the feasibility of airstrikes against North Vietnam and the likely impact on the communists operating in RVN. It was McGeorge Bundy’s recommendation that Lyndon Johnson develop a “sustained reprisal policy.” And, whereas Westmoreland earlier concluded that the introduction of combat forces would only make matters worse in Vietnam, the Pleiku attack seemed to suggest that the insurgency had taken a new direction.

The internal power struggles continued in South Vietnam; no one was quite sure who was in charge of the government in any given hour of the day. President Johnson decided in mid-February to approve a “limited and measured” air campaign against the North Vietnamese, which the US military would refer to as ROLLING THUNDER. General Westmoreland made up his mind about the number of ground troops needed to defend the air base at Đà Nẵng. He submitted a request to the JCS on 22 February for a 3-battalion Marine brigade. By this time, General Karch and two battalions were afloat off the coast of Vietnam. At the end of the month, President Johnson approved a two-battalion brigade with the mission to protect Đà Nẵng airbase from enemy intrusion.

Brigadier General Karch met with General Westmoreland on 25 February 1965 to discuss the plan for a Marine landing at Đà Nẵng. Two days later, Karch met with the Vietnamese I Corps commander, Major General Nguyễn Chánh Thi (the virtual warlord of South Vietnam’s five northern-most provinces). As Karch and Westmoreland’s operations officer, Brigadier General William E. DuPuy were arriving at Thi’s headquarters, he noticed the presence of a New York Times reporter within the compound. DuPuy told Karch, “This is not a good sign.” Moments later, a phone call from Saigon ordered DuPuy, “Get Karch and his staff out of Vietnam as soon as possible.”

Karch and his staff returned to Subic Bay, and then flew back to Okinawa. I can see everyone in Karch’s party scratching their heads and muttering obscenities. At about the same time as this was taking place, the US Department of State cabled Ambassador Taylor and ordered him to seek RVN’s pre-approval for a Marine landing. For two days, Taylor wrangled with various Vietnamese officials. Some of these had no objection to the employment of Marines at Đà Nẵng, but voicing concern for the reaction of local citizens, the official request was that the Marines come ashore “inconspicuously.”

I served as a Marine for 3 decades; in all that time, I never saw an inconspicuous amphibious landing. The RVN demand caused US officials in Washington to reconsider using the Marines at all. Instead, Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton suggested using the 173rd Airborne Brigade. It could land at Đà Nẵng in the middle of the night and, in the absence of tanks, amphibian tractors, heavy weapons, and a bad case of attitude, no one would even know the brigade had arrived.

To their credit, both Westmoreland and Taylor objected to the employment of a light infantry brigade: the Marines were self-sustaining and had participated in the development of Operation Plan 32 (Vietnam) and a number of related contingencies, since 1959. Admiral Sharp sent a message to the JCS that might have sounded a bit like this: “The Commanding General, 9th MAB is already at Đà Nẵng, for Christ Sake!” By 7 March, the national command authority overruled all previous objections to landing Marines in Vietnam. The way was clear —the war was on.

Should anyone wonder if there is a point to this essay, it is only this: to illustrate why the Vietnam War had such an unhappy ending for the United States. Defensive strategies always do.



[1] In the Marine Corps, brigades are non-permanent organizations tasked for specific missions. The size of a Marine Brigade may vary from two battalion landing teams to two regiments, with aviation and logistical support units attached. Today, the term “expeditionary” replaces the term “amphibious.”

[2] During World War II, Lyndon Johnson asked for, and received, a naval reserve commission as a lieutenant commander. Initially relegated to inspecting navy shipyards in Texas and Louisiana, Franklin Roosevelt decided to use Johnson to spy on Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific. From this sojourn emerged several interesting fairy tales about Johnson having been attacked by the Japanese, but none of these has any greater credibility than the imagined attacks against Hillary Clinton during a taxpayer funded junket to the Middle East. Some claim that Lyndon Johnson was the model for a fictional character Commander Neal Owynn (played by Patrick O’Neal) in the Otto Preminger film In Harms Way.

[3] Admiral Sharp was highly critical of US policy in the Vietnam War. In 1969 he authored an article titled We could have won in Vietnam Long Ago, and in 1978 he published a book titled Strategy for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect.

Sometimes Justice Does Prevail

By LtCol William C. Curtis, USMC (Retired)

It must have been about 0600.  While reveille was supposed to “go” at 06, most of the troop handlers got their trainees up earlier because there was always so much to do, and so little time in a day to get it all done.

Looking out from the company office (S Company, 1st Infantry Training Regiment  (ITR)) I could barely see in the dark winter morning the long lines stretched behind the laundry trucks.

1963 Camp GeigerNote of explanation: In 1964, most Marines in the Fleet Marine Force and training units wore sateen utilities, the prescribed uniform for work in the field.  Marines being meticulous about almost everything had their utilities washed, starched and pressed at local laundries.  These laundries did a thriving business aboard the huge Marine Base (Camp Lejeune) located cheek by jowl with the (then) small town of Jacksonville, NC.  Six days a week laundry trucks would come to many locales on the base and thousands of Marines would line up to turn in dirty utilities and then in a day or two line up again in the early hours to pay for clean, starched and pressed uniforms.

This had been going on for some years and I had not heard any complaints.  But then, I suddenly did begin to hear grumbles.  I was a Sergeant with seven years service, and most of my trainees, having recently completed recruit training at Parris Island, were now in NC for the follow on combat training with a variety of weapons.  These very long days often ended late a night. The mission of troop handlers was to ensure nothing interfered with our mission of training Marines.  Trainees had to be in their designated classes, which were always in the field, on time. This frequently meant speedily marching Marines for more than an hour. Trainees also had to receive their meals on time. Accounting for all hands was a constant. The list of necessary tasks is too long to include here, but suffice to say that I would be “riding herd” on over two-hundred young Marines for most of the day.

Here is where my story takes a twist: the above paragraph generally describes what transpired in all training companies at the 1st ITR, but our company was unique. While the 200 Marine trainees to a company was the rule, Company “S” was an exception. Our company commander and first sergeant commanded up to 1,200 Marines in training—about the same strength one might find in an over-strength infantry battalion. The reason for this is that S Company was responsible for training Six Month Reservists. These were young men who joined the Marines, performed six months of active duty, and then spent the rest of their enlistments back home at a Marine Corps Reserve Training Center. Each year, these Marines would serve an additional 14 days of active duty for training. In time of war, they would augment the regular Marine Corps. For some, it was an acceptable alternative to the draft.

The reader must now imagine that the Duty Troop Handler would be dealing with a huge number of trainees in the very early morning and late at night.  The rest of the troop handlers would arrive in time to supervise the cleaning of barracks, morning muster, marching Marines to the mess hall, and ensure that all hands were properly uniformed and equipped for training prescribed for that day. Troop handlers would accomplish all of these things before morning colors, at 0800.

In addition to essential combat training, Marines at ITR are transitioning from their experiences at boot camp and the real Marine Corps. Their brains need re-wiring, so to speak. At this stage of a Marine’s service we want them obedient to older, more experienced noncommissioned officers without the trauma associated with boot camp.  Of course, Marine Corps drill instructors are legendary—and for most Marines, scary fellows. The NCOs in regular units are not supposed to be scary to anyone. They are more like older brothers.

Still, our trainees were always in a rush. Returning now to the laundry trucks, our young fellows would rush to the back of the laundry trucks, form a line, and wait to turn in or receive back their uniforms. The laundry employee (mostly the driver) would take the laundry ticket, disappear into the van for a moment or two, and then inform our Marines that he could not find their uniforms: check back tomorrow. As there were always long lines of Marines waiting their turn, it was standard for the young Marine to mutter “Okay” before heading back to the company area. He did not have the time to argue or demand that the laundry driver check again.

Well, folks, I hope you see where this is going.

As a Sergeant, I had more time and was at least a bit less in awe of my elders.  Furthermore, civilians hardly ever make a good impression on sergeants. By this time in my career, I had already served as an Admiral’s orderly aboard an aircraft carrier on the West Coast, had sailed to many of the more well known ports in Asia during my first hitch (3 years) and then on re-enlisting for four more years, I was trained and then served at two Embassies in Europe (Rome and Oslo).  While I was hardly a crusty veteran, I had dealt with high-ranking officials in the military and diplomatic corps.  Naturally, most of the young trainees thought I was “old” and were in awe of nearly anyone with more than one stripe of a PFC.

1963 Ford Step VanNow my story turns again.  I was standing at the window of the company office, drinking a mug of coffee, observing the massive movement of trainees running between their barracks and separate heads, and a huge dirt parking lot where the laundry trucks were parked. There were two trucks —which is important to my story; two trucks, two laundry companies, providing the exact same service. There were enough trainees for more than one company. This was capitalism at its finest.

Several of the more mature trainees who were also billet holders (acting as NCOs within the training platoons) approached me. They informed me that at one of the laundry trucks too many trainees were not having their laundry returned. The situation imposed a significant hardship for low paid young Marines.  I had no idea why they were not getting their utilities back, but I was going to find out.

I walked out into the crisp (that is code for too cold) air and headed for the laundry trucks. Trainees were leaping out of my way in the darkness, and I approached the back of the truck, which was the point of sale.  The trainees went from loud talking to a quiet murmur.  The civilian truck driver suddenly realized that someone other than trainees was present.  I know, a buck Sergeant is hardly a colonel or general, but in these circumstances, a Sergeant was a “big stick”.  I identified myself and asked why so many Marines were not getting their uniforms back.  It went back and forth a bit without rancor.  After, a minute or two of verbal fast dancing by the truck driver, my voice increased a few octaves, my words a bit more clipped.  He could see that things were not going his way.  He moved just a bit closer to me and lowering his voice said, “Look, Sergeant, I will take care of this.  I will see what the trouble is and….listen…you bring your utilities to me and I’ll have them done free.  OK?”  I am not sure those were the exact words, but it was close.  The laundry was stealing or destroying young Marines uniforms and not compensating them because they knew that could get away with it.  And then when confronted by a junior NCO speaking in their behalf, the driver attempted to bribe said junior NCO, also known as me.

I looked at him for two seconds and responded: “Right, why don’t we drive over to the Provost Marshal’s office right now and you can repeat what you just told me to Duty Provost Sergeant?”  Well, he went very quickly into the “Oh, no.  You misunderstand.  I wasn’t wanting to do anything wrong here.  I want to make sure these Marines get what they paid for and —.”

Well, I knew and he knew that I knew that he was a lying snake and he suspected that nothing good was going to come from messing around with me.  I jumped back down out of the back of the truck and saw that many trainees had gathered around and had witnessed the entire event.  I walked calmly (outward appearance is important) back to the company office.

As I entered the office, I noted that some of the other troop handlers had arrived; I told them the story.  I also told them my plan.

After getting them all together, we agreed as to what was to be done.

Troop handlers would talk to their troops and suggest that they boycott the offending laundry company. Yes, the line would be twice as long behind the competitor, but we would compensate for that. We knew that the trainees would pass along the story of how their NCOs were taking care of them. We were empowering the Marines, and they liked it.

The next morning, in the dark, the line forming behind the offending laundry truck was much shorter than it was behind his competitor. The day after that, the line shrank even more. By the fourth or fifth day, the truck operated by the lying snake no longer came to Camp Geiger. He realized that his days were over at the 1st Infantry Training Regiment.

I have no idea how long ITR Marines boycotted the dishonest company. I know it lasted for a few more months. The company lost a lot of money—in 1964 dollars—but readers ought to know that this kind of treatment of young servicemen goes on far too much.  Good officers and good NCOs are alert to it and they talk with their young charges and warn them of the dangers of dealing with the all too friendly people that surround most military bases. I received a few accolades from the other troop handlers, and some of the more daring trainees offered their thanks.

Sometimes justice does prevail.

Operation Stalemate

3:7 LogoThe campaign for Peleliu (code named Operation Stalemate) began in September 1944. The III Amphibious Corps under Major General Roy S. Geiger[1] had responsibility for taking the Palau Islands. These were important to the war effort because the Palaus were Japan’s main bastion in the western Carolinas and only 530 miles from Mindanao in the Philippines. It was Douglas MacArthur’s belief that no invasion of the Philippines could succeed unless the potential enemy threat from the Palaus was eliminated. Admiral Nimitz agreed, adding one additional justification for this operation: Peleliu would provide a base from which the Americans could support MacArthur’s southern Philippines operations.

The actual campaign began on 15 September with the 1st Marine Division poised to strike at the southwest coast of the island. The assault began shortly after dawn and the first waves began coming ashore forty minutes later. The first Marines ashore quickly spread out over the coral sand and set up a defensive perimeter pending the arrival of more troops. The 1st Marines landed in the northern sector, the 5th Marines assumed the center position, and the 7th Marines (less 2nd Battalion, which was held in reserve) took the southern-most beachhead. Colonel Herman H. Hanneken[2] commanded the 7th Marine Regiment.

The 7th Marines came up against heavy enemy fire even before its first landing craft reached the beach; it was a foretaste of what was about to unfold. Intense anti-boat, mortar, and machinegun fire churned through the surf. The intense fire created some confusion within the 3rd Battalion in that some of its elements landed within the sector assigned to the 5th Marines. Once ashore, 3/7 Marines came up against a stubborn force of Japanese defending caves and blockhouses. Major Edward H. Hurst[3] led his Battalion in attacks against the enemy, which the next day resulted in the complete annihilation of a reinforced Japanese battalion of some 1,600 men.

Forward progress ended early on the first day, as the men were set into preparing a defensive perimeter. The 1st Marine Division occupied an area some 3,000 yards in length, and 500 yards in depth. The Japanese launched several counter-attacks during the night; their strongest against 1st Battalion, 7th Marines involving four hours of sustained fighting. The Japanese finally broke contact at around 0600; their attempt to break through the Marine lines had failed. Colonel Hanneken renewed his assault the next day, a drive to secure the southern tip of the island. The sweep continued until the afternoon of the 18th when Hanneken reported the area had been secured.

Once again, the Marines were pissed off at the Japanese defenders. Private First Class Arthur J. Jackson[4] of the 3rd Battalion may have contributed more to the war effort than any other Marine. On 18 September, Jackson virtually became a one-man assault force, storming one Japanese gun position after another. When he was finished being pissed off, Jackson had succeeded in personally wiping out 12 pillboxes, and killing 50 Japanese solders.

Medal of Honor“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on the Island of Peleliu in the Palau Group, September 18, 1944. Boldly taking the initiative when his platoon’s left flank advance was held up by the fire of Japanese troops concealed in strongly fortified positions, Private First Class Jackson unhesitatingly proceeded forward of our lines and, courageously defying the heavy barrages, charged a large pillbox housing approximately thirty-five enemy soldiers. Pouring his automatic fire into the opening of the fixed installation to trap the occupying troops, he hurled white phosphorus grenades and explosive charges brought up by a fellow Marine, demolishing the pillbox and killing all of the enemy. Advancing alone under the continuous fire from other hostile emplacements, he employed a similar means to smash two smaller positions in the immediate vicinity. Determined to crush the entire pocket of resistance although harassed on all sides by the shattering blasts of Japanese weapons and covered only by small rifle parties, he stormed one gun position after another, dealing death and destruction to the savagely fighting enemy in his inexorable drive against the remaining defenses and succeeded in wiping out a total of twelve pillboxes and fifty Japanese soldiers. Stouthearted and indomitable despite the terrific odds, Private First Class Jackson resolutely maintained control of the platoon’s left flank movement throughout his valiant one-man assault and, by his cool decision and relentless fighting spirit during a critical situation, contributed essentially to the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island. His gallant initiative and heroic conduct in the face of extreme peril reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class Jackson and the United States Naval Service.”

HARRY S. TRUMAN, President of the United States

In the first four days of the battle, the 7th Marines (less 2nd Battalion) had killed 2,609 of the enemy while suffering 47 dead, 414 wounded, and 36 missing in action. But the Marines knew from the Japanese resistance that Peleliu was going to be one hellish battle.



[1] Roy S. Geiger was a pioneer in Marine Corps aviation. He commanded a Marine fighter squadron in France during World War I, was awarded the Navy Cross for his World War I service, and later commanded a squadron operating in Haiti in the 1920s.

[2] Hanneken served from 1914 to 1948. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, two Navy Crosses, the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star medals for conspicuous gallantry on the field of battle. He retired as a Brigadier General. He died in 1993.

[3] Awarded Silver Star

[4] Although wounded, Jackson remained with his battalion and ultimately participated in the battle for Okinawa, where he earned a second Purple Heart Medal. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in August 1945 and served in the post-war occupation of China with the 1st Marine Division. Jackson left the Marine Corps to accept a commission in the U. S. Army Reserve, where he served during the Korean War and from which he ultimately retired in 1984.

Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

How people refer to events in their own time tells us quite a lot about their thinking, or how they viewed events unfolding around them. For example, no one in 1861 used the term Civil War to describe the bitter rivalries between North and South. If one happened to live in the North, the conflict became The War of Rebellion. Living in the American south, below the so-called Mason-Dixon line, it became The War of Northern Aggression. Both terms are accurate, from a historic point of view.

Artillery atop Drewry's Bluff
Artillery atop Drewry’s Bluff

The American Civil War was a time when brothers faced off, when homeland loyalty prompted men attending the same service academies to oppose one another in lethal combat. Nowhere is this horrible circumstance better represented than at the Battle of Gettysburg: here, Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock opposed his long time friend, Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, who was wounded during Pickett’s Charge and died soon after.

At the outbreak of the war, the U. S. Marine Corps had 63 officers; 16 of these officers resigned their commissions and joined the Confederate States Marine Corps (CSMC), including Major Henry B. Tyler who served as Adjutant of the Marine Corps. During this time, Marine Corps guard detachments served aboard naval shipping. They manned the ships’ guns, and they participated in limited riverine operations and amphibious assaults. It was inescapable that Marines would face someone he had met or served with before the war.

The first engagement was bloodless, a duel at Ship Island in early July 1861. A second battle occurred near Pensacola, Florida in October —this time with significant losses on both sides. The next battle would involve some of the most intense fighting anyone had seen up to that time; it occurred at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff on 15 May 1862.

Corporal Mackie aboard USS Galena 1862 (Waterhouse Collection)
Corporal Mackie aboard USS Galena 1862 (Waterhouse Collection)

Seven miles south of Richmond, Virginia, Corporal John F. Mackie, and the 12 Marines under his command aboard the USS Galena became engaged in a bitter duel with two companies of Confederate Marines sniping from the banks of the James River. Confederates directed their artillery from shore batteries atop Drewry’s Bluff, which towered 34 meters in elevation. The barrage directed against the Union squadron lasted for a little more than three hours. Eight and 10-inch artillery tore into the sides of the Union ships, sending shrapnel and splinters into the crew.

Dispersed throughout the five ships of the Union squadron, U.S. Marines fought desperately alongside their Navy counterparts, working the guns, resolutely bracketing Confederate positions all the while lethal bombs burst over their heads. The circumstances of mounting casualties among the crew forced Marines to set down their muskets and help man naval artillery.

Navy Medal of Honor, 1862
Navy Medal of Honor, 1862

A shot from Galena’s Parrot Rifle struck the Confederate artillery, destroying three guns and driving the Confederate troops from their field pieces —including Captain Robert Tansill, CSMC, who formerly served 28 years as a U. S. Marine officer. Galena prepared to fire for effect, but her successes made her a prime target for Confederate counter-battery fire; she suffered 45 hits. Captain John D. Simms, CSMC (also a former a U. S. Marine Corps officer), directed withering musket and rifle fire upon the Galena’s crew and accompanying ships, wounding the officers commanding USS Aroostook and USS Port Royal.

A 10-inch shot crashed into the Galena, killing or grievously wounding the entire aft division. When the smoke cleared, Corporal John Mackie rallied his men, led them forward, and rendered aid and protection to the wounded crewmen. After clearing the deck of the dead, wounded, and debris, Mackie and his Marines manned Galena’s Parrot Rifle until the end of the fight. In recognition of his remarkable coolness and leadership under intense enemy fire, Corporal Mackie became the first U. S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor.

The battle forced the squadron to withdraw. Drewry’s Bluff subsequently served as headquarters of the Confederate Marine Corps until the end of the War. Confederates referred to Drewry’s Bluff (also Fort Drewry) as the Gibraltar of the South.



(1) Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A military history of the civil war (2001)



The Lion of Fallujah

“Be a man of principle. Fight for what you believe in. Keep your word. Live with integrity. Be brave. Believe in something bigger than yourself. Serve your country. Teach. Mentor. Give something back to society. Lead from the front. Conquer your fears. Be a good friend. Be humble and self-confident. Appreciate your friends and family. Be a leader and not a follower. Be valorous on the field of battle. Take responsibility for your actions.”

—Major Douglas Alexander Zembiec, USMC

Major Zembiac 001These are noteworthy sentiments. We would expect to receive such advice from our father or grandfather, particularly if either had served in the military during time of war. But these are the thoughts of a 30-something officer who became known throughout the Marine Corps as the Lion of Fallujah. He was speaking to his Marines while in command of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines.

Fallujah was a troubling location from the outset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The community was a beneficiary of the economic policies of Saddam Hussein, there was hardly any unemployment in the city, but none of the people living in Fallujah seemed to be particularly loyal to Hussein, either. It was a traditional and very religious community.

US Army units entered the city in April 2003 and almost immediately, things started going downhill insofar as good relations with the inhabitants was concerned. Between 23 April and 28 April, 17 Iraqis were killed and 70 more injured when shooting erupted between US soldiers and protesting locals. Each side claimed that the other started the shooting. Three more deaths resulted from an incident near the Ba’ath Party headquarters. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment replaced the 82nd Airborne troops in June and they too came under attack. Insurant activity steadily increased through the end of March 2004, culminating on the murder of four Blackwater civilian contractors whose mutilated bodies were hung from a bridge. Marines were dispatched to Fallujah on 3 April 2004.

Then captain Zembiec and Echo Company was assigned to the Jolan District of Fallujah. His Marines were situated on a rooftop and they were taking fire from AK-47 semi-automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades. The Marines severally attempted to radio for support from an Abrams tank (below them) to fire on the enemy position, but they were unable to make contact. Suddenly, Zembiec leaped up and rand down the stairs, out into the street under a hail of enemy gunfire. From the rooftop above, Gunnery Sergeant Pedro Marrufo observed the captain leap upon the tank and was able to get the tank commander’s attention from inside. While under intense enemy fire, Zembiec directed the tank fire into the enemy position. Leading from the front is how Zembiec’s men remembered him.

In May 2007, Zembiec was serving with the CIA Special Activities Division in Iraq. He was leading a force of Iraqi soldiers, who he had helped train, and they were carrying out a raid in the dark of night. Moving into an alley, Zembiec saw something, or heard something, or sensed something … he quickly warned his troops to “get down.” And then a shot rang out from the darkness, and Doug Zembiec fell, mortally wounded. A firefight ensued, and when it was over, a radio report went out, “five wounded, one martyr.” Leading from the front —the hallmark of a true American hero; in keeping with his own advice: be valorous on the field of battle.

Major Zembiec was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates later remembered him with these words. “The crowd of more than 1,000 [at the funeral] included many enlisted Marines from his beloved Echo Company. An officer there told a reporter, ‘Your men have to follow your orders; they don’t have to attend your funeral.’ Every evening I write notes to the families of young Americans like Doug Zembiec. For you, and for me, they are not names on a press release, or numbers updated on a web page. They are our country’s sons and daughters. They are in a tradition of service that includes our forebears going back to the earliest days of the republic.”

Major Zembiec believed in something bigger than himself; it is how he lived his life; it is how he died. May God bless and keep him.