Enduring Grief

EB Sledge 001“Johnny Marmet came striding down the incline of the valley to meet us as we started up. Even before I could see his face clearly, I knew from the way he was walking that something was dreadfully amiss. He lurched up to us nervously clutching the web strap of the submachine gun slung over his shoulder. I have never seen Johnny nervous before, even under the thickest fire, which he seemed to regard as a nuisance that interfered with his carrying out his job.”

“His tired face was contorted with emotion, his brow was knitted tightly, and his bloodshot eyes appeared moist. It was obvious that he had something fearful to tell us. We shuffled to a halt.”

“My first thought was that the Japanese had slipped in thousands of troops from the northern Palaus and that we would never get off the island. No, maybe the enemy had bombed some American city or chased off the navy as they had done at Guadalcanal. My imagination went wild, but none of us was prepared for what we were about to hear.”

“’Howdy Johnny,’ someone said as he came up to us.”

“’All right, you guys, let’s get squared away here,’ he said looking in every direction but us. (This was strange, because Johnny wasn’t the least reluctant to make eye contact with death, destiny, or the general himself.) ‘Okay you guys—Okay you guys,’ he repeated, obviously flustered. A couple of the men exchanged quizzical glances.”

“’The skipper is dead. Ack Ack has been killed,’ Johnny finally blurted out, and then looked quickly away from us.”

“I was stunned and sickened. Throwing my ammo bag down, I turned away from the others, sat on my helmet, and sobbed quietly.”

“’Those goddamn slant-eyed sonsabitches,’ someone behind me groaned.”

“Never in my wildest imagination had I contemplated Captain Haldane’s death. We had a steady stream of killed and wounded leaving us, but somehow I assumed Ack Ack was immortal. Our company commander represented stability and direction in a world of violence, death, and destruction. Now his life had been snuffed out. We felt forlorn and lost. It was the worst grief I endured during the entire war. The intervening years have not lessened it any.”

E. B. Sledge
From With the Old Breed at Pelélieu and Okinawa

Eugene B. Sledge passed away in 2001.  The above picture was taken of him during the war in the Pacific.

Groucho Marx

The definitive word in the expression Marine Corps Aviation is Marine. In addition to the development of their considerable aeronautical skills, all Marine Corps aviators go through infantry officer training. This is because there is only one Marine Corps, composed of air, ground, and logistics combat elements. And this is precisely why Marine pilots know exactly what the average grunt is going through down below the clouds.

In fact, many Marine Corps pilots serve a tour with the grunts as air liaison officers, or forward air controllers. When Marine pilots receive a call for assistance or emergency extraction, when they can hear sound of rifles rattling in the background, they know exactly what the ground combat team is going through.

“In modern war you will die like a dog for no good reason.”

—Earnest Hemingway

Razorback Quang Tri 001Phu Bai, Vietnam is located eight miles south of the former imperial capital at Hue. On the morning of 6 August 1966, Phu Bai served as the staging area for an offensive thrust into the coastal flatlands between Hue and Quang Tri, 31 miles further north. The operation was code named Colorado and the assault was determined to drive the enemy out of the now infamous “street without joy.” Three helicopter squadrons were lined up to deliver the grunts into the battle area, including sixteen H-34s, and 20 CH-46s. Before noon, the H-34s had taken nineteen hits and one of the CH-46s had been grounded by a lucky hit that severed an oil line —but the Marines had been landed and the helicopters withdrew to their respective base of operations, one of these being the air facility at Marble Mountain [1].

Meanwhile, in Northern Quang Tri Province, just below the DMZ, the valley eastward from the Razorback was infested with company sized NVA units; Marine commanders decided to whittle away at them with field artillery —less costly than an infantry frontal assault, but the problem is that the use of artillery requires an assessment of battle damage. In order to assess the damage, it was necessary to send in Marine reconnaissance teams—usually consisting of four or five Marines. Their mission was not to fight: it was to establish eyes and ears to discover and report enemy activity. Using battery operated radios, the Recon teams would help direct howitzer fires.

Marine Recon 002One such team was code named “Groucho Marx.” It was led by Staff Sergeant Billy Donaldson [2] and carried with it two field radios (PRC-25 and PRC-10). Beyond standard weapons, the only special equipment was a set of 7×50 power binoculars. They had enough water and rations for three days. Groucho Marx was used to this … they had only recently been extracted from another operation when they came under heavy fire.

A Huey dropped off Groucho Marx in a lush valley twelve miles west of Dong Ha; to the west of that lay dark granite cliffs that formed the eastern wall of the Razorback; the Rockpile jutted 700 feet into the sky just 3 miles to the south. Hill 549 was just east. The team moved to their observation point and settled in for the night.

At 2300 hours the team heard enemy troop movements below them along a streamed; the sound of movement continued for well over an hour and then the silence of the night again returned. It remained quiet until around 1100 hours the next morning.  By then, the Recon Marines could hear the NVA soldiers talking and laughing.  The tell tale smoke from camp fires aided Donaldson in targeting the NVA and he promptly radioed the coordinates to the artillery liaison officer at Cam Lo.  Minutes later, Marine artillery rained down upon the enemy and when the fires ceased, Donaldson succinctly reported, “good cover, out.”

Groucho realized, however, that while the artillery strike had taken its toll on the enemy, the enemy must realize that someone was watching them from somewhere close.  By 1600, Donaldson moved his team to a better vantage point 100 meters (give or take) from their previous position. Soon, Groucho Marx could hear the enemy below them and could detect the scent of livestock [3].  The North Vietnamese commander was no slouch and it wasn’t long before he began sending out probes to locate the position of the American listening/observation posts. The Marines were so well concealed that the NVA did not detect them even when mere yards from their new position [4], but no one in Groucho Marx slept that night.

At daybreak on the following morning (8 August 1966), the NVA commander decided to step up his activities to locate the foreign invaders.  At this point, the Marines weren’t overly concerned; it was a large valley, and the Marines were well concealed.  They believed that the only way the NVA could find them would be if they mistakenly stumbled on top of them in the jungle.  The Marines continued to target the NVA.  A few hours later, however, the NVA had begun conducting on-line search operations. One sweep came within 50 feet of the Marine position.  Donaldson called in artillery within 300 meters of his location. “Good cover” was once more achieved, but now Donaldson knew that the NVA would intensify their search. He reasoned that now would be a good time to radio for air support.

Marine commanders questioned whether it was time to extract Groucho Marx, but the team responded, “Not yet.” The team still might be able to capture an NVA. Plus, Donaldson reported, they were only 150 meters from a suitable landing area. Nevertheless, the Marine commander directed a platoon into the valley, commanded by Second Lieutenant Andrew Sherman [5].  Four CH-46’s delivered their human cargo and departed. Not a shot was fired. Two gunships remained in the area for air support. After the platoon linked up with the Recon team, Lieutenant Sherman wisely organized a defensive perimeter. The fighting holes would come in handy.

A fire team reconnoitered the streamed and reported back that there was no sign of the NVA.  The Marines carefully poked around through the dense foliage within 200 meters of the knoll. They found evidence of the NVA presence, but the enemy had slipped away and had taken their dead and wounded with them.  The problem was Sherman didn’t know how far they had slipped away.

USMC H-34 001By mid-afternoon, the Marine commander decided to extract the 44 Marines; eight H-34 helicopters were fragged for the pickup at the point where Groucho was previously inserted. Sherman reported the landing zone secure, and the first H-34 cautiously made its way and took on its first increment of Marines. No sooner had the aircraft cleared the treetops, the NVA opened fire with automatic weapons.

Four more H-34’s swooped in to extract the Marines, but now the entire ridge line opened up with NVA fire.  Enemy rounds plinked through the helicopter skin as if it was thin paper.  Twenty Marines made it into the H-34s and the barrelhouse birds clawed their way into the air, over the treetops, and back towards Dong Ha. The door gunner of one of the H-34s was shot and killed, his body lying sprawled on the deck as Marines looked on helplessly.

Meanwhile, the remaining Marines noted a sudden increase in the enemy’s rate of fire. The H-34’s remaining on station started to come in for extraction, but Lieutenant Sherman waved them off.  He and the remaining 23 Marines withdrew back to the knoll where they reoccupied their defensive position.  The good news was that the defensive position was a good one; the bad news was that the enemy now knew exactly where these Marines were located.  For the next hour, the Marines readied themselves for the enemy assault; for the next hour, the enemy prepared to make one.

An estimated 200 NVA assaulted the Marine position, transforming the serene countryside into a scene of tremendous agitation and chaos. One Marine reported, “They attacked us; they were screaming like they were crazy drunk or something, so we shot them.”

The NVA attack faltered under a fierce Marine resistance.  The NVA withdrew to regroup and await replacements. The Marines threw back the second assault, but Lieutenant Sherman was shot and killed and nearly every Marines was wounded.  Sergeant Pace assumed command of the remaining Marines, but he was killed in a third assault.  Now command fell to Staff Sergeant Donaldson, NCOIC of Groucho Marx. The Marines were running out of ammunition and daylight, but worse than this was the large numbers of NVA troops filing into the battle area.

By 1900 on 8 August 1966, Pilots and aircrew from HMM-161 volunteered to make an attempt to reinforce the beleaguered Marines.  They made their approach from the Rockpile, but the NVA were waiting for them.  Withering fires drove the helicopters back.  Back at his command post, the Commanding Officer of Echo Company 2/4 knew what had to be done. With six volunteers, Captain Howard V. Lee [6]  loaded two H-34 helicopters with ammunition and all the grenades it could carry and flew to the area between the NVA and the Marines on the knoll. Tossing out all the ammo they could, Lee and three Marines jumped out and began dragging ammo crates to the Marine defensive position.  The second helicopter followed suit, disembarking additional ammunition and three more Marines, but no sooner had that helicopter lifted off, the Marines were quickly surrounded by NVA.

Captain Lee called for close air support from the two gunships circling above. Observing green smoke from the three surrounded Marines, Major Vincil Hazelbaker [7] dove his Huey to the valley floor firing into the NVA with concentrated automatic weapons fire. On his third pass, he flared the Huey and landed and picked up the stranded grunts, taking off again as soon as they were inside the aircraft.

By 2100, Captain Lee was down to 16 Marines, including the wounded that were still able to fight; Captain Lee was himself now seriously wounded by an enemy grenade. The NVA made another assault; the official after action report stated simply, “Enemy repelled.”

Meanwhile, Major Hazelbaker returned to Dong Ha and exchanged his gunship for a slick and loaded with resupply ammunition, decided to try his luck once more on the knoll at the Razorback. He arrived on station at about 22:45 and through gifted night flying, managed to position his slick right above the Marine defensive perimeter. The crew began shoving out ammo crates when a rocket hit the Huey, severely wounding the crew and completely disabling the bird. Major Hazelbaker and his co-pilot joined the fight from inside the defensive perimeter. While Hazelbaker operated the air net, his co-pilot, First Lieutenant Anthony Costa, worked to stop the flow of blood loss in Captain Lee.

Spooky C-47 001A new weapon soon arrived to help the Marines: Spooky was a World War II Era C-47 mounted with three 7.62mm miniguns offering 6,000 rounds per minute to the beleaguered force. Major Hazelbaker aimed his flashlight into the air and asked the Spooky pilot, “What color do you see?” The pilot replied, “I can see your position.” Hazelbaker then requested a fire mission. What the Marines saw was a single finger of fire, a blinding shaft of light slicing down from the sky; what the enemy saw was the angel of death, sitting on a pale horse.

By 0400, Captain Lee could no longer command his Marines. Loss of blood sapped all his strength; he relinquished command of his Marines to Major Hazelbaker. Dawn was still two hours away. The NVA crowded in toward the Marine position; the closer they got to the Marines, the safer they were from Spooky. As the sun began to break over the eastern sky, an A-4 Skyhawk sliced down from the sky. After laying down a dense phosphorous smoke screen between the NVA and the Marines, H-34’s spiraled down and landed within 200 meters, bringing in Marines from Fox and Echo Companies, 2/4 but the rescue force encountered no enemy resistance. The Groucho Marx battle had come to an end.

By now, even the uninitiated should have some inkling about the true meaning of Semper Fidelis.

 

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.  —Deuteronomy 4

___________

[1] The Marines did not realize that the Viet Cong had a fully operational field hospital deep inside Marble Mountain, so close that it was likely they could hear voices speaking in English from their recovery wards (William Boyles, Brothers in Arms).

[2] Awarded the Navy Cross

[3] The Vietnamese frequently used water buffalo to carry military supplies and equipment

[4] If you can’t see it, you can’t shoot it

[5] Posthumously awarded the Navy Cross

[6] Captain Lee was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson on 25 October 1967.

[7] Awarded the Navy Cross

Major Levi Twiggs, USMC

Major Levi Twiggs was born in Richmond County, Georgia on 21 May 1793. He was the sixth son of Major General John Twiggs of revolutionary memory, whose patriotic devotion of his person and his purse in the war of independence earned for him an imperishable renown. A faithful son of his country, who at the outset of that unequal contest, raised from his private fortune an effective brigade, which, with his own services, he tendered to the cause of liberty, services which proved most efficient, earning for himself the rank of Major General in our then infant army, and the still higher title of “Savior of Georgia.” The present eminent Major General David E. Twiggs in the fifth son of the same illustrious sire.

1812-1840At the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, the subject of the present notice, then just having completed his nineteenth year, was desirous of entering the service, but failing to obtain the sanction of his parents at that time, he continued his studies at Athens College in his native state, for some months longer. At length, his military ardor was fanned into an irrepressible flame by the gallant exploits of our little navy, and on learning the news of the capture of the Macedonian frigate, by the United States under Commodore Decatur, he immediately left college, and solicited again his parents consent to apply for an appointment in the Marine Corps, which was now granted. He enter the Corps as second lieutenant on 10 November 1813 and, after a brief sojourn at headquarters, was stationed on the Patuxent with the troops which were posted there to oppose the passage of the British fleet, then hovering along the coast of the Chesapeake, which he displayed the energy of character and good conduct which ever after distinguished him. From this duty, Lieutenant Twiggs was ordered to join the frigate [1] President, commanded by Commodore Decatur, on her last memorable cruise under our flag. She sailed from New York on the 14th of January 1815, and soon after encountered a British fleet, consisting of the Majestic razee [2], the Endymion, Tenedos, and Pomona frigates, and a gun brig, and was captured after a most gallant defense —one of the opposing frigates, the Endymion, having been first disabled and her fire silenced in full view of the other ships of the hostile squadron.

By some untoward accident, the senior Marine officer did not sail in the President, and that arm of the service was commanded on this occasion by Lieutenant Twiggs —who by this time had attained the grade of first lieutenant—with such consummate skill and gallantry as to elicit the warmest applause of his commander, and to obtain honorable mention of his name in the commodore’s official dispatches. Lieutenant Twiggs’ command numbered fifty-six men, who, as is stated in Mackenzie’s Naval History, discharged during the action five thousand cartridges, and whose fire was pronounced by Commodore Decatur “incomparable.”

The officers of the President were detained as prisoners of war in Bermuda, until news of the peace reached there, when they returned to their country.

From that period until 1823, Lieutenant Twiggs was attached to the New York station, from whence in that year he was ordered to Philadelphia, having in 1822 united himself in marriage to a daughter of the deceased Captain McKnight, of the Marine Corps, and a niece of Commodore Decatur —the afflicted lady who now deplores his death. In 1824, he was ordered to the frigate Constellation under Commodore Warrington, to cruise among the West India islands, in which service he was absent nearly two years. On his return he was again attached to the Navy Yard at Philadelphia, having been advanced to captain by brevet during his absence, on 3 May 1825.

In November 1825, he was placed in command of Marines at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

In June 1826, Captain Twiggs was ordered to Florida, where he was engaged in the Seminole War until the month of April following, discharging the constant and very arduous duties attendant upon a war with wandering savages, marked by all the perils of treachery and ambuscades, and the more fatal dangers of a pestilential climate, and every species of suffering and exposure.

From the period of his return from Florida until 1843, having obtained the rank of major on the 15th of November 1840, he was from time to time, placed in command of Marines at the several stations of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, discharging his duty at every post, and on all occasions, to the entire satisfaction of the Navy Department, and of the local authorities and citizens with whom he had either official or personal intercourse.

In 1843, Major Twiggs assumed command of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he proved himself worthy of the rank and station which his gallantry and long services had earned, by the scrupulous discharge of every detail of his duty as an officer, and no less by his amiable, manly, and exceptionable bearing as a good citizen and high-bred gentleman. During the long period of 34 years’ service, he never but once asked a leave of absence, and then on account of the illness of a member of his family, when he was off duty but a single week.

Battle_of_ChapultepecOn the 2nd of June 1847, Major Twiggs departed for Mexico, having solicited active service. On the 20th of June, he arrived at Vera Cruz. On the 16th of July, he left for the interior with General Pierce’s brigade and reached Puebla on the 6th of August, which place he left with Major General Quitman’s division, a few days after, and on the 13th of September he fell, at the head of his command, leading them to the assault at the storming of Chapultepec; pierced by a bullet through the heart.

Of the details of the operations in which Major Twiggs was engaged, as well on the march to the Mexican capital as on the bloody fields in its neighborhood, no precise accounts have yet been received. We only know that, whilst in the performance of the proudest duty of a soldier, his brave spirit took its flight.

Of an imposing presence and noble mien, he was the personification of courage; dauntless himself, he infused the same quality into all his followers, performing the duties of his profession with a zeal that never flagged, and a singleness of purpose that considered no obstacle. Tenderly alive to the domestic sympathies, he sacrificed them all to his sense of duty to his country. This sentiment was uppermost in his heart. When he left home, therefore, upon his last tour of service, like a wise and good man, he made all his worldly arrangements, based upon the probability that he would never return, whilst he studiously avoided alluding to them to his family.

The death of his gallant son, George Decatur Twiggs, who fell a volunteer in Major Lally’s command at the National Bridge, on the 12th of August, on the way to join his uncle the general, whose aid he was to become, had already excited a sincere and deep-felt sympathy for the bereaved mother. Having but just entered his twentieth year, a young of the finest talents, and with the brightest prospects, already distinguished in the walks of literature, and pursuing his legal studies with the zeal inseparable from an ardent temperament, he also, true to his blood—the commingled blood of heroes, which flowed in his veins—panted for martial fame. In one action, he had already gained the applause of his commander; in the next, whilst activity discharging the duty of a lieutenant in the place of one who had just fallen, the fatal missile of the enemy cut him off in the flower of his age.

“As some fair tree which erst the forest graced

And charmed the eye by blooming vines embraced,

Prone on the earth, a lovely ruin, east,

Yields to the lightning’s stroke, or tempest’s blast!”

Of the many brave men who have laid down their lives for their country’s honour during the existing war, none fought more gallantly, nor died more nobly, than did these kindred spirits—the father, and the son. Neither has it pleased an all-wise Providence to call hence on any of those battlefields, recently rendered immortal by the achievements of our heroic soldiers, a more worthy and well-tried citizen than the one, nor a youth of brighter promise than the other.

Well appreciated by his friends, to whom he was endeared, as well as by his own virtues as those of his estimable wife, the news of the fall of Major Twiggs, almost coincident as it was with that of his son, has created a deep sensation of universal sorrow and sympathy. Generous, humane, social, affectionate, and with a soul of chivalry, he was swayed by the gentlest emotions; considerate to those under his command, without any relaxation of discipline, he was the friend of the soldier, and was rewarded by the soldier’s obedience and devotion. As an officer, long holding most responsible and arduous stations, his conduct always elicited the applause of his superiors; and in all the social relations, and more especially in those of domestic life, his deportment may be pronounced to have been faultless. Of scrupulous integrity, he was conscientious in the discharge even of his minutest duties: a tender and affectionate husband, a most kind and indulgent parent, leaving a wife and three daughters to lament his loss. Alas, it is to those widowed and orphaned hearts that his many virtues are best known, and by them that they will be most fondly cherished; hearts crushed beneath a weight of affliction which few are called upon to bear, for scarcely had they begun to recover from the shock of the loss of a son and brother, before this last stunning blow fell upon them like a thunderbolt. Let them be considered henceforth as the widow and children of the nation, for to their ease the annals of war, with its aggravated horrors, can scarcely produce a parallel. To their prior bereavements it would be out of place to refer here. But that gracious Being, who has seen fit to visit them with such grievous afflictions, will not fail to comfort and uphold them in this our of their bitter trial.

Among the testimonials of respect from senior officers, and different friends, was the following order dated from the Adjutant and Inspector’s Office, Washington on 20 November 1947, and addressed to Captain J. G. Williams, commanding Marines at Philadelphia:

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps with profound and cordial sorrow, announces to the officers and soldiers the death of Major Levi Twiggs, while leading his command to victory and glory, on the 13th September, under the walls of the city of Mexico. In his loss the Corps has to mourn for a gallant officer, who has passed all of his young in its ranks, and his country for an estimable and patriotic citizen, and those who knew him most intimately, for a valued friend and a high-minded gentleman.”

“The usual badge of mourning will be worn for him by the officers of the Corps for one month, and the flag at headquarters will be half-masted tomorrow.”

“By order of Brevet Brigadier General Commandant.”

___________

Off additional interest:

  1. Levi Twiggs was the great uncle of John Twiggs Meyers, the topic of two previous stories of the Corps.
  2. Marine Corps participation in the Battle of Chapultepec and subsequent occupation of Mexico City are memorialized by the opening lines of the U. S. Marine Corps hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”
  3. In acknowledgment of the Marine officers and NCOs who died in the Battle of Chapultepec, all officers and NCOs have worn a pronounced red stripe on the trousers of the Dress Blue uniform since 1849. It is commonly referred to as the “blood stripe.”
  4. Among the captains and majors who participated in the Mexican American War were the generals commanding both Union and Confederate armies in the American Civil War, including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Picket, James Longstreet, and Thomas Jackson.
  5. The entire account (above) was taken word for word from a work published in 1848 by Grigg, Elliot & Company, publishers, entitled The Mexican War and its Heroes.

Footnotes

[1] In the 18th and early 19th Century, a frigate was a ship of war equivalent in length to a ship of the line, but lightly armored, possessing only 28 guns, faster, and used for patrolling and escorting ships of the line.

[2] A razee is a ship that has undergone modifications of original construct, reducing the number of decks, guns, and ship’s company. HMS Majestic was commissioned in 1785 with 74 guns, razeed in 1813 to become a large frigate with 58 guns.

Handsome Jack of the Marines

Myers John Twiggs 001John Twiggs Myers (29 January 1871—17 April 1952) was the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, for whom Fort Myers, Florida is named, the grandson of Major General David E. Twiggs, and the great grandson of General John Twiggs, a hero of the American Revolutionary War.  Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Handsome Jack graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1892 and received an appointment as Assistant Engineer two years later. In March 1895, Myers was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps.

In spite of the fact that few people know of John Twiggs Myers, he has been portrayed in two Hollywood films that incorporate his service as a U. S. Marine officer. The first film was titled 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Myers, a chap named Major Matt Lewis commanding the Marines during the Boxer Rebellion. In the second film, titled The Wind and the Lion, Steve Kanaly plays the role of Captain Jerome, which in the actual event, was John Twiggs Myers.

Completing his studies at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, Myers was ordered to active duty at the outbreak of the Spanish American War. He led a Marine detachment that participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison, and then later sailed with the USS Charleston to the Philippine Islands, then being attached to the USS Baltimore.

During the Philippine-American War, Myers led several amphibious landings against Filipino insurgents in 1899, including the Battle of Olongapo and the Battle of Zapote River, gaining recognition for his heroic conduct. He was promoted to captain some time in 1899.

In May 1900, Myers was sent to China aboard the USS Newark and put ashore in command of a detachment of 48 Marines (including then Private Dan Daly) and 3 sailors to protect the American Legation in Peking. Myers and his Marines were assigned the most vulnerable section of the compounds defenses, the Tartar Wall. The Tartar Wall rose to a height of 45 feet, and was about 40 feet wide, forming a bulwark that over looked the foreign legation. Should this edifice fall into Chinese hands, the entire foreign legation would be exposed to the Boxer’s long rifle fires. Each day, the Chinese Boxers erected barricades, inching ever closer to the German position (on the eastern wall), and the American position (on the western approach).

Inexplicably, the Germans abandoned their position, and their American counterparts, leaving the Marines to defend the entire section. At 2 a.m. on the night of 3 July 1900, Captain Myers, while supported by 26 British Marines and 15 Russians, led an assault against the Chinese barricade, killing 20 Chinese and expelling the rest of them from the Tartar Wall. Myers received a serious spear wound to his leg. As a result of his courage under extremely dire conditions, Myers was advanced to the rank of Major, later receiving the Brevet Medal (See notes), which was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor for officers who, at that time, were ineligible for receive the Medal of Honor.

Brevet Medal 001Upon recovering from his wounds, Myers served as Provost Marshal on American Samoa, and was thereafter assigned to command the Marine Barracks, Bremerton, Washington.

In 1904, Myers led the detachment of Marines that accompanied the USS Brooklyn to Tangier, Morocco during the Perdicaris Incident. After the incident was concluded, Myers completed the Naval War College, commanded the NCO School at Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C., and later commanded the Barracks for several months.  In August 1906, Major Meyers assumed command of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Philippines until, in 1907 he was assigned to the USS West Virginia as Fleet Marine Officer of the Asiatic Fleet.  In 1911, Meyers completed the U. S. Army Field Officer’s School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army War College, graduating in 1912.  In that year, Meyers commanded a battalion with the Second Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in the following year commanded the Marine Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1916, then Lieutenant Colonel Meyers commanded the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines until assigned as Fleet Marine Officer, U. S. Atlantic Fleet where he served until August 1918.  He then assumed command of the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina through November 1918.

In 1921, Myers was appointed Inspector General of the Department of the Pacific, serving in that position for three years, and from 1925-1928, he commanded the 1st Marine Brigade stationed in Haiti. After service as Commanding General, Department of the Pacific, Myers retired from active service in 1935 having achieved 46 years of service. In 1942, in recognition of his distinguished service, he was advanced to the grade of lieutenant general on the retired list.

John Twiggs Myers passed away at the age of 81 at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida on 17 April 1952. He was the last living recipient of the Brevet Medal.

____________

Notes

1. Myers was one of only 20 Marine Corps officers to receive this medal.

An Address to Charlie Company

Lowe 001Last week, I announced the passing of Colonel Mike Lowe, U. S. Marine Corps. While serving as Commanding Officer, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia, Colonel Lowe was invited to speak to newly commissioned second lieutenants at The Basic School, at a traditional dining in event we call “Mess Night.”  Colonel Lowe’s remarks reveal more about this fine officer than I could ever tell you in my own words.

“From that elegant introduction, you may or not have picked up on the fact that I have had 5 tours in Marine divisions, serving in all 4 divisions and 3d Marine Division twice. I have made 8 Marine expeditionary unit deployments, served with the special operations command and have been to every level of Professional Military Education (PME) possible in order to hone my warfighting skills.

Utilizing your great deductive abilities, intellect and experience as Lieutenants, you should have questioned the Corps’ collective judgment when they decided to make me a Base Commander! I sure as hell did and I still do! 

Look up “base” in the dictionary. 

According to Mr. Webster: “lowest part or bottom.  Having or showing little or no honor, courage or decency; mean; ignoble; contemptible; menial or degrading; inferior in quality; of comparative low worth.” 

So… after 28 years of focusing on locating, closing with and destroying, I’ve got that going for me! 

That’s okay! Go ahead and laugh! There is at least one future base commander sitting among you right now!

Seriously, I am honored to return to the Basic School as your guest, at this, one of our most time-honored traditions.  I have been asked to speak on my insights and experiences as a leader of Marines. Basically, I was told to talk about what I have learned over the last 28 years of leading Marines. Well, I have only learned eight things, and it will only take me about 60 seconds to share them with you.

Now that I think of it, if I had been invited to speak to you the day Charlie Company formed up, I could have probably saved you six months of TBS training, I thought I would get this structured portion out of the way up front so I could talk about anything I want to, so here goes.

  1. Seek brilliance in the basics, always do the right thing, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
  1. If you are riding at the head of the herd, look back every now and then and make sure it is still there.
  1. Never enter an hour-long firefight with 5 minutes of ammo.
  1. This one is really important for all of you born North of Washington, DC: never, never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
  1. 
If you’re not shooting, and I can see by your marksmanship badges that some of you are challenged in this area, you better be communicating or reloading for another Marine.
  1. There are three types of leaders.  Those who learn from reading, those who learn from observation, and those who still have to touch the electric fence to get the message.
  1. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice.  Ammo is cheap.
  1. And finally, you might want to write this one down: Never slap a grown man who has a mouth full of chewing tobacco

Now that I’ve put that check in “proper military instruction” block, are there any questions? Of course not! What a stupid question to ask a bunch of Lieutenants so close to graduation!  Now that I think of it, my TBS class stopped asking questions after the first two weeks.  

I have a few minutes left; so let’s talk about something I like: Marines.

Up front, let me tell you how much I admire you.  Why is that? Unlike the vast majority of your fellow citizens, you stepped forward and committed yourself to a greater cause without concern for your personal safety or comfort.  And you did it knowing that you would gain nothing in return —except the honor and cherished privilege of earning the title of “Marine Officer.” 

Individually, you are as different as apples and oranges, but you are linked for eternity by the title “Marine” and the fact that you are part of the finest fighting force that has ever existed in history. If you haven’t picked up on it, I like being a Marine, and I like being around Marines.  Like most of you are probably thinking, I came into the Corps to do four years and four years only.  But a strange happened.  I was having so much fun that I simply forgot to get out.  Hell, at this point, I am thinking seriously about making the Corps a career!

So what is it that I like about Marines?  This is the easy part!

I like the fact that you always know were you stand with a Marine!  With Marines, there is no middle ground or gray area. There are only missions, objectives, and facts.

I like the fact that if you are a self-declared enemy of America, that running into a Marine outfit in combat is your worst nightmare, and that your health record is about to get a lot thicker or be closed out entirely!

I like the fact that Marines are steadfast and consistent in everything they do. Regardless of whether you agree with them or not; that Marines hold the term “politically correct” with nothing but pure disdain; that Marines stand tall and rigid in their actions, thoughts and deeds when others bend with the direction of the wind and are as confused as a dog looking at a ceiling fan!

I like the fact that each and every Marine considers the honor and legacy of the Corps as his personal and sacred trust to protect and defend.

I like the fact that most civilians don’t have a clue what makes us tick!  And that’s not a bad thing.  Because if they did, it would scare the hell out of them! I like the fact that others say they want to be like us, but don’t have what it takes in the “pain-gain-pride” department to make it happen.

I like the fact that the Marines came into being in a bar, Tun Tavern, and that Marines still gather in pubs, bars and slop chutes to share sea stories and hot scoop.

I like our motto: Semper Fidelis, and the fact that we don’t shed it when the going gets tough, the battlefield gets deadly or when we hang up our uniform for the last time. I like the fact that Marines take care of each other: in combat and in time of peace.

I like the fact that Marines consider the term “Marines take care of their own” as meaning we will give up our very life for our fellow Marines, if necessary. 

I like the fact that Marines know the difference between “chicken salad” and “chicken shit” and aren’t afraid to call either for what it is!  I like the fact that Marines have never failed the people of America and that we don’t use the words “can’t,” “retreat,” or “lose.”

I like the fact that the people of America hold Marines in the highest esteem and that they know that they can count of us to locate close with and destroy those who would harm them!

I like Marines. And being around Marines.

I like the fact that a couple of years ago, when an elected member of congress felt compelled to publicly accuse the Marine Corps of being “radical and extreme,” our Commandant informed that member of congress that he was absolutely correct and passed on his thanks for the compliment.

I like the fact that Marine leaders —of every rank— know that issuing every man and woman a black beret … or even polka-dotted boxer shorts for that matter, does absolutely nothing to promote morale, fighting spirit or combat effectiveness.

I like the fact that Marines are Marines first.  Regardless of age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin or how long they served or what goals they achieve in life!

Let me give you one example: a young man enlists in the Navy in World War I.  When the war is over, he ships over and joins the Army. He next enlisted in the Marine Corps and served from 1920-1922.  There was no Air Force back then, so I guess he felt he had put all the checks in the block! When he served out his time in the Corps, he went after an education: receiving various degrees in engineering, history, and political science from UCLA and Montana State University. He entered politics and served for 11 years in the House of Representatives.  Next, he tackled the Senate where he served for 24 years, as both the Democratic whip and later as the Senate Majority Leader. He was then appointed as the ambassador to Japan where he served for 11 years.  This gentleman went from snuffy to national and international prominence. And when he passed away in 2001, he was rightly buried in Arlington.  If you want to visit his grave, don’t look for him near the Kennedy Eternal Flame where so many politicians are laid to rest.  Look for a small, common marker shared by the majority of our heroes. Look for the marker that says “Michael J. Mansfield, PFC, U.S. Marine Corps.

You see, Senator Mike Mansfield, like each of us gathered here tonight was prouder of being a Marine than anything else in his incredible life of national service. There is one thing I have learned for sure over the last 28 years.  The years fly by, names change, the weapons and the gear change, political leaders and agendas change, national priorities and budgets change, the threats to our nation change.  But through it all, there is one abiding constant —- the basic issue, do-or-die Marine. He or she will do damn near anything asked, under terrible conditions, with better results and fewer complaints than any civilized human being should have reason to expect. And we, who have the privilege of serving them and leading them, make our plans and execute crucial missions based primarily on one fact of life.  That the basic Marine will not fail his country, his Corps, and his fellow Marines —that they will overcome any threat, if allowed to do so.

Think about that and remember that for 228 years it has worked and it has kept the wolf away from America’s door.  I like Marines, because being a Marine is serious business.  We’re not a social club or a fraternal organization and we don’t pretend to be. We’re a brotherhood of “warriors” — nothing more, nothing less, pure and simple.  We are in the ass-kicking business, and unfortunately, these days business is good.  But don’t worry about that.  What you need to remember is that the mere association of the word “Marine” with a crisis is an automatic source of confidence to America, and encouragement to all nations who stand with us.  As Marines, our message to our foes has always been essentially the same. “We own this side of the street! Threaten my country or our allies and we will come over to your side of the street, burn your hut down, and whisper in your ear “can you hear me now?”  And then secure your heartbeat.

Now I must tell you that I had an opportunity to review your MOS assignments.  I remember that time in my life well as a real group tightener! Regardless of what MOS you now have, if you don’t already know it, being a leader of Marines is about as much fun as you can legally have with your clothes on!  And that’s true regardless if you are a grunt, data dink, spark chaser, stew burner, wire dog, butt plate, Remington raider, rotor head, legal beagle, fast stick, cannon cocker, track head, skivvie stacker, dual fool, or a box kicker. And if you don’t believe it you will! Trust me!

Why is that? Because each us fought to gain the coveted title “Marine,” it wasn’t given to us. We earned it. And on the day we finally became Marines, an eternal flame of devotion and fierce pride was ignited in our souls. Charlie Company, let’s not fool ourselves. You know it and I know it. You have some challenging times and emotional events ahead of you.  I am not talking about tomorrow morning’s headache.  I am talking about the fact that the world is a dangerous place and as leaders of Marines, you will be walking point on world events. 
 Make sure you keep that flame that I mentioned earlier burning brightly.  It will keep you warm when times are hard.  It will provide light in the darkest of nights. Use it and draw strength from it, as generations of leathernecks have done since our beginning.

Before PCS’ing to Quantico, I completed a 24-month tour with the 31st MEU aboard the USS Essex. Some of the Marines here tonight were with me.  The Essex is a great ship and one of six to bear that name in defense of our nation.

In 1813, a tough skipper named Capt. David Porter commanded the first Essex. By all accounts, Capt. Porter was the type man you did not want to see at Captain’s Mast. He was tough, but he was a true warrior. On one particular mission, the Essex was ordered to sail alone to the Pacific and attack Great Britain’s Pacific whaling fleet.  

Obviously, Captain Porter knew the fleet was well-guarded by British men-of-war and he knew his job would be a tough one and that he would be severely out gunned in his task. 

 Prior to sailing, Capt. Porter addressed the assembled crew of sailors and Marines on the deck and explained the task at hand.  He asked for volunteers only and told his men to “take seven steps forward” if they would willingly go in harms way with him.  He then turned his back and waited.  

After a few moments, he turned to face his crew and noticed no holes in the ranks. The ranks looked just as they had and not a single Marine or sailor stood to the front of the formation. It is reported that he went on a tirade and screamed, “What is this?  Not a single volunteer among you?”  With this, an aide leaned over and whispered in Porter’s ear, “Sir, the whole line has stepped forward 7 paces.”

I think of this story often. And when I do, I think of Marines like you. Charlie Company, on behalf of the generations of Marine lieutenants who have gone before you, thank you for taking the “7 steps forward”, thank you for your love of country, thank you for your life-long commitment as a United States Marine. For those of you who are wondering, “Am I up to it?” forget it.  You will be magnificent, just as Marine officers always have been. I realize that many of your young Marines are going to be “been there, done that” warriors and that they will wear the decorations to prove it.  But you need to know, that they respect you and admire you. You need to know that they want and need your leadership.  All you have to do is never fail them in this regard and everything will turn out great. Hold up your end of the bargain and they will not fail.

I am pretty sure I can speak for the entire group of distinguished guests here tonight when I say, “We admire you, and would trade places with you in a minute to do it all over again.”  Sooooo, if you’re interested in giving up a platoon in order to be a base commander, see me at the bar! One last thing. When you check into your first unit and start the fantastic voyage that only Marines will ever know, kick some serious ass. Because it is a full time job and there is a lot of that activity that must occur for America and her allies to survive.

“Long live the United States.  And success to the Marine Corps!”