Attitude and Spirit

Marine Reconnaissance Veterans Combine Efforts to Inspire the Next Generation

Aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., one training company is tasked with produc­ing a coveted and demanding Marine specialty—elite among the elite.

Reconnaissance Training Company (RTC), nestled within the School of Infantry-West, holds sole responsibility for transforming Marines into 0321 Re­connaissance Marines. Prospective candidates endure a rigorous training pipeline. They must volunteer for a shot at the advanced qualification, and RTC representatives extend the opportunity to Marines of nearly every Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

Following completion of basic combat training, volunteers enter an additional 18 weeks of training and assessment. The Recon Training Assessment Program is a grueling five weeks, pushing Marines to the limit and screening out any who will not make the cut. The Basic Recon­naissance Course (BRC) follows. In 13 weeks, the same amount of time spent in Boot Camp, RTC staff completes the transformation.

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Marines from BRC 4-21 carry small boats along the Silver Strand near Naval Base Coronado, Calif. Courtesy of Reconnaissance Training Company.

From the moment they step on the yellow footprints at Parris Island or San Diego, to graduation day at BRC, Recon Marines endure nearly 40 weeks of continuous training to earn their MOS. BRC graduates have only just begun their journey, however, and remain unqualified to enter the Fleet Marine Forces. An additional six months of training must be completed. All 0321s earn their jump wings at Basic Airborne Course and Multi-Mission Parachute Course, their dive qualification at Marine Combatant Diver Course, and pass through two weeks of hell at Survival, Evasion, Resist­ance, and Escape (SERE) School. Only then is a newly minted Recon Marine fully qualified for assignment to a fleet Reconnaissance Battalion.

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Marines complete their final movement to extraction during the patrol phase of BRC 4-21. The movement includes 8 miles of arduous terrain with weapons and gear shared among the class. Courtesy of Reconnaissance Training Company.

The advanced training and stringent requirements exist as a result of the com­munity’s experience in combat and their mission as the Marine Corps special operations-capable force. The activation of Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) came about large­ly through the reassignment of Force Recon or Recon Battalion Marines to the MARSOC pilot program known as “Det One” in 2003. Again, several years later, 1st and 2nd Force Recon Companies saw wholesale deactivation and redesignation to create the genesis of the Marine Spe­cial Operations Battalions. Today, Marine Raiders exist as an elite force of warriors operating under the purview of U.S. Spe­cial Operations Command (USSOCOM). They are, in effect, Special Operations forces who happen to be Marines. Recon Battalions exist within the USMC chain of command, operating at the will of for­ward deployed commanders.

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Marines with All-Domain Reconnaissance Detachment, 13th MEU, move across the deck of training vessel USNS Atlas as part of a maritime interdiction operation training exercise on Aug. 31, 2022. Sgt Brendan Custer, USMC.

Recon Marines have always been, and remain today, the special operations-capable force of the Marine Corps. The community traces its lineage back to the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion of World War II. The Vietnam War, brought about the most significant evolution in Recon doctrine and cemented their role in the Corps’ mission. It’s been 50 years since Recon procedures and tactics were written, but the lessons learned remain critical today. Despite the advent of new technologies, weapons and entirely new battle spaces, the key attributes that de­fine a Recon Marine or corpsman remain unchanged and are amplified as the Recon community looks toward the future.

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Marines undergoing the Reconnaissance Training Assessment Program receive their final instruction prior to a night land navigation exercise. Courtesy of Reconnaissance Training Company.

The Corps began a dramatic reshaping and reorganization several years ago under Force Design 2030 (FD2030). The advance technologies and new adversaries shaping tomorrow’s war initiated changes felt across the fleet, affecting each Ma­rine, down to the individual rifleman. While many MOSs now look significantly different, or even simply no longer exist, the Reconnaissance community dis­covered in its future a return to its roots established in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Retired Force Recon Marine Jose “Pep” Tablada III, currently serves in a crucial role to the advancement of FD2030. Tablada spent 13 years as a Force Recon Marine, deploying in sup­port of Operation Iraqi Freedom and being named the Force Recon Team Leader of the Year twice before his med­ical retirement in 2005. Since then, Tablada has held a series of civilian roles within Marine Forces Pacific (MAR­FORPAC), presently working as the deputy assistant chief of staff for Oper­ations of all Marine Corps forces in the Indo-Pacific region. He was part of a team hand-picked by General David H. Berger, the 38th Commandant of the Ma­rine Corps, tasked with devising the strategies for future warfare and working with I and III Marine Expeditionary Forces to implement force modernization and forward posturing in the Pacific.

“Recon Marines primarily focus on deep reconnaissance, battle space shap­ing, and direct action precision raids,” Tablada explained. “In the traditional sense, much of the deep recon and battle space shaping missions remain the same as in Vietnam. What is very different is the fight we are in today is much, much more advanced. You’ll hear detachments getting deployed today being called, ‘All-Domain Reconnaissance,’ and the reason why that’s different is because Marines and Sailors today have the technology and training to bring cyber, signals in­telligence, and space capabilities to the fight. It’s amazing what today’s Recon­naissance Marines can do.”

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Marines with Force Reconnaissance Platoon, 31st MEU, perform a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercise aboard dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD-42), on March 7, 2021. (Photo by LCpl Joseph E. DeMarcus, USMC)

Detachments from Recon Battalions deploy with each Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), as well as in support of numerous other specified tasks around the world. While the naming of these detachments varies depending on the parent command of the MEU, the func­tion is identical. A host of “enablers” de­ploy alongside them, such as cyber or signals intel-trained Marines, allowing this special-purpose force to conduct a wide variety of missions. The detach­ments train for maritime-specific direct action raids, such as gas and oil platform seizure and “Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure” (VBSS) to support interdiction operations of a naval vessel. Technologies such as satellites and drones assist them in locating the enemy, understanding what they are doing, and directing other friendly forces within the battle space. The ideas surrounding deep reconnais­sance in a future war present a different set of challenges.

“The next war in the Pacific will look different from anything we experienced in the Global War on Terror,” Tablada said. “Small units will be dispersed across a large area. They will have to be independent in austere environments, on their own for long periods of time, and possessing their own means of mobility. There will be limited or no resupply, and no Forward Operating Base to return to in many instances. Imagine a Recon de­tachment having its own long-range maneuver platform, like a modernized PT boat from WW II. They go out in the waterways and the littorals of the Western Pacific searching for maritime targets. They’re going to use their all-domain capabilities to find those targets, fix those targets, create targeting data, then hand it off to the bomber or the submarine or the cyber strike to destroy it. This doc­trine is new in terms of the expansiveness of what will be expected from a Recon detachment. They will have to operate truly independently of the commander’s intent. Not only will they have to com­plete the mission, but they will have to figure out how to sustain themselves for longer periods. They will have to be smart, resilient, and professionally aggressive with a mature sense of tactical judgement.”

As new doctrines progressed, Colonel Robert J. Coates, USMC (Ret), recognized a potential area for improvement in the Recon training pipeline. During more than 32 years on active duty, Coates served as the officer in charge of the Amphibious Reconnaissance School, commanding officer of 1st Force Recon­naissance Company, and later as CO of the MARSOC pilot program, “Det One.” In 2016, Coates was inducted into the USSOCOM Commando Hall of Honor. He is one of only nine Marine inductees since it was established in 2010. Other inductees include well-known Marines: Evans Carlson, James Capers and John Ripley.

Now in retirement, Coates continues serving the Marine Corps as a mentor to deploying MEUs and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Forces, includ­ing their respective Recon Battalion de­tachments. He understood the role of deep reconnaissance was not going away, and the only place in history to find the experience was Vietnam. Throughout the Global War on Terror, the mission set dealt to Recon focused heavily on direct action raids against insurgent leadership. They simply did not operate within the battle space in the same way Marines did during Vietnam, nor will they be expected to in the future.

Coates remembered his own Recon instructors as a young Marine growing up, veterans of the early 1960s and 70s, immensely proud of their service. They exacted standards of perfection in ap­pearance, discipline and physical fitness. Even years later when he was a colonel in charge of 1st Force Recon, Vietnam vet­erans continually impressed him by visiting the company offices and attend­ing company functions in order to remain connected to the community and support active-duty Marines. Being a Marine remained the most defining and profound experience of their lives, and despite the decades passed, they continued to un­selfishly give back to the Corps. As Coates considered the details of creating a professional military education (PME) on Vietnam-era reconnaissance, and who to lead it, he requested help from a per­sonal friend and mentor: legendary Re­con Marine, Sergeant Robert Buda.

Buda’s name is no stranger to Leatherneck readers. Stories of his combat exploits are told in “First to Fight: First Force Reconnaissance in Hue City” (February 2018), and “The Flying Ladder: Emergency Extractions and the Lifesaver from the Sky” (April 2018). During 13 months in country with 1st Force Recon Company, Buda took part in 46 long-range recon patrols along the Laotian border, six combat dive missions, and earned two Bronze Stars with combat “V.” He extended his tour to remain in country, but received his third Purple Heart in January 1969 and was sent home.

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Sgt Robert Buda, center, stands with Col Robert J. Coates, USMC (Ret), center left, after receiv­ing a paddle from the Reconnais­sance Training Company in honor of his service at the BRC 3-23 gradua­tion ceremony in July. Buda’s two sons, right, and the sheriff from Buda’s home county in Illinois, far left, also attended the graduation. Courtesy of Robert Buda.

As a team leader on deep reconnais­sance patrols among large North Viet­namese Army (NVA) formations and staging areas, Buda faced decisions and situations that seem insurmountable. His experience and point of view offered the perfect vehicle to communicate the lessons learned from Vietnam, serving as a living link between the past, present and future of Marine Reconnaissance. Buda developed a class to present to the students of BRC. He based the content on a series of his patrols that best illustrated the role of Recon, the discipline and atti­tude so vital to success and the types of challenges Marines could one day face in combat. To get the class financially backed and implemented, the RTC cadre turned to Jose Tablada. In addition to his senior role with MARFORPAC, Tablada serves as the president of the Marine Recon Foundation (MRF), a nonprofit organization doing impressive work within the community.

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Marines take part in the Recon Challenge at MCB Camp Pen­dle­ton, Calif., sponsored by the Marine Recon Founda­tion. The 14th annual event took place in April. Teams of two com­plete a combat equipment surface swim off the Pacific coast (below), then continue over land across Camp Pendleton (above) for more than 26 miles while carrying a combat load over 50 pounds. Each team bears the name of a fallen Recon Marine, honoring their memory. (Photos courtesy of Marine Recon Foundation)

MRF is fully staffed by volunteers—­­primarily of retired staff noncommis­sioned and commissioned officers. Even though they exist on behalf of a relatively small contingent of active duty or vet­erans, the organization has accumulated astounding support. MRF maintains over 325,000 followers between Facebook and Insta­gram. They operationally support, co­ordinate, and when necessary, finance a seemingly endless list of programs that provide tangible and immediate help to Reconnaissance Marines, Special Am­phib­ious Reconnaissance Corpsmen, and their families.

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Marines take part in the Recon Challenge at MCB Camp Pen­dle­ton, Calif., sponsored by the Marine Recon Founda­tion. The 14th annual event took place in April. (Photos courtesy of Marine Recon Foundation)

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Members of the Marine Recon Foundation gather around legendary Reconnaissance Marine, Maj James Capers Jr., USMC (Ret), seated center. Courtesy of Marine Recon Foundation.

The foundation offers reoccurring pro­grams, including retreats for wounded veterans and Gold Star families, and the annual “Recon Challenge” in California. They also provide emergency support to Marines in crisis; for example, helping rebuild the life and home of a Marine and his family after fire destroyed their house or covering the funeral expenses for a Marine lost to suicide and establishing college investment accounts for his children left behind.

The foundation’s final line of effort is dedicated to promoting and preserving the legacy of the Recon community. They accomplish this task through written narratives, audio and video recordings of veterans to capture their experiences, and sponsoring mentorship events where veterans are brought in to speak with active-duty Marines.

Major James Capers, Lieutenant Col­onel George “Digger” O’Dell, and Col Robert Coates are a few of the Marines who participate in mentorship events. Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee, USA, also attends. Before receiving the Medal of Honor as an Army Special Forces soldier, Plumlee served as a Reconnaissance Ma­rine, earning Recon Team Leader of the Year in 2008. He credited his gunfighting skills to his time with Force Recon.

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Sgt Robert Buda, left, and Cpl Sam Carver, right, prepare for a long-range recon patrol at An Hoa, Vietnam, in November 1968. Courtesy of Robert Buda.

“A lot of Americans don’t know Ma­rine Recon history,” Tablada said. “A lot of Marines don’t know Marine Recon history, and frankly, some of the young Marines and Sailors in Recon don’t know the rich lineage and storied history of their community. We are brought up to be silent professionals. We don’t have a lot of books, there’s no calendars, we aren’t talking on the news. A lot of people just don’t really understand what Marine Reconnaissance is, so through our men­tor­ship program, we send these legends of our history, these senior mentors, down to the active-duty Marines in the fleet or at the schoolhouse to talk to them about their experiences and lessons learned in combat.”

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Sgt Robert Buda, standing far right, with his team “Moose Peak” in November 1968. Courtesy of Robert Buda.

Through the mentorship program, MRF coordinated with RTC staff and arranged for Bob Buda to travel to Camp Pendleton and present his pilot class. The first PME took place in July for a BRC class nearing graduation. Buda walked the students through the evolution of recon tactics in Vietnam, explaining some of the tragic events that led to the successful implementation of standard procedures, such as operating in larger teams, and the immediate action of ex­treme violence and huge amounts of fire power on enemy contact to stun the enemy and give the team a chance to escape. He covered several specific long-range Recon missions in which he took part, including the missions covered by Leatherneck in previous stories. These case studies presented the students with real situations that can be faced in combat, and the types of challenges they could encounter.

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Recon legend LtCol George “Digger” O’Dell, USMC (Ret), spoke as the guest of honor at the graduation of BRC 1-23 in January. Courtesy of Marine Recon Foundation.

“When you’re out on a long-range Re­con mission, the terrain and environment will often be harder to deal with than the enemy,” Buda stated. “It’s just extreme hardship, and you have to learn to develop the right attitude in your head.”

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Recon Marines on patrol in Vietnam return enemy fire with their M60 machine gun. Courtesy of Marine Recon Foundation.

The class was so well-received that RTC staff invited Buda back the follow­ing month to present to the students of the Recon Team Leader’s Course. This more senior group of warriors also in­cluded USSOCOM Special Operations Forces personnel from other branches of service. Buda tailored his presentation to highlight the vital role the team leader plays in the success or defeat, life or death, of their team.

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Marines from 2nd Reconnaissance Bn, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU, conduct a Helo-casting mission out of the back of a CH-53, and a closed-circuit dive during sustainment training in Djibouti. GySgt James Frank, USMC.

Combat decision making occupied a central theme in the team leader’s course presentation. To open the discussion, Buda presented the group with a case study on one of his patrols where a Ma­rine was killed by enemy fire after the team encountered a NVA antiaircraft gun that was turned on them. The Marines successfully eliminated the gun with nothing but their organic small arms, the only Force Recon team known to have accomplished such a feat. Despite the victory, Buda faced numerous decisions that day that as the team leader, only he could have made. His choices held direct and immediate sway over the lives of his teammates. To this day, he wrestles with the choices he made, debating if they were correct and if he should have done something differently. These cir­cumstances and thought processes were candidly presented to the students to demonstrate the kinds of situations they will face in the field.

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HM3 Taylor Hale, left, a special amphib­ious reconnaissance corpsman, and Sgt Trevor Lynch (right), a Recon Marine as­signed to 3rd Reconnaissance Bn, 3rdMarDiv, participate in a Marine Corps Combat Diving Supervisors Course on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, May 20, 2020. Cpl Savannah Mesimer, USMC.

“The most important concept we try to push into the students in BRC, and more importantly the team leaders, is to implant and enhance the concept of the recon brotherhood and the proper team spirit, which is vital to conduct real long-range Reconnaissance missions in the most hostile and challenging environ­ments in the world,” said Buda.

“Attitude and team spirit; those words are easy to say, but the team leader must develop those in order to succeed.”

To close his presentation, Buda high­lighted the importance of training your replacement and discussed the warrior who raised him in the field. Buda served as a junior Force Recon Marine under Lawrence H. Livingston. Livingston even­tually retired as a giant of the Corps; a Major General, two-war veteran, and recipient of five Purple Hearts, four Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, and a Navy Cross. In Vietnam, Livingston was a staff sergeant who taught Buda how to run point on patrols, and eventually, how to lead a recon team in the jungle. When the Corps plucked Livingston from combat to return home for officer training, he selected Buda to replace him as team leader. Livingston passed away in 2018 at the age of 77. Buda dedicated his presen­tation in Livingston’s memory.

With the experience of these two classes, Buda continues working to im­prove the lesson content for future itera­tions. Tablada and the MRF are com­mitted to sustaining this type of activity as part of their historic preserva­tion line of effort and the Recon Mentor Program. At a minimum, Buda hopes to continue presenting the class as a stand­ard PME included in the biannual team leader’s course.

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Sgt Robert Buda stands alongside the Marines of BRC 3-23 following his first presentation of a class covering the evolution of Marine Recon in Vietnam and the lessons learned for the future. Courtesy of Robert Buda.

Marines of every MOS take pride in our history and bear the responsibility of honoring the service of those who went before. The Recon community to­day ex­emplifies an enduring truth; no matter what may change in weaponry or tech­nology, Marines today fight as part of the same spirit and enduring legacy, and Marines of eras past are their backbone, offering experience and wisdom from combat that no one else can provide. There are many warriors from Vietnam, like Bob Buda, who volunteer their ex­per­ience today for the good of the Corps. The Recon Marines preparing for tomor­row’s war will reap immense benefit from hearing his firsthand account of what they will face in combat.

“At the end of the day, it isn’t going to matter how many new accoutrements you have that make you pretty, what rank you are, or how many accolades you may have achieved,” Buda reflected. “At the end of the day, when you’re out of water, out of ammo, you’re starving, surrounded by bad guys, can’t get extracted, soaked by rain, covered in bugs, mud, and shrapnel wounds, the only thing that will sustain you in that environment is if you have deeply cultivated the proper attitude in your team, where they look to each other in those absolutely destitute conditions and someone cracks a contagious smile. You can’t talk. Everything has to be done through hand signals and mental telepathy, but everyone is smiling at each other thinking, ‘I’m ready, and we are still in this fight. Love you brother.’ ”

Author’s bio: Kyle Watts is the staff writer for Leatherneck. He served on active duty in the Marine Corps as a communications officer from 2009-2013. He is the 2019 winner of the Colonel Robert Debs Heinl Jr. Award for Marine Corps history. He lives in Richmond, Va., with his wife and three children.

“Six Days in Fallujah” Review

Opinion: Long-Delayed Video Game
Delivers Realistic Depiction of Iraq Battle

War has forever been entwined with popular culture. Artists have attempted to replicate, with great attention to detail, iconic scenes of countless battles. Homer’s “Iliad” was spread throughout antiquity as poets recited the mythological history of the Trojan War. Many of today’s Ma­rines were first exposed to the history of the Corps through literary accounts such as “Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific,” by Robert Leckie or Eugene Sledge’s “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa.” With the creation of film, and movies such as “Saving Private Ryan,” storytelling evolved, redefining how war was pre­sented to the public. Perhaps it was in­evitable, then, that video games—as a form of entertainment—would take up the mantle of trying to depict war within popular culture.

As long as storytellers, writers, artists, filmmakers, and game designers tried to replicate war, controversy closely fol­lowed. Painters have been accused of glorifying war. Poet Walt Whitman claimed, “The real war will never get in the books.” Director Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” was labeled by a writer from the New York Observer as a “pornography of violence and cruelty.” A World War II-themed videogame directed by Spielberg, titled “Medal of Honor,” became so mired in controversy that it was almost pulled from release before now being recognized as one of the greatest first-person shooters on the PlayStation platform. Ultimately, the question as to whether war should be depicted in popular culture is moot—as storytellers and creators will always adapt their depictions of war with evolv­ing media. Rather, we should be asking how to best depict war in popular culture. Enter “Six Days in Fallujah.”

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“Six Days in Fallujah,” a first-person shooter (FPS) game, simulates the chaos of urban warfare. (Photo courtesy of Victura)

The Fight
On Nov. 7, 2004, the city of Fallujah, Iraq, ignited into a conflagration as Ma­rines and soldiers of U.S.-led coalition forces launched Operation Phantom Fury to rid the city of militant Islamic extrem­ists in what would be later called the Second Battle of Fallujah. The insurgents had turned the city into a fortress com­plete with tunnels, trenches, spider holes and improvised explosive devices of all varieties. Further complicating the co­ali­tion assault were the thousands of civilians who were unable to evacuate the city and remained hidden on every block. In the ensuing one month, two weeks, and two days, the Marines and members of the coalition fought in the bloodiest instance of urban combat in the 21st century—only to be surpassed almost two decades later with the ongoing war in Ukraine. The cost was terrible. Close to 100 Americans died and more than 500 were wounded. In addition, there were over 60 coalition casualties, the insurgents were largely annihilated, and at least 800 civilians were killed. Controversy closely followed the battle, as various media outlets reported on the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium munitions, the extensive civilian casualties, the destruction wrought upon the city, and both real and supposed atrocities committed by both coalition and insurgent forces. Despite this, the Second Battle of Fallujah has become enshrined within the pantheon of Marine Corps battles—further demonstrating the combat prowess of the Corps against all enemies.

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Sgt Eddie Garcia fought in the Battle of Fallujah and wanted to develop a game based on his experience in combat. Courtesy of Victura.

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During game development, former infantry officer Capt Read Omohundro describes the Marines’ encounter with the enemy during the battle. Courtesy of Victura.

Among the wounded Marines was Sergeant Eddie Garcia, who was serious­ly injured by an insurgent-fired mortar. His fellow Marines managed to stop the bleeding and bring him to safety at a nearby field hospital before he was trans­ferred to Baghdad, then Germany, and eventu­al­ly to the United States. Upon re­turning home, Garcia reached out to Peter Tamte—a video game developer with Atomic Games.

The two had met before the battle. Garcia had been sent by the Marine Corps to be their subject matter expert for various training simulations that Atomic Games was developing. Through­out de­veloping these Marine Corps train­ing simulations, the two got to know each other quite well, with Garcia providing keen insight into how Marines fought and operated. However, when Garcia ap­proached Tamte after his return home, it was not to develop another training sim­­ulation—he wanted to de­velop a video game based on the battle he had just fought.

The idea of a game quickly went from concept to reality. As the veterans of the Second Battle of Fallujah began returning to the United States when their deploy­ments ended, Tamte and Atomic Games began conducting interviews with dozens of Marines who were willing to share their experiences. The interviews were expanded to include Iraqis who survived the battle. Recurring motifs from these interviews were the uncertainty and intimacy of close-quarters combat, the fear of what lurked behind the next door, the utter necessity of teamwork, the dif­ficulty of fighting a radical enemy that could easily blend into a terrified civilian populace, and the combat fatigue induced by constant fighting and witnessing death regularly. It soon became apparent that the game needed to be grounded in re­alism and authenticity—both in gameplay and storytelling.

The game’s development was formally announced in 2009 and was planned for a 2010 release. However, problems began to arise. The controversy of the Battle of Fallujah and the public distaste for Ameri­can intervention in the Middle East reared their heads. Some argued that the game’s subject was too recent to tastefully be de­picted in a video game; others argued that the game would neg­atively depict Muslims by their worst stereotypes and devolve into a racist kill simulator; and some accused the de­velopers of creat­ing a propaganda piece that glorified a con­flict that many viewed to be unjust. The controversy spawned by this crit­icism pushed the game’s publisher, Konami, to suspend its role in the project in April 2009. Within two years, Atomic Games went into bankruptcy—putting the future of “Six Days in Fallujah” into question.

Despite this series of obstacles, Tamte held onto hope. He eventually formed a new gaming company, Victura, to carry the mantle of producing “Six Days in Fallujah,” with developers from games such as “Halo” and “Destiny” jumping on board to help finish the project. Within two years, in late June, an early access version of the game became available for purchase via Steam. Since its release, “Six Days in Fallujah” has undergone a few updates, and the completed ver­sion will be available in 2024. Currently, the game is limited to online cooperative mode with teams of up to four people. However, a single-player campaign is in development. Based on the available content, we can begin to disseminate how “Six Days in Fallujah” authentically depicts war as a means of popular cul­ture and to what degree it maintains authenticity.

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Courtesy of Victura
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Players are provided with a unique experience each playthrough. Gameplay includes environmental im­mersion, differing map designs and relentless enemies.

Gameplay
Upon starting the game, the player is presented with a short film (with a History Channel-esque vibe) describing the situation with period footage, photo­graphy and interviews. Loading screens include images of veterans and Iraqi sur­vivors accompanied by their quotes describing the battle. From this onset, the player realizes they are part of a real story with real people—not a generic war story where the characters are made up. In doing so, the game is trying to place players into the shoes of someone who took part in this battle—putting extra emotional weight behind the experience they are about to have.

After assembling a team in the co-op mode lobby, players are then thrust into a generated situation to accomplish a randomized mission, such as locating and destroying an enemy supply cache, securing an enemy strongpoint, or re­pelling waves of attacks supported by vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIED). To repli­cate the fear of not knowing what lurks behind every door, “Six Days in Fallujah” employs a map-design randomizer feature that creates new maps every playthrough: buildings will not appear in the same place, entrances will be along different walls, enemies will not hide behind the same doors, etc. This randomizer is per­haps the strongest feature of gameplay, as it forces the players to handle each situation uniquely, rather than memoriz­ing a cookie-cutter scenario as in most other first-person shooters.

The learning curve for playing “Six Days in Fallujah” is steep and the game­play is unforgiving—reminiscent of the famed game “Oregon Trail”: you can easily die at any time, for any reason, in any possible way. Snipers fire with deadly accuracy should you expose yourself for too long; mortars can wipe out an entire team with a single round; the enemy will fix your team with machinegun fire while a VBIED rolls up your flank and detonates behind you; insurgents will fire at you be­tween cracks of war-torn buildings; your team can easily be caught in the fatal funnel of every doorway; the list is end­less. This is not your typical run-and-gun game. The weapons feel weighted, and the recoil must be accounted for when pulling the trigger. Wounds must be bandaged; injured teammates must be assisted to get back into the fight; and ammunition can only be replenished at your AAV. Additionally, to quote Murphy’s law of combat operations: “Friendly fire isn’t,” which was a hard-learned lesson while clearing buildings. Many first-person shooter gamers may not be used to the slower pacing of the game; however, many gamers—some of whom served in combat—have applauded the game’s pacing as being more realistic.

You learn quickly that teamwork is the only way to accomplish missions—and even that does not guarantee success. If you try to move too fast, your team can get caught in an ambush; move too slow, the enemy can gain the initiative and outmaneuver your position; stay too close together, a single grenade can wipe your team; and spread too far out, you risk be­ing defeated in detail. From my own experiences, of the 30 games played by myself and with two teammates, we were defeated within two minutes on 18 at­tempts, lasted longer than five minutes on 11, and accomplished the objective once. However, with proper coordination, patience and a basic understanding of the principles of fire-and-maneuver tac­tics, players can fight and win in the labyrinth of Fallujah.

Ultimately, “Six Days in Fallujah” is an experience akin to a horror-survival game that strives to ground its gameplay in a higher level of depth and realism. To an extent, the game is a teaching tool as much as it is a means of entertainment. Yes, not every feature is perfect as some reviewers have pointed out, but with the game still being in development, time allows for the edges to be smoothed out for greater historical accuracy. However, in an era where Nicki Minaj is a playable character in “Call of Duty” and where “Battlefield V” bastardized World War II with historically inaccurate character customizations, “Six Days of Fallujah” is a breath of fresh air for those who want a historical experience when gaming. And to those who question as to whether this game is coming out “too soon,” I respond with this:

After over 20 years of fighting two wars, many Americans cannot name a single battle or recall any cities in Iraq or Afghanistan besides maybe Baghdad. To them, places such as Fallujah, Marjah, Mosul, Basra, or Kandahar mean nothing. They cannot recall any place where their tax dollars sent our country’s finest to fight and die in wars that were fought for reasons that are increasingly unclear to the general public. What “Six Days in Fallujah” has done is keep the Iraq War in the public consciousness, to remind us that these wars involved real people who had to live with the consequences of being in monumental historical situa­tions. It portrays war as a human exper­ience and attempts to do so as accurately as possible. If “Six Days in Fallujah” can encourage a young gamer to reflect upon the struggles of the Iraq War, watch an educational film on the subject, or read histories or biographies from survivors, then the game has served its purpose.

For now, gamers must be content with the available cooperative mode. Only with the release of a single-player campaign can we truly understand the full extent to which “Six Days in Fallujah” can be used to tell the story of one of the Marine Corps’ most hard-fought battles in Iraq.

Author’s note: I would like to thank Danny Roldan and Ricc Donate-Perez for playtesting “Six Days in Fallujah” with me to help write this article.

Author’s bio: William Treuting is an editor and content creator for the Marine Corps Gazette. He is a cohost of the MCA’s “Scuttlebutt” podcast and direc­tor of MCA Films.

A Battle Long Forgotten

A Battle Long Forgotten:
Marines Fought Valiantly to Protect Guam During 1941 Japanese Invasion

As the Marine Corps has shifted its focus toward forward deployed expeditionary forces at strategic points in the Pacific, particularly Guam, it is worth looking at what occurred there in the first few days after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.

Because Guam fell quickly, histories of the period have largely treated the event as little more than a footnote. As a result, very few people are aware of the brief but furious and courageous defense by fewer than 100 Marines, Sailors and Guamanian Insular Guardsmen in the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1941, at the Plaza de Espana in the capital of Agana. All lacked combat experience and some Guardsmen were without weapons. The Guardsmen had never fired their three machine guns. Outnumbered more than four to one, outgunned and facing almost suicidal odds, the steadfast defenders displayed extraordinary courage in standing their ground. None deserted their post, and all performed their duty.

The Marine NCOs and junior enlisted defending the Plaza displayed exceptional heroism despite believing they had no chance of survival, even if captured. As hundreds of Japanese troops descended on the Plaza, Sergeant George Shane, lead­er of the Marine Insular Patrol de­fenders was quoted in “Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam” as saying, “On a scale of one to 10, our pucker factor was a 15 at that instant.” While the Japanese would claim their occupation of Guam was “bloodless,” official historian Samuel Eliot Morrison noted, “Both the Ameri­cans and Chamorros put up a brave resist­ance and twice drove the attacking force back with rifle and machine-gun fire, losing 17 of their men but killing and wound­ing a much greater number of Japanese.”

Guam, an American territory since 1898, is the southernmost island in the Marianas chain and is a mountainous island with jungle 20 miles long and a width of 12 miles or less. The population in 1941 was some 23,000, consisting main­­ly of native Chamorros and a few hundred Americans, mostly Navy and Marine personnel, civilian construction workers and a few employees of Pan Am who operated a seaplane Clipper service and small hotel for passengers transiting the Pacific. The capital and largest city is Agana on Guam’s north coast, located about 5 miles north of Apra harbor. In 1941, there was no airfield or American air forces on the island. By the terms of the 1922 Washington Naval Conference, the United States was not permitted to fortify Guam, so there were no coastal gun emplacements in 1941. As a result, the defensive capabilities were wholly inadequate to defend the island.

This fact was painfully obvious to the Governor of Guam, Navy Captain George J. McMillin, who was responsible for civil and military administration but not tactical command of Navy and Marine forces. CAPT McMillin realized that the island could not be successfully defended against a determined Japanese invasion. To avoid unnecessary loss of lives, he planned to surrender the island quickly with minimal resistance should the Japa­nese land. As the island’s chief executive, he had direct authority over the Marine Insular Patrol whose force of 28 Marines supported by Navy corpsmen performed police duties at Agana and around the island. The Insular Patrol of 30 enlisted U.S. Marines armed only with pistols was commanded by McMillin’s military aide, Captain Charles S. Todd, USMC. Its day-to-day operations were directed by the assistant chief of the In­sular Patrol, Sgt Shane. Marines and corps­men were assigned to posts around the island with native members of the Patrol. The re­main­ing Marines were at the Guard bar­racks in Agana. There they would play a key role, along with the Navy admin­istered Guam Insular Force Guard and other Marines and Sailors in the fight against the Japanese in the Plaza de Espana.

The U.S. Naval force consisted of 20 Naval officers, six warrant officers and 220 enlisted Sailors. The force operated from a small Piti Naval Yard in Apra Harbor, the old minesweeper USS Penguin (AM-33) with four officers and 75 enlisted men; two old yard patrol craft, each with a five-man crew; and a small disabled oiler, USS Robert L. Barnes (AG-27), used for training mainly Chamorro mess­men for duty with the U.S. fleet. In ad­dition, there were naval staff at the gov­ernor’s office and a wireless naval com­munications facility, Radio Agana, with 22 Sailors not far from the Plaza in Agana. There was also a smaller naval wireless station 2 miles from Agana called Radio Libugan, a facility staffed with eight enlisted Sailors and used for finding the Japanese fleet. There was a naval hospital in Agana with a staff who provided medical care to military personnel and local populace.

The Navy-administered Guam In­su­lar Force of 222 native Guardsmen, including bandsmen and hospital medical orderlies, were housed in Agana. They were or­ganized and led by their training officer, Chief Boatswain Mate Robert B. Lane, and under the overall command of Com­mander Donald T. Giles, the gov­ernor’s civil aide and second in command. This small force protected the Piti Naval Base and Government House while patrolling around the island. They wore Navy uni­forms and had Navy ranks. Their arma­ment included three .30-caliber machine guns, four Thompson submachine guns, six Browning automatic pistols, 50 .30-cal. pistols, a dozen .22-cal. rifles, and 85 Springfield ’03 rifles marked “For Training Only. Do Not Fire.” As there were not enough weapons, some Guards­men were not armed. The force had been expanded only a few months earlier, lacked training in the use of their weapons and had never fired their machine guns.

The island’s Marine Barracks detach­ment of six officers and 118 enlisted Ma­rines (less 31 assigned to the Marine Insular Patrol) were quartered in a two-story barracks at Sumay on the Orote Peninsula, located on a bluff overlooking Apra Harbor. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Kirk MacNulty, USMC, they were armed with M1903 Springfield rifles and 10 Lewis machine guns. Though the Marine detachment was the principal ground defense force, they had no mor­tars, artillery or antiaircraft guns.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, there was no ef­fort to dig entrenchments, roadblocks or beach defenses. The only entrench­ments were the rifle range butts on the Orote Penin­sula overlooking Apra Harbor. With war looming, all military and civilian de­­pendents were evacuated in October. The Marine Sumay detach­ment’s pre-war activities, aside from occasional rifle range practice, were per­forming weekly parades and close order marching and pro­­viding music and trans­port for the Naval staff. Duties usual­ly ended at noon. No tactical training or maneuvers were conducted. After duty hours, many Ma­rines hung out at Ben’s Bar in nearby Sumay town where beer was 10 cents. The bar was operated by a Japanese man whom everyone called Ben Cook (who turned out to be a Japanese Naval officer working as a spy). As one detachment Ma­­­rine commented in Roger Mansell’s book “Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam,” pre-war Guam was “truly a paradise.”

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A Pan American Sikorsky-S-42 Clipper landing in Sumay, Guam, prior to World War II. The Marine detachment stationed in Sumay regarded pre-war Guam as a paradise. Courtesy of National Park Service.

As tensions with Japan rose with war warnings came from Washington, Japa­nese observation planes from Saipan flew over Guam daily. LtCol MacNulty met with the Pan Am Station Manager, Charles Gregg, during the last week of November and informed him that a Japanese attack was imminent and, if it happened, his Marine force would be in command of all government personnel with plans to evacuate American civil­ians. The Marines began improving de­fenses at their rifle range. They were is­sued ammunition and kept their weapons and ammo under their beds. The com­mand was making plans to cache a week’s worth of food at select remote locations to enable personnel to hold out for rescue by the Navy.

When the invasion did occur, there was no time for MacNulty to coordinate de­fensive actions. While the Americans still hoped that ongoing negotiations with Japan in Washington would forestall war, on Dec. 6, Governor McMillin ordered the destruction of all classified documents on the island to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands.

While this was happening, the Japanese were making final preparations for the invasion of Guam. The principle invasion unit was the South Seas Detachment under Major General Tomitaro Horii. It included the 144th Infantry Regiment and other units from the 55th Division, with a total of 4,886 men who were aboard ships in the Bonin Islands. They would be accompanied by a supporting force, the 370-man strong 5th Company (also called the 5th Special Force) of the 2nd Maizuru Special Naval Landing Force, commanded from Saipan by Naval Captain Hiromi Hayashi.

The two forces would be transported to Guam on nine transports escorted by the Japanese Fourth Fleet’s heavy cruiser Aoba, destroyers YuzukiKihuzukiUzuki and Oboro, four gunboats, five subchasers, a minesweeper squadron and other auxiliaries, with air support from the 18th Naval Air Corps at Saipan. This oversized landing force was being employed because the Japanese believed (strangely because of their careful sur­veil­lance of the island) that there were 300 Marines and 1,500 armed native de­fenders on Guam. Major General Horii assumed that the main resistance would be by the Marine detachment on the Orote Peninsula.

For Guam, the war commenced at 5:27 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, (Dec.7 at Pearl Harbor across the International Dateline) when the Navy Communications Office at Agana received a teletype mes­sage from Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander of the Asiatic Fleet tersely stating “Japan Started Hostilities. Govern yourself accordingly.” Guam was also notified of the Pearl Harbor attack. The radio operator immediately notified McMillin and MacNulty. There was an immediate attempt by radio to alert the minesweeper USS Penguin, which was on patrol around the island, but the ship’s radio was not being monitored at that time. McMillin notified Commander Donald T. Giles, who was responsible for the Insular Guard, and his military aide, Capt Todd, that Pearl Harbor was being attacked. Various posts were notified by phone until Japanese saboteurs or bombs cut the phone lines about 7:30 a.m., which caused the use of runners. Todd was directed to have his Insular Guard Force arrest all Japanese who were quickly rounded up and put in the Agana jail. The governor also ordered the residents of Agana, Agat and other towns to evacuate and most fled into the jungle and mountains.

USS Penguin tied up at its buoy about 8 a.m. where a launch arrived with a mes­sage informing the captain, Lieutenant J.W. Haviland, of the Pearl Harbor attack. At 8:27 a.m., 18 Japanese seaplane bomb­ers and fighters attacked various points including the Libugan radio station, with­out effect, and AganaSumay and USS Penguin. Three Japanese fighters made two passes at Penguin, whose crew tried to fight back with their antiaircraft gun. One Japanese plane was hit but not ob­served to go down. The gun crew com­mander, Ensign White, was killed by straf­ing. Three bombs exploded close to the ship, inflicting leaks in the hull. Three crewmen, including Haviland, were in­jured. Haviland ordered the ship to be scuttled and the seacocks were opened while the crew boarded a life raft or swam to shore. The Pan Am hotel was also at­tacked and destroyed, with loss of civilian life.

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Sailors aboard USS Penguin (AM-33) set up a defensive position in Apra Harbor to push back approaching Japanese forces. USN.

For Marines at Sumay, the day began with the usual early reveille followed by breakfast. Many Ma­rines were still in the barracks when the Japanese bombed the barracks at 7:27 a.m., even though MacNulty had been alerted before 6 a.m. Some Marines ran out in skivvies and began firing their rifles at the low flying planes. Three Ma­rines were seriously wounded while run­ning across the golf course to seek pro­tection in nearby thick­ets. A bomb ex­plod­ing 10 feet from the barracks’ radio shack mortally wounded Corporal Harry E. Anderson, who died at the hos­pital a few days later.

That afternoon, the Japanese also bombed several coastal villages, some of which would be landing points for the Japanese. Until about 5 p.m., more bombs were dropped around Agana but only one building was destroyed. Their bombing of Agana was opposed by antiaircraft fire from a machine gun that lacked a tripod and was manually mounted on a ledge atop the old Spanish fort above Agana. Manned by Marine Private First Class Knute Hanson, he was certain that he downed at least one Japanese aircraft.

That evening McMillin conferred with his officers and informed them that he had obtained per­mission from Admiral Hart to give up the island without resist­ance when the Japanese landed. MacNulty disagreed and insisted that his Marines would not surrender without a fight. It was agreed that only a token resistance would be offered, and that the Marine detachment would defend the Orote Peninsula and the approaches to Sumay and Apra Harbor. The Guam Insular Guard and Insular Patrol along with Sailors from Penguin and from the Gov­ernment House would be concen­trated at the Plaza in Agana where they would set up defenses. Preparations would be made to destroy equipment to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands. The Guam Insular Guard was recalled to the Plaza at Agana and Todd was instructed to recall the remote Insular Patrol Ma­rines and native Guardsmen, but he disregarded the instructions. He and Sgt Shane drove to the outposts but only in­structed the native Patrol members to assemble at Agana. According to author Tony Palomo’s “An Island in Agony,” Shane disagreed with the decision, feel­ing that the Marines at those posts would have a better chance at the Plaza. How­ever, events proved Todd was correct.

During the night, CAPT McMillin received a report that the Guam Insular Patrol had apprehended three men who had landed in a dugout canoe during the night near Ritidian Point at the northern end of the island. They were brought to the government house for questioning by McMillin and his staff. Local Chamorros identified the men as Chamorros who were native to Saipan but had relatives on Guam. The men stated that they were sent to be interpreters for the Japanese landing force which would land the next morning at Dungcas Beach, about a mile up the shore from Agana. When asked by McMillin why they were offering this information, they said that on Saipan the Chamorros were treated like slaves by the Japanese. They apparently believed what they said even though the invasion did not actually start until the day after. Both McMillin and MacNulty were skeptical and thought the infiltrators were trying to draw the Marines away from the Orote Peninsula. No effort was made to set up defenses at Dungcas beach.

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A view of the Government House (above) across from the Plaza de Espana in Guam. In the days before the war, a Navy ceremony is held (next image) near the Governor’s Palace on Guam. (Photos courtesy of National Park Service)

Bombing resumed at 8:30 a.m. the following day against the same targets, along with the Government House in Agana and some scattered air attacks at villages around the island. The Marine barracks was damaged along with the Pan Am Air installation and the Standard Oil tanks, which had already been hit and set afire the previous day. Marines from the barracks were deployed in the rifle range butts. Machine-gun and rifle fire was directed against the Japanese planes from Orote and Agana, but no hits were observed.

That evening, the Japanese invasion fleet departed the island of Rota for Guam. Because General Horii assumed there could be almost 2,000 armed defenders, possibly with heavy weapons, his plan divided the landing force into three com­ponents. The Hayashi Naval 5th Special Unit with an Army reinforced battalion called the Tsukomoto Force would land at Tumon Bay about 4 miles northeast of Agana, then move quickly down the coast road to capture Agana. The Hayashi Force would then move to secure the installa­tions at Apra Harbor. The main force with two thirds of the reinforced 144th Reg­iment, called the Kusunose Force, would land at a beach on the southwest coast near Merizo and advance north to over­come any resistance at Orote and meet up with the northern force. A smaller detachment from the main force would land in the east at Talofofo Bay and move inland to protect the heights above Apra.

About 1 a.m. on Dec. 10, on the orders of McMillin, the small force of defenders began setting up their defenses in the Plaza. Sgt Shane and the 11 Marines of the Insular Patrol prepared defensive positions with sand­bags, ditches and over­­turned benches in front of the Government House on the southwest side of the Plaza. Lane led the three platoons of Insular Guards, about 80 men with a few Penguin Sailors, who were deployed with little cover around the Plaza. A machine gun was assigned to each platoon. One, under Guardsman Pete Cruz, was positioned without cover at the critical northeastern corner near the cathedral to cover the narrow street to the north. He was as­sisted by Guardsman Vincente Chargualaf to whom Cruz handed his pistol to pro­vide cover when he changed ammunition belts. They were unexpectedly joined by an 8-year-old boy, Ramon Camacho, who emerged from the cathedral intending to take photos. Cruz tried to warn the boy away but he stayed and assisted Cruz in changing the ammo belt while Chargualaf covered them with a pistol. Across the Plaza at the north­western corner in front of Dorn Hall, Guardsman San Nicholas with two men set up their gun to cover the Agana jail and elementary school on the north side. The third machine gun under Guardsman Joe Perez and crew was set up to cover the southeastern corner and area south of the cathedral. The Guardsman and Sailors with rifles were deployed around the Plaza using the cover of hedges where possible.

The Japanese landing plans went slight­ly astray but did not affect the ultimate outcome. The transports began readying their landing barges for de­barkation at 1 a.m. on Dec. 10. In the south, the main Kusunose Force landed at Merizo but split into two parts because there were no direct roads. This sig­nif­icantly delayed their move toward Sumay and the Orote Peninsula. The northern Tsukamoto Force found its way through the coral reefs and landed at Tumon Bay at 2:25 a.m. as planned. These troops almost im­mediately encountered and fired up a jitney carrying a Chamorro family, killing most of them. They also captured two Sailors from Penguin.

The Hayashi Special Naval Landing Force, which debarked from a different transport, could not find the reef opening, so it moved southward around the steep cliffs at Oca Point where they found a channel into Agana Bay. Firing flares to guide the landing craft, they landed about 3:30 a.m. on Dungcas Beach less than 2 miles from the Plaza in Agana. As the boats approached shore, the splashing was overheard by Insular Guardsman Juan Perez on beach patrol. He fired at the first boat then ran to Agana to warn Governor McMillin. The landing force encountered six Sailors from the USS Penguin. After a short exchange of fire, the Americans surrendered and were then wired together and killed by bayonets. Farther north at Tumon Bay, the Army Tsukamoto Force was delayed by waiting for the Hayashi Force, unaware they had landed 2 miles farther down. This delay prevented them from reinforcing the Hayashi force.

Around 4 a.m., McMillin received a re­port of flares at Dungcas Beach. As­sum­ing a Japanese landing was underway, he issued orders to all stations to carry out their assigned missions. A Penguin Sailor patrolling the San Antonio District between the Plaza and the beach reported a large landing force to Lane at the Plaza. Japanese troops entering that district began sweeping the streets with gunfire.

That shooting was heard at the Plaza, and some fires were seen. The Marines, Sailors and Insular Guard were in their defense positions around the Plaza, which was ringed with buildings, including a Catholic church, Guard barracks, public works, police station and Government House. This limited the Japanese approach to mainly a narrow street from the north and streets from the northwest and south. There was little protection, mainly hedges in some spots. Their three machine guns were set up to cover two intersections by the church, the road from Agana Heights and an intersection by the police station. There were fewer than 100 defenders. Marine defenders in the Plaza included Sgt Shane and PFCs Harris Chuck, Robert Hinkle, Frank Nichols, William Bomar, Hal Burt and John Kaufman from the Sumay barracks. Kaufman had joined earlier from the hospital and apparently fought alongside the Guards and Penguin sailors. Insular Patrol PFC’s Richard Ballinger and Garth Dunn guarded the rear entrance to the Government House.

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In the days before the war, a Navy ceremony is held near the Governor’s Palace on Guam. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

As the defenders nervously awaited the Japanese who were infiltrating the streets toward the Plaza, Shane ordered PFC Chuck to take a few Marines to the garage and armory and destroy every­thing. Accompanied by PFCs Bomar and Burt, he commandeered a van and drove to the garage where the three disabled the vehicles with hammers and then broke the lock to the armory and set it afire with gasoline.

Hayashi’s men moved rapidly ap­proach­ing the Plaza on a narrow street from the north alongside the hospital and a cathedral and also from the northwest. Some of his force were moving to circle around the Plaza to approach from the northwest and cut off retreat to the south. About 5:15 a.m., the Japanese crammed in the narrow street by the cathedral and marched almost shoulder to shoulder with their bayoneted rifles facing forward into the plaza. Guardsman Juan Perez opened fire with his Browning Automatic Rifle on a soldier crossing the Plaza, causing others to run for cover. Guardsman Pedro Cruz, manning the machine gun at the northeastern corner near the cathedral, saw Japanese begin sneaking into the plaza from the north and opened fire. As the Japanese entered the Plaza in force, the defenders opened fire on the advanc­ing Japanese front ranks, killing and wounding many. The Marines defending Government House joined the firing. The intense fusillade caused the Japanese to fall back, reform and then advance again. The defenders continued heavy fire, caus­ing the attackers to withdraw a second time. Reforming again, the Japanese ad­vanced from the north and northwest, swarming into the Plaza with fastened bayonets and leveling heavy fire at the defenders. They also rolled in a pack howitzer.

The firing remained intense as the defenders fell back. At the northeast corner of the Plaza covering the cathedral approach, Pedro Cruz continued firing his Lewis gun, with the boy helping change belts, until Japanese return fire killed both Roman Camacho and Vicente Chargualaf. Cruz withdrew and was soon captured. At the northwestern corner, the Lewis gun operated by Guardsman San Nicholas and his two-man crew fired on the Japanese. After some exchange of fire, they dropped the gun and fled under Dorn Hall to escape but were met by a large group of Japanese soldiers between Dorn Hall and the Guard barracks where Nicholas escaped up a cliff behind the Government House but his loader, Angel Flores, was shot and killed.

Todd issued orders to the surviving de­fenders to withdraw to the protection of the thick-walled Insular Guard barracks on the western side. The Insular Patrol Ma­­rines and some defenders ran to that shelter including Radioman Second Class Robert Epperson, who fired his pistol at the attackers until his ammunition was ex­pended. Penguin sailor Electricians Mate First Class Ralph Gwinnup was shot in the ankles and dragged by his com­­rades to the barracks. Other Japanese be­gan to flank from the south side of the Plaza.

With the Japanese overrunning the Plaza and the surviving defenders in re­treat, Governor McMillin, who had by then received telephone reports of other Japanese landings, realized that resistance was futile. Deciding to surrender, he tele­phoned MacNulty to not resist. About 5:45 a.m., to prevent an imminent slaugh­t­er, Giles crawled out in front of Govern­ment House and ran to a nearby Chevrolet and sounded three horn blasts. He be­lieved they would understand and cease firing, which they did as did the Japanese. However, there was immediately some brief gunfire behind Government House. There is some dispute as to the reason but most likely was because Chief Petty Officer Malvern Smoot and a civilian, John Klugel, came from behind Gov­ernment House in effort to escape.

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Today, Guam is a strategic Pacific outpost for U.S. military forces, containing a Marine Corps Base and joint Navy-Air Force Base. Cpl Hailey D. Clay, USMC.

Smoot fired his pistol and hit several Japanese before he and Klugel were killed in a hail of gunfire. Two sailors from Gov­­ernment House, Joseph Blaha and Lyle Eads, exited and tried to join the defend­ers but were wounded and initially pre­sumed dead by the Japanese. To be sure, they bayoneted Blaha and started to bayonet Eads, but he rose and raised his hands. Both were taken to the hospital and survived. PFCs Bomar and Burt, who had ridden with PFC Chuck to sabotage the armory and motor pool, jumped out of his van on the return trip to try to es­cape. They were soon captured by a Japa­nese patrol and executed, by some ac­counts by beheading. In words of McMillin in his later formal report, “The Insular Force Guard stood their ground, and opened up a fire with machine guns and rifles hot enough to halt the invading force for a short time. The situation was simply hopeless, resistance had been carried to the limit.”

As a tense quiet prevailed over the Plaza, a Japanese near the cathe­dral, using a bullhorn, called out in broken English, “You are surrounded. You must surrender. Send your Captain!” At the direction of the governor, Giles and Lane stepped out and crossed the Plaza unharmed to parlay. They were marched through the San Antonio district to make contact with the Commander of the Naval landing force, Hayashi, and returned about a half hour later with the Japanese commander. The remaining de­fenders in the Plaza put down their weapons and began to rise and raise their arms, the pre-dawn dark­ness masking their fears of harm and ex­ecution. Before the Japanese com­mand­er arrived, a squad of Japanese soldiers entered the gov­ernor’s quarters and took McMillin cap­tive. He was made to re­move his jacket and trousers then marched to the Plaza where the Japanese were assembling their prisoners in three ranks, covered by machine guns. Prisoners were prodded by bayonets and savagely beaten into line. Those who had taken refuge in the barracks were ordered by a Japanese officer to come out and surrender. The prisoners were ordered to remove their clothing. PFC John Kaufman was not removing his underwear fast enough; the enemy slashed open his abdomen and he fell over and died.

Hayashi, McMillin and Commander Giles entered the Government House escorted by a Japanese guard with rifles and fixed bayonets. Because none of the Japanese with Hayashi spoke English, a local Japanese civilian, Mr. Shinahara, was brought to act as the interpreter. McMillin indicated that he was prepared to sign a declaration of surrender if the Japanese agreed to respect the civil rights of the people of Guam and that the sur­rendered military would be accorded the rights under international law. Hayashi agreed and surrender terms were drafted and signed by McMillin about 7 a.m. on Dec. 10. The Japanese laid out an Ameri­can flag in the Plaza and shined flashlights on it to signal the surrender to their planes overhead.

By now, dawn was breaking and the surrendered defenders in the Plaza could see bodies of Japanese and some defend­ers strewn around the Plaza. The Marines had lost three killed, all after being captured or surrendered. Fortunately, none of Shane’s Marines defending Gov­ernment House were killed in the actual fighting. The Navy had lost two and the Insular Guard had lost three plus the civilian volunteer, Roman Camacho. Despite the surrender agree­ment, the fate of the prisoners remained uncertain. More than once, they were stood up as if facing a machine-gun firing squad then told to sit down. Chief Petty Officer Robert O’Brien from Penguin, who could speak Japanese, overheard Hayashi say that he wanted to execute the prisoners because they had killed more than 200 of his men but was over­ruled by his Fleet commander. A formal count of Japanese losses was not reported but the island’s mortician, Pharmacists Mate First Class John Ploke recorded in his diary that he later counted more than 200 dead Japa­nese. Other sources reported that only one Japanese sailor was killed and six wounded which seems unlikely given the fusillade that met the Japanese ad­vance into the Plaza. At the same time, more than 200 Japanese dead appears high as it would have been half the 400 men from the Landing Force and there were still swarms of Japanese in and around the Plaza after the surrender.

After a time, the prisoners’ clothes were returned. The American officers were taken and held in the Navy hospital. The other Plaza prisoners, along with those in Agana who had surrendered were rounded up and sent to the cathedral. The wounded were taken to the hospital for treatment.

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Lieutenant Governor of Guam, Joshua Franquez Tenorio, gives welcoming re­marks at the Hasso Inalåhan memorial in Inalåhan, Guam, July 13, 2022, in re­membrance of the 1941 invasion of the island. After the invasion, thousands of Guamanians were forced into prison camps until they were liberated by U.S. forces in 1944. LCpl Garrett Gillespie, USMC.

At the Sumay barracks that morning, the Marines were advised by the execu­tive officer, Major Donald Spicer, to take cover in the surrounding jungle and not congregate at the rifle range butts west of the barracks. This is according to a Pan Am manager, James Thomas, who was in direct contact with MacNulty. MacNulty realized that surrender was imminent and that with daylight, Japanese aircraft would be swarming overhead with the Orote Peninsula a prime target. Congregating the Marines would attract the attention of strafing aircraft and result in unnecessary loss of life. Many Marines scattered into the nearby jungle for cover while some remained at the barracks. A roadblock ordered by MacNulty was never fully implemented.

Having secured the Plaza and ended resistance, Hayashi formed a detachment of his men and march directly over a paved road to secure the Piti Navy Yard. He then began marching to Sumay. Short­ly after leaving Piti, his force encountered a few Marines of the Insular Patrol who were unaware of the surrender and opened fire. The Japanese quickly surrounded and dis­armed the Marines without any injuries to either side. Hayashi’s detach­ment then marched quickly to the neck of the Orote Peninsula where they were supposed to join and support an attack by General Horii’s main force.

At the barracks, MacNulty had been informed by McMillin of the surrender agreement directed not to resist. The Marines were called back from the sur­rounding area and assembled. A Marine bugler sounded retreat and the American flag was lowered amidst many tears. Hayashi proceeded to the barracks where he accepted the surrender of the Marines from MacNulty. The Marines were initially stripped naked and made to sit on the adjoining golf course and then later taken to the cathedral where Japanese soldiers from Tumon Bay had taken over guard duty. The Marines around the island were alerted and came in or were captured by Japanese patrols unharmed. Over the next few days, the Sailors and Marines who tried to hide in the jungles and mountains turned themselves in or were captured by roaming patrols. Six Sailors from the Agana radio station remained at large hoping for rescue by a Navy task force and hidden for a time by loyal Chamorros.

The battle for Guam, though brief, was over. The Marines had four killed and 12 wounded from the bombing and Plaza battle. The Navy had lost nine and 25 wounded while the Guam Insular Force lost four including the civilian volunteer and five wounded. On Jan. 10, 1942, the prisoners were loaded aboard ships bound to Japan where they were imprisoned. Back on Guam, the Japanese were deter­mined to find the missing Americans issuing warnings that if they did not turn themselves in, they would be executed when captured. Five were eventually caught and executed. One Sailor, Radio­man First Class George Tweed, was hidden and moved around by loyal Chamorros, evading constant Japanese patrols. In June 1944, he was rescued by the destroyer USS McCall (DD-400) just prior to the Marine landings on Guam. The Hayashi detach­ment stayed on Guam and was wiped out by Marines during its recapture.

Today, the people of Guam are U.S. citizens who require and deserve Ameri­can protection. World War II showed that the Chamorro people are loyal, brave and would courageously support defense of their island. There also may be lessons we derive from the 1941 fall of Guam. Guam is an important strategic U.S. pos­session in the western Pacific with a large Air Force base and major naval base. Air superiority is crucial as Guam still lacks any substantial ground force defense capability and would require rapid reinforcement if threatened or attacked. Guam is key to our western Pacific defense strategy and a likely defense mission for Marine Forces Pacific to ensure 1941 is not repeated.

Author’s bio: Maj Stewart is a 1973 graduate of the Naval Academy. He also has a master’s in national security studies from Georgetown University. He served in the Marine Corps as a signals intelli­gence, electronic warfare and communi­ca­tions officer. After retiring from the Ma­rine Corps, he pursued a 30-year career in cybersecurity as a Director, Chief Technical Officer, Corporate Chief Information Security Officer and Subject Matter Expert Consultant to Federal agencies and large corporations. He has written several articles for military journals and is a past recipient of Marine Corps Gazette’s Major General Harold W. Chase Essay Award. He is the author of the award-winning book, “Sunrise at Abadan: The 1941 British and Soviet Invasion of Iran.”

The Healing of a Marine

Editor’s note: We are publishing Col Patty Klop’s story to reinforce the importance of speaking openly about PTSD and other mental health issues and to encourage veterans to ask for help. For information about resources available to veterans, visit: https://www.mca-marines.org/blog/resource/resources-for-veteran-marines/

My name is Patty Klop. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I am not ashamed. I am a wife, mother, sister, and a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Following seven weeks of PTSD treatment in March of 2022, I received the most precious gift of my life—the empowerment to live life with joy and contentment.

As much as I prefer the privacy of my personal and professional life, especially since I am still serving in the Marine Corps Reserve, I am taking a tremendous risk by sharing my PTSD story. However, the worst thing I can do is to keep this gift to myself. Assuming the risk of being transparent and vulnerable as a senior Marine Corps officer, I feel it is my obligation to my sisters and brothers-in-arms to share this incredible gift as encouragement and possible inspiration.

In April 2006, I returned from a seven-month deployment to Iraq (Ramadi and Fallujah) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I had a hard time adjusting to post-deployment life. Reflecting back during this difficult period, I now realize I was experiencing PTSD symptoms. The uncontrollable rage and angry outbursts were shocking and damaging to my family. I had never acted like that before.

Through Military One Source, I was referred to a counselor who assessed my symptoms of agitation, sleep disturbance, low energy, depressed mood, and ir­ri­ta­bility. At this point in my life, I was un­married and had no children.
From May to October 2009, I deployed as the officer in charge of Personnel Re­trieval and Processing (PRP) De­tach­ment, also known as mortuary af­fairs, to Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Endur­ing Free­dom. As the first Marine Corps mortuary affairs unit to deploy to Afghanistan, we were assigned the daunt­ing task of establishing the first Marine Corps Unit Collection Point. As a PRP team, we provided care in handling and preparing human remains for evacuation and sub­sequent repatriation to next of kin. This was an emotionally fatiguing job with repeated traumatizing experiences.

When I returned home from Af­ghan­istan, I anticipated having the best year of my life with my recent promotion to lieutenant colonel, getting married, and surviving a combat deployment. I thought my exposure to a war-torn and under-developed country and the conditions of how the Afghan people lived would remind me of how good I have it as an American and to live life to the fullest. I thought I would see life through a perpetual optimistic lens, enjoying life for all its worth and embracing each precious moment.

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MARFORRES Courtesy of Col Patty Klop, USMCR

On the contrary, I had one of the worst years of my life, as my emotions, es­pecial­ly anger, were out of control. The first six months of marriage was tur­bulent. I was irritable, easily agitated at the slightest annoyance, and extremely jumpy. My husband and I attended mar­riage counseling funded by Military One Source. I did not think my marriage was going to make it.

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Col Patty Klop with her two sons. Courtesy of Col Patty Klop, USMCR.At this time, my PTSD symptoms were extremely severe with anxiety, agitation, anger, depressed mood, low energy/chronic fatigue, irritability, impatience, hypervigilance (extreme sensitivity to my environment’s noises, temperature, and activities), trouble sleeping coupled with haunting nightmares, loss of interest in activities that I used to enjoy, and feeling like my skin was crawling. I was not aware I had PTSD until our marriage counselor shared her insight about my symptoms.

Our counselor referred me to a psy­chiatrist who prescribed me anti-anxiety medication. I was reluctant to take pre­scriptions as I felt I reached an all-time low by taking medication for my mental health. I was a senior Marine Corps Offi­cer. I should have control over my emotions and behaviors.

During the summer of 2010, I re­mem­bered vividly the moment I knew my prescription medication had taken effect. I was painting the spare bedroom, and I honestly felt my irritability and tension lifting and departing from my body. I finally felt relief and a calmness I had not experienced since I returned from Afghanistan. I instantly knew my experience of relief and calmness was the therapeutic effects of my prescription medication. I now knew that prescription medication was appropriate in my time of need.

In the military, and especially in the Marine Corps, I believe there is a stigma in admitting mental health problems and that pursuing treatment may be perceived as being weak. There is an expectation in the military to handle problems on one’s own.

I was fully aware of this stigma and that pursuing mental health treatment was counter-culture to the Marine Corps, especially as a senior officer. I was will­ing to take this risk because I needed help. I was not the same person when I returned from Afghanistan. My PTSD symptoms were progressively spin­ning out of control and negatively impacting my marriage.

According to the Stress Continuum Model on the Marine Forces Reserve website, I felt like I was living in the “yellow zone” of reacting while slipping forward and backward between the yellow zone and the orange zone. Just give me a lame excuse to advance into the orange zone and I pounce! I like to blame my hot-tempered Irish, fighting spirit as an excuse for my behavior. To be honest, I would like nothing more than to be confrontational, close the gap between me and my offender, and give them a piece of my mind after only the slightest provocation.

I also felt I was unworthy to receive PTSD treatment because I did not think I was qualified in meeting the criteria. I had a false impression that I needed to be an extremely burned-out combat veteran with severe and debilitating PTSD about to hit skid row to be admitted to inpatient PTSD treatment.

On the contrary, to successfully receive intense PTSD therapy, the veteran must be functional to a degree that enables him or her to be fully present, engaged and to participate in the process of individual counseling and group sessions as well as completing writing assignments.

When I finally checked in to the inpatient facility, I was still shell shocked from life and eager to get the help I desperately needed. When I arrived, all of my doubts that I was not worthy of PTSD treatment, that I did not meet the criteria of PTSD treatment, and that I should not take a seat reserved for another combat veteran, vanished instantly.

After a couple of days, I knew with every fiber of my being that I was in the right place. The PTSD treatment deeply resonated with me because it was exactly the relief that I was looking for. I was able to unpack the burdens of my PTSD, disarm them and hit the reset button on my life. It felt like God sent his best guardian angels to my flanks to pull me out of my pit of PTSD hell. My disposition slowly improved from dark ominous stormy clouds to clear blue skies.

Initially, I struggled with baring my soul about my traumatic combat exper­iences to a civilian who never served in the military a day in her life. As combat veterans, I sense we have a common men­tality that only another combat veteran will understand us, which is true to an extent. Outside of therapy and a few close military comrades, I would certainly never share my combat experiences with anyone.

My therapist did not serve in the mil­itary. However, she was an expert in trauma and was unequivocally the best therapist I encountered after 16 years and more than 10 therapists. She may not have served in the military or in a combat zone but certainly understood my trauma and helped me navigate to a healthier state of mind.

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Courtesy of Col Patty Klop, USMCR.

If I was stuck in a mentality that my therapist’s credibility and qualifications were as a combat veteran rather than a specialist in trauma, I would regret in missing out on her expertise. My narrow mindset would have truly prevented me from fully embracing the healing power of my PTSD treatment.

What I Experienced in PTSD Treatment
PTSD treatment was like a sanctuary for warriors to begin the healing process from the invisible wounds of combat trauma, which is what I desperately longed for the last 16 years of my life. The Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a self-discovery process of identifying thought patterns, emotions and behaviors that were weighing me down from living my best life. I was immersed in a safe and nurturing environment where I was fully accepted without condemnation or shame of myself, my PTSD diagnosis or my past.

What I Did Not Experience in PTSD Treatment
I did not experience a lecture or an un­ending infomercial of how screwed up I was. I honestly felt like damaged goods but not once did I receive unsolicited advice about how I was doing life wrong, or how bad and destructive my behavior was, or how out of control I was in being a wife and a mother. Not once did I receive condemnation, shame or disapproval for my PTSD diagnosis.

Instead, I was guided in a self-discovery process of exploring my thought patterns, which were challenged and rewritten towards a healthier baseline. Thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to actions, and actions lead to results. Everything begins with thoughts, which are produced by the mind. The mind is a battlefield!

What I learned in PTSD Treatment
I approached my health holistically: mental, social, physical, and spiritual health. The mind, body and spirit are con­nected. The best metaphor to describe wellness is imagining the four legs of a table. Each leg represents a major component of health, to include physi­cal, mental, social, and spiritual.

If one leg of the table is too long, then I am spending excessive time in that component of health, such as physical exercise. If one leg of the table is too short, then I am neglecting that component of health, such as my spiritual fitness. The legs of my table must be equal in length in order for me to reap the benefits of optimal health. If the legs of my table are not equal in length, then my foundation is wobbly.

If I stand on my wobbly table, there is a propensity for accidents and injuries that could have been prevented. My table is my foundation for life, especially in the daily grind; therefore, my table must be leveled to create a strong base and prevent the perpetual accidents and injuries that life throws at me.

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Courtesy of Col Patty Klop, USMCR
Exercise serves a purpose for my physi­cal and mental health. Exercise is my personal medicine for my PTSD symp­toms, as it is a natural elixir to remedy anxiety, depression and stress with no negative side effects that medications may have. I definitely experience a pos­itive change in my mood when I exercise. Conversely, I definitely experience ir­ri­tability when I do not exercise.

Due to feeling chronically tired all the time and trying to lose a few pounds, I also pursued whole food, plant-based nutrition, as the health benefits are pro­found in achieving optimal health, pre­venting diseases and managing weight.

Health is one of the most important pre­dictors of happiness. When it comes to health, my motto is “pay now or pay later.” In other words, there’s no success­ful procrastination option in taking care of your health. If you take care of your health today, you are preventing avoidable chronic health diseases. If you take care of your health tomorrow, you are reacting to avoidable chronic health diseases. Investing in my physical health was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I will never regret it.

Author’s note: This article is dedicated to my loving family and to the amazing staff at the VA Fort Thomas Division Trauma Recovery Center, Fort Thomas, Ky. I owe a debt of gratitude to this facility for giving me the most precious and invaluable gift that I have ever received in my life, which was the empowerment to live life with joy and contentment. My eternal gratitude!

Editor’s note: The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DOD endorsement. The views presented are strictly of the author and do not represent official policy positions nor imply endorsements by the U.S. Department of Defense or any of its military services.

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Office of Naval Research: Preparing the Marine Corps for Battlefields of the Future

“My predecessor told me … ‘we don’t have lightsabers and hover tanks in the basement here, but it’s right down the road.’ ”
—Colonel Frederick Lance Lewis Jr., USMC, Assistant Vice Chief of Naval Research (AVCNR)

The United States military is the most technologically sophisticated fighting force the world has ever seen. Its dominance comes not from its immense size, but from its ability to rapidly project force on a global scale, powered by an ever-improving arsenal of hardware and software the likes of which only a science-fiction writer could predict. The Marine Corps has always organized itself to be as flexible as pos­sible, and with Force Design 2030 re­focus­ing the Corps around that principle, it will need to modernize more rapidly than ever before. Force Design 2030 asserts that it is imperative to “transform the Marine Corps into a more agile, ef­ficient, and technologically advanced force to meet the challenges of the future.” Proudly leading that charge are the devoted men and women of the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The Office of Naval Research traces its roots back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time of rapid change. For the denizens of Europe and North America, industrialization changed every facet of life; how we ate, how we worked, how we traveled, and especially, how we fought. The First World War proved to the world’s generals and admirals that a military even a few years out of date would be hopelessly outmatched on the modern battlefield, a fact of which American leaders were especially aware. Exactly 100 years ago this month, on July 2, 1923, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) was established to lead technological research and development programs throughout the Department of the Navy, including the Marine Corps. Throughout the interwar period and during World War II, NRL completed early pioneering work on many of the technologies we take for granted today: remotely piloted aircraft, sonar, and radar, just to name a few.

Coming out of World War II, American geopolitical strategists rec­ognized that the U.S. had the opportunity to become the dominant military power in the world but could only do so by main­taining a technological edge over foreign adversaries. To that end, on Aug. 1, 1946, President Truman signed Public Law 588, establishing the Office of Naval Research to “plan, foster and encourage scientific research in recognition of its paramount importance as related to the maintenance of future naval power, and the preserva­tion of national security.” Since then, ONR has overseen all U.S. naval science and technology programs, coordinating NRL’s work with that of other laboratories across the country and around the world.

For new technologies to meet war­fight­ers’ needs, the people developing those technologies need perspective on how their work actually makes a difference to the end user. To that end, ONR draws its manpower from the operational mil­itary. Its senior leadership consists of actual warfighters who have already served on air, land, and sea; several have combat experience. Even many of the civilian employees are veterans now in their second careers. Because the Marine Corps is an integral part of the Depart­ment of the Navy, the positions of vice chief of naval research (VCNR) and as­sistant vice chief of naval research (AVCNR) are always staffed by Marines so they can advocate for the Corps’ future needs.

Pushing the Marine Corps into the future is a huge responsibility. As the VCNR, Brigadier General Kyle B. Ellison also serves as the Commanding General of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL), the Futures Directorate, and the Wargaming Center. “He’s a very, very busy individual,” confirms Colonel Frederick Lance Lewis Jr., the AVCNR. “What he has put out is a campaign plan for, ‘How are we going to get from where we are now to Force Design 2030?’ My job as the assistant vice chief of naval research is to ensure that Marine Corps’ equities are being met in science and technology development.” Col Lewis came to ONR last summer after three years as the commanding officer of Ma­rine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

As a pilot with more than 3,900 total flying hours, including more than 400 in combat, Lewis is intimately familiar with the importance of the work ONR does. Throughout his 27-year career, he has observed and directly benefited from a slew of new technologies developed at least in part by the organization he now helps lead.

“It’s interesting because you don’t think about it in real time. I’m an F-18 pilot by trade. When I started flying the F-18 in ’99, there was no GPS in the aircraft! There were no GPS weapons. Laser-guided weapons were … something that was talked about in hushed tones. Targeting pods were in their infancy,” Lewis said. “And now go to today … what I’ve seen is total immersion in GPS. GPS weapons and laser-guided weapons, that’s the norm. If you’re dropping a ‘dumb’ bomb, that’s the rare, exciting exception.”

Beyond precision-guided munitions, Lewis has seen new technologies pervade every aspect of warfighting. “Helmet-mounted queueing system, Link 16, improvements in radar, targeting pods—holy cow, we could talk forever about ad­vances in targeting pods—downlink video, SATCOM, all kinds of things that have been incorporated now into aircraft,” Lewis said. “On the ground side, never did I think when I was doing my first FAC [forward air controller] tour, when I was on my ground tour in Iraq, ’04-’05, that you would be able to livestream video down to a battalion COP [common operational picture], and now it’s normal,” he added.

“Some of the up-armor capability, MRAP [Mine Resistance Ambush Pro­tected vehicles], QuikClot, all of these things, you just think about … holy smokes, none of that stuff was thought of, invented, and it all started in a place like this,” Lewis said. “For me, I’ve seen that arc of technology and just how valuable technology is, and what does it take to deliver it to the fleet, having been on the user end of it.”

Each of ONR’s five departments, called Codes, directly manages programs within a specific area; the Warfighter Perform­ance department, officially designated Code 34, does a great deal of work that directly benefits Marines on the ground. From its headquarters in downtown Arlington, Va., ONR coordinates each department’s work at various research centers throughout the U.S. and abroad, such as NRL, MCWL, and the many Naval Surface Warfare Centers (NSWCs). Secure networks allow scientists and engineers there to collaborate in real time with their counterparts in other services of the U.S. military, allied militaries, re­search universities, and the private sector. Reporting to Col Lewis are five Marine officers, one in each Code, who leverage their scientific education and Marine Corps experience to direct the program officers’ research.

To equip Sailors and Marines for the battlefield of the future, ONR must first be able to predict that future. As the ex­peditionary portfolio director, veteran Marine Billy J. Short Jr. tries to do just that. In the absence of a crystal ball, he and his associates use a three-part time­scale to analyze the future based on the levels of maturity of various new tech­nologies. “The close, deep, and deeper fight is what we call it,” he says. “I need to make sure that we have a spectrum of technologies that the Marine Corps can adopt over that timeline.” In this context, “close” refers to programs which should conclude within the next three to five years, yielding results that will likely benefit many of the Marines reading this article today.

One example of a technology nearing maturity is a device known as the Port­able Fluid Analyzer Plus (PFA+), which prom­ises to significantly streamline the workflow for any Marine whose MOS in­volves vehicle maintenance. An impor­tant but underappreciated part of keeping vehicles running is checking lubricants, fuels, and hydraulic fluid for contaminants or debris that could indicate or even di­rect­ly cause a vehicle to break down at the worst possible moment.

Currently, fluid testing requires the Marine to package a sample and ship it to an offsite laboratory that may be hun­dreds of miles away, then wait days for the lab to send back a detailed analysis. As its name suggests, PFA+ effectively packages all the capability of a fully equipped scientific laboratory into a man-portable Pelican case and completely auto­mates the testing process. With min­imal training, anyone can carry the de­vice to wherever it is needed and quickly test a fluid sample to determine its exact composition and determine what impuri­ties it has. Once it arrives in the fleet with­in the next few years, PFA+ will reduce the processing time from several days to less than an hour, allowing main­tenance technicians to keep more vehicles running with less work.

During field trials at Camp Lejeune, a PFA+ prototype proved its worth when a vehicle unexpectedly broke down in the field. Instead of canceling the trial and calling for motor transportation Ma­rines to recover the vehicle, the quick-thinking Marines in the field used the PFA+ unit to test its fuel. Determining that moisture in the fuel system had caused the breakdown, the Marines were able to quickly restore it to working order and continue the scheduled testing, sav­ing untold manhours of work.

Several of ONR’s current projects in­volve the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to create more opportunities for training. Augmented reality systems combine computer-gen­erated imagery with the wearer’s view of the real world, like an advanced heads-up display. Dr. Peter Squire, Ph.D., the program officer for human performance, training, and education works with VR and AR to improve how warfighters use those technologies. He has degrees in computer science and psychology, a rare combination which makes him uniquely suited to not just develop technology, but understand how people use it. “I don’t do things directly in developing weapons; what I try to do is better understand how we will employ those,” he said.

“I try to help create training capabilities that will support that ‘anytime, anywhere’ training as part of their home station duties,” Squire continued. One of those new training systems is the JTAC Virtual Trainer (JVT), developed in collaboration with the private sector. As part of their MOS, joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) and FACs require complicated training that can be difficult for a unit to arrange. The time and space requirements to set up a practice range, not to mention the fuel and munitions costs the Marine Corps incurs to dispatch aircraft to sim­ulate close air support, are immense.

“For example, it is costly to do close air support training because you have to pay for pilots, the gasoline, the munitions, so if you can do that and still have the same level of proficiency using a simulated system to complement some live-fire activi­ties, I think there’s a huge ability of going after that type of approach,” Squire said.

ONR’s JVT leverages virtual reality technology to turn any space into a vir­tual training environment, complete with virtual aircraft, so that Marines can practice crucial combat skills more often than is currently possible. JVT’s advan­tages in cost and convenience promise to make it a valuable addition to the Ma­rine Corps’ toolbox.

“Some of what we do is early basic research that can take 10-30 years to fully develop,” said Short. Much of the funda­mental tech­nologies ONR is presently investigating at universities will not be mature and ready for deployment until many of to­day’s Marines have already left the military. It will be a very different Marine Corps and a new generation of Marines who field this new hardware. This foundational research can lead to breakthroughs that provide us a dispro­portionate advantage over other evolu­tion­ary developments.

Short, who earned graduate degrees in chemistry and physics, retired from the Marine Corps having served as a combat engineer officer. His combination of a strong science background and exper­ience as a Marine gives him a unique perspective into both the new technologies reaching maturity and how warfighters can use those technologies in their work. In discussing the way new technologies are promulgated throughout the fleet, he divides them into two categories based on what drives them: pull and push.

“Tech pull,” as Short calls it, is what happens when a program works to de­velop some capability requested by the fleet. These programs arise directly from the needs of warfighters, as identi­fied from the results of exercises and war­games. “We see that when we take what we currently have and mix it up with the adversary’s capabilities, we’ve got a big gap here. That gap can then get tran­slated into a technology need that then becomes a ‘pull.’ ”

“Tech push,” on the other hand, happens when ONR’s program managers identify a new or emerging technology which could provide a benefit Sailors and Marines, then develop that technology into a usable form. ONR has an entire portfolio called the Innovative Naval Prototype Portfolio consisting of such programs. “For that portfolio, we don’t need a requirement, we don’t need resources, all we have are scientists and informed discussions with our warfighters to say, ‘hey, we think this technology is … a moonshot and can have game-changing aspects, and regardless of what feedback you’re giving us right now, we’re saying that from a technical level, if this was fully and successfully developed, this is probably going to change the way you fight.’ ” In other words, with tech pushes, the scientists and engineers try to provide new hardware before the men and women in the fleet even know they need it.

Everyone at the Office of Naval Re­search is deeply invested in the work they do and how it affects the men and women in the fleet. When any individual Sailor or Marine identifies a problem that could be solved with new technology, ONR wants to know as soon as possible so their scientists and engineers can develop that technology. To that end, the ONR TechSolutions program allows Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers to submit their ideas for new technologies that could solve existing problems and enhance warfighter capabilities. ONR communicates with the applicant to fully understand the problem, and if the solution can be developed in a timely and cost-effective manner, devotes resources to the project.

“Our job here is to maintain our tech­nological edge over any adversary out there, and … if anybody’s foolish enough to take a swing at the Navy and the Ma­rine Corps, that that’s an unfair fight in our advantage,” said Lewis. “That idea is permeated from the top, from General Ellison, down to every single program officer that I’ve ever come across.”

The researchers’ high level of motiva­tion is palpable. “There are some folks who are really, really hungry to make sure that it is an unfair fight out there, and it is truly, truly exceptional to be in their presence and to feel their energy,” said Lewis. “I mean, you can just feel it coming off of them, you know? You get bogged down with budget and all that stuff, and then you go talk to the folks and they just could not be more excited about this new thing they came up with that’s going to make it unfair for our adversaries,” he added.

Any team succeeds or fails based on the contributions of each of its members, and ONR exemplifies this principle perfectly. From the command leadership to the program officers, the whole organi­zation is pervaded by a strong culture of enthusiasm for the work they do, an understanding of its value, and a sense of responsibility toward the Sailors and Marines they support.

Author’s bio: Sam Lichtman is a freelance writer who specializes in small arms technology and military history. He has a weekly segment on Gun Owners Radio. He is a licensed pilot who lives in Virginia.

“The Gift”

Revealing the Lasting Impact of Corporal Jason Dunham

In the years following Jason’s death, the Dunham family donated several items to the collection of artifacts housed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, including his woodland MARPAT blouse. (Photo by Kyle Watts)

In 2003, film producer and director David Kniess caught a red-eye flight from California, bound for the East Coast. A young Marine took the seat next to him. They struck up a conversation, and Kniess soon abandoned any thought of sleeping on the plane.

“He was just one of those people that you meet, and you immediately know there’s some­thing special about them,” Kniess recalled in a recent interview. “Very courteous, charis­matic; one of those people you meet, and you don’t want the conversation to end.”

The two stayed up talking through the night as the flight crossed the country. Kniess learned the young man’s name was Jason Dunham. He would soon be deploying to combat with “Kilo” Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. When the plane landed and they caught different connecting flights, Kniess shook Dunham’s hand and told him to take care of himself.

Several months later, in May 2004, Kniess received a call from a friend.
“Did you see The Wall Street Journal today?”
“No, why?”
“Remember that kid you told me about? Do you know what he did? Go get the paper.”

Kniess picked up a copy and saw Dunham’s portrait on the front page. He read on to learn how Dunham had been gravely wounded in Iraq and died eight days later after smothering a grenade with his Kevlar helmet to save the lives of two of his Marines.

Kniess wrote a short story about his exper­ience meeting Dunham on the flight and published it online. The story made its way to Jason’s parents, Deb and Dan Dunham, in Scio, N.Y. Before long, Kniess found a voicemail on his phone from Dunham’s mother. He initially ignored the message. What would he say to her?

When she called again, he realized he could not continue putting off the conversation. Kniess returned the Dunhams’ call, speaking with them about the story he wrote and rem­iniscing about their son. A friendship de­vel­oped quickly, and within a month, Kniess was on his way to their home in western New York.

The relationship with the Dunham family expanded in the following months. In Septem­ber 2004, Kniess met Dunham’s fellow Ma­rines as they returned from their deployment in Iraq. He listened to their stories and learned the full details of what Dunham had done and became determined to create a documen­tary about Dunham and the Marines who served with him.

Dan Dunham, left, adopted Jason as a baby. He and his wife, Deb, right, raised Jason in Scio, N.Y, with his siblings. In the film, Dan and Deb recount Jason’s history, what drove him to the Corps, how he grew into the selfless and charismatic man that he became.

As the years passed, he maintained a close relationship with the Dunham family and the Marines Dunham served alongside. One by one they left the Marine Corps, while Kniess waited for the right time to tell Dunham’s story.

Shortly before Kniess met Dunham’s family and began developing relationships with his Marines, he had worked on a separate documentary covering Vietnam veterans in the battle of Khe Sanh. One of the Marines being interviewed, a Bronze Star with “V” recipient named Bob Arotta, struggled as he recounted the friends he’d lost.

“He told me some very graphic stories from his time during the siege,” Kniess remembered. “He told me, ‘You know, the things that hap­pened then affect me more now than on the day they happened.’ That message was fresh in my mind as these guys started coming home from the war. I kept thinking, when is that day going to come for them? They were still in the Marine Corps. They still had the brotherhood. But I knew that day would come when the full effect of the war would hit them, and I worried about all of them. Sure enough, over the years I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. A lot of these guys are doing great now, but some of them aren’t with us anymore. It got to a point where they became old enough and a lot of this reflection had already happened.”

In 2020, 16 years after Dunham’s death, Kniess felt that enough time had passed, and it was time to tell the story. Not just the story of Dunham’s service and heroism, but also how his actions formed the foundation of life-altering events for so many others who served with him. Filming and production of the documentary began despite significant delays brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. Travel and gatherings were restricted, but the team found a way to make it work as they traveled around the nation interviewing everyone necessary to tell the story.

LCpl Bill Hampton (left) and PFC Kelly Miller (right) fought alongside Dunham in Iraq and were wounded in the grenade blast that Dunham smothered with his Kevlar helmet. These Marines, along with numerous others from Kilo, 3/7, share the gripping details of what Dunham did on Apr. 14, 2004, and how his sacrifice changed their lives. (Photos courtesy of Three Branches Productions, LLC)

The film opens with Dunham’s family back­ground. Dan and Deb Dunham are not his biologi­cal parents, and the film details how Dan came to adopt him. From a young age, Dunham learned what responsibility and a strong work ethic looked like as he watched over his younger brother and worked with his father on a dairy farm. His parents encouraged Dunham’s enlistment in the Marines. They understood, even before he graduated high school, Dunham needed a challenge to thrive; not a contest against others, but to continually challenge himself.

“We get a lot of credit for what he did,” Deb Dunham states in the film. “We don’t deserve that. We sent them [the Marine Corps] a young man that had a lot of good values. He went to the Marine Corps and the seeds that we prayed we had planted and would [grow] well, they blossomed, and the Marines polished what we gave them. Whenever people would say, ‘Are you a Marine?’ Jason would flash that grin and say, ‘You bet your sweet ass I am.’ He was proud of it. He was a Devil Dog, and that was what he wanted to be and do.”

The film proceeds into Dunham’s service in the Corps and eventual deployment to Iraq with Kilo, 3/7. One lesser-known fact emerges from the film; Dunham extended his enlistment so he could deploy to Iraq with his Marines.

The documentary covers the details of Dunham’s heroism and the events leading up to his final act of smothering a grenade with his Kevlar helmet. The two Marines next to him that day, Private First Class Kelly Miller and Lance Corporal Bill Hampton, describe what happened and reflect on Dunham’s his actions, as he traded his life for theirs. Other Marines who watched Dunham’s patrol leave the wire that day reveal the aftermath of the loss and how the details of his actions came to light. Stunning images of Dunham’s helmet, ripped to shreds, play alongside Marines’ descriptions of how they tried to process the day.

Much of the later portions of the film demonstrate precisely how Dunham’s actions continue to im­pact a growing number of people. Many of the Marines interviewed have battled guilt and post-traumatic stress. Dan Dunham describes his own bout with guilt following his decision to take his son off life support eight days after he was wounded.

Another perspective offered by the documentary comes from the spouse of a Marine who served with Dunham in Iraq. Becky Dean, the ex-wife of Marine veteran Mark Dean, participated in the film and described her former husband’s significant battle with PTSD in the years following his de­ployment in the hope of helping to demonstrate the tragic effects of war on the families back home.

“A lot of people don’t realize that PTSD is transferred to the kids and spouse,” said Kniess. “Especially the spouses. They are front and center. They get the brunt of it. Having Becky’s story included is something I think a lot of people out there will relate to.”

Perhaps the most powerful part of the story centers on a Kilo 3/7 reunion organized for the film. In September 2021, 3/7 Marines from across the nation gathered in the Dunhams’ driveway in New York before marching to the local cemetery where Dunham is buried. The candid remarks captured for the film on that occasion are both heartbreaking and inspiring, revealing the true extent to which Jason Dunham impacted the people who had the privilege of knowing him.

The production crew endured numerous hard­ships and setbacks filming during the pandemic but despite these challenges, Kniess reflected that the most difficult part of making the documentary was conducting the interviews. Month after month, interview after interview, Kniess and his team relived Dunham’s story with Kilo 3/7 veterans around the nation. Each time felt like opening an old wound. He knew it would be difficult for the Marines to relive that day. Kniess did not fully expect the emotional toll it would take on him. He saw it in the faces of his team as well. Tears flowed freely on multiple occasions, and heavy-hearted interviews ended with the team hugging the interviewee one by one and thanking them for sharing their story.

Healing emerged through the pain, however. The process of reliving and celebrating Dunham’s story held enormous therapeutic value for some. Jason Sanders, one of the Marines with Dunham on his final patrol in Iraq, offers a profoundly insightful view during his interview in the film.

Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109) on Dec. 2, 2018, while deployed in the Mediterranean Sea.

“It’s kind of hard to give up your stories to some­one who has never been involved in anything like that,” Sanders says. “It’s real hard to, because you’re sitting there wondering, I don’t think they’re really comprehending what the hell I’m saying, you know? And you can’t expect anybody else to know the feelings that you felt that day, because it’s not normal. You kind of have to let your guard down and let people help you.”

The difficulty of the interviews also played a role in naming the film. One of the cameramen working on the production team spent time as a combat photographer in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, most recently, Syria in 2018. The interviews with Dunham’s Marines brought back gruesome mem­ories of his time as a combat photographer and drove him to tears.

“You need to call this thing ‘The Gift,’” he told Kniess one day after an interview concluded. “What Jason did was a gift. You’ve got children being born, families being started, and people who were able to go on and do things with their lives because of this gift.” As Kniess expanded the interviews, more and more people referred to “the gift” that Dunham had given them. By the time filming was complete, there could be no other title.

Dunham is recognized today through many tributes. Most notably, the U.S. Navy named a guided missile destroyer in his honor, USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109). Even so, in the years since he became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor since Vietnam, Dunham’s story has been largely overshadowed by later recipients perhaps because a surprising number of Medal of Honor recipients from the global war on terrorism survived to receive their medals.

“The Gift” documentary succeeds in rejuvenat­ing Dunham’s story in a moving and relevant way. The Marines interviewed unanimously echo a resounding fact; Dunham’s sacrifice affects them more now than it did the day it happened. “There are two things I want people to get from this doc­umentary,” Kniess said. “The general public, I want them to gain a better understanding of what it’s like for Marines and Soldiers to go to war, what they experience, and how it affects them. Everyone in uniform these days has had the experience of someone coming up to them and saying, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I don’t think a lot of people who do that really understand what those words mean. I don’t blame them or fault them for that. I think it’s great they take the time to say it, but I hope people will watch this film so the next time they say it, they will better understand what those words mean.

“As for the veteran community, I know there are still guys out there struggling. There’s going to be someone out there watching this, and they’re going to learn about some of the guys we interviewed, the drug addiction, all the things they went through, and how they turned their lives around. I’m hoping that veterans like that will watch this and think, ‘Well, if they did it, why can’t I?’”

“The Gift” was produced by Three Branches Productions, LLC, a veteran-owned production company. The company was founded by three veterans: Kniess, who served in the Navy; Vincent Vargas, an Army Ranger; and Anthony Taylor, a Marine. The fourth member of the team, a civilian, is executive producer Chase Peel. “The Gift” won Best Documentary at the Utah Film Festival in January, has been invited to the GI Film Festival in San Diego, Calif., taking place this month. Kniess received the Santini Patriot Spirit Award at the Beaufort International Film Festival in February for his role as director, and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s Major Norman Hatch Award for best documentary feature. Three Branches produced two versions of the story, a two-hour feature length film, and a five-part series. “The Gift” will release on streaming media in spring 2023. Visit www.watchthegift.com for updated information about the release date.

The Long Road

Marines Walk from East Coast to West Coast To Raise Awareness, Money for MIA Recovery

Early in 2020, Sergeant Major Justin LeHew, USMC (Ret) had an idea. It was a big idea. For anyone who knows LeHew, that’s no surprise. He wanted to take a rather unique road trip with his close friend and fellow Marine, SgtMaj Coleman “Rocky” Kinzer, USMC (Ret). The plan was to take a trip across America. They would be cycling with some hiking mixed in. And along the way, they would visit tourist destinations to check some of the boxes that had been missed during their busy years on active duty. Slowly an idea began to take shape. Not only would they see America, but they planned to use the trip to raise awareness of Missing in Action (MIA) servicemembers and raise funds for History Flight, the nonprofit MIA recovery organization for which LeHew is the chief operations officer and Kinzer is the deputy operations officer.

Kinzer and LeHew started training for the journey, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to put their plans on hold—for two years. LeHew couldn’t let go of the idea, though, and in late spring 2022, he decided that it was now or never.

On June 6, 2022, LeHew and Kinzer finally took their first steps on a journey that took them from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. In an adventure that they dubbed, “The Long Road,” the two Marines walked from Boston, Mass., to Newport, Ore., along U.S. Route 20. It took more than six months for them to cover the 3,365 miles on foot, and they arrived in Oregwon on Dec. 17, 2022, where a crowd had gathered to cheer for LeHew, Kinzer and Ray Shinohara, a fellow Marine who joined his friends in Illinois.

Some of the specifics of the original plan changed—including the route and what “bucket list” items they would check off along the way—but perhaps the biggest change was the mode of trans­portation. They didn’t use bicycles; instead, they walked the entire coast to coast route.

U.S. Route 20 is the longest highway in the United States and goes through small towns and vast areas of farmland into the heart of America. Access to those small towns and farms is exactly why LeHew chose this route because one thing that didn’t change from his original vision is the two overarching themes that were guiding and motivating the Marines during their odyssey: raising funds for History Flight and raising awareness about the more than 80,000 servicemembers from throughout the nation still unaccounted for.

History Flight is a nonprofit MIA re­covery organization dedicated to locating and recovering U.S. military personnel previously deemed unrecoverable. LeHew has been with the organization since his 2018 retirement from the Marine Corps. Kinzer joined the group after he retired in 2019, and Shinohara will soon begin work as a History Flight team lead on Betio Island where recovery of Ma­rines who were killed in the Battle of Tarawa is ongoing. History Flight teams combine historical and archival infor­mation with tech­nolo­gies such as ground penetrating radar surveys, mag­netometry and forensic archaeology to conduct searches. They currently have a 93 percent success rate in locating the remains they have searched for.

LeHew, a recipient of the Navy Cross for his actions with Task Force Tarawa on March 23, 2003, in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, chose to depart on the anniversary of D-Day for a few reasons. He didn’t want to leave on Memorial Day so as not to detract from the solemnity of the day. “On Memorial Day there should be an attention on the people of this nation who gave everything … it shouldn’t be the kickoff date to highlight somebody else’s thing,” he said. “I want to spend that day in silent remembrance … thinking about my buddies,” added LeHew, who is the National Commander of the Legion of Valor organization.

LeHew also had a more personal reason for choosing D-Day to begin walking. He thought it would be a good way to honor the memory of his father who served in the Army during World War II and participated in the D-Day landings. “On 6 June 1944, my father was a PFC in the 29th Infantry that came out of the front end of an LCVP [Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel] … and he managed to cross Omaha Beach … and survive,” LeHew said, adding that his father and the others of his generation “came home [after the war] and built these roads, worked in these towns, and made the America of today for all of us that are sitting here today.”

Kinzer and LeHew and their families spent a few days in the Boston area before kicking off the journey. Bright and early, on June 6, the two Marines went aboard USS Constitution and fired the deck gun for morning colors before they took their first steps on what would become the trip of a lifetime. They traveled through Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and part of Illinois before rendezvousing with Shinohara, west of Chicago in Elgin, Ill., in August.

Shinohara had some catching up to do. In the early days of the hike, Kinzer and LeHew had been through the breaking-in phase and had already worked out the kinks. They were averaging 20 miles per day, and they had a rhythm. But there was no way Kinzer and LeHew were going to leave Shinohara behind. Gradually, he became acclimated and fell in lockstep with “Team Long Road.” Soon after, he took up the job of monitoring the group’s social media in the evening and documenting the journey with photos and video he took using a small drone.

“There [were] definitely tough mo­ments, but I’m with a bunch of tough guys. We all supported each other and made sure that we were all moving forward and not backwards,” Shinohara said. “The first week that I was out there I had huge blisters the size of golf balls, my back was hurting, my hips were hurting—I wanted to quit. But I knew I started this, and you know as a Marine I can’t not finish it. That mentality that I got from being in the Marines and being with other Marines alongside me, it helped push me forward,” he added.

LeHew, Kinzer and Shinohara planned their route so they could go through small towns and talk to people. They wanted to reach as many people as possible to let them know about History Flight’s dedication to live up to America’s prom­ise to men and women in uniform that if they should fall in service to the nation, they would not be left behind and they would not be forgotten.

Early in the journey when they were close to Attica, N.Y., a retired Marine drove by and offered to give them a ride to a hotel in Attica, which is several miles off the path of the highway, but not before sharing a cold beer with them on the side of the road in the late afternoon summer heat. Before dropping them off at a hotel, the fellow Marine took Kinzer and LeHew to his American Legion post in town where they talked about their cross-country trek with the members who were there. According to LeHew, after hearing the reason behind the walk, the Legionnaires passed a hat and collected $1,500 to donate to History Flight. The next morning, LeHew and Kinzer were given a ride from the town back to Route 20 so they could continue westward.

And that kind of encounter happened all across the country. “I wasn’t prepared for ‘Iowa nice,’ ” said Kinzer, adding that the people who live in the towns they walked through in Iowa really supported them in any way they could to include having kids come out of school to line the streets and cheer as the Marines walked by.

As the walkers covered miles, those small-town Americans came together to form an unofficial support system for the men. And it was all done using modern technology but in a very grass roots way, through a Facebook group LeHew set up called “The Long Road.” The group grew in numbers, slowly at first, but the momentum picked up and the group swelled to more than 14,000 followers. Nearly every day, people would post messages in the group, not just to the walkers, but to each other. Posters would provide relevant information about road conditions, weather and lodging for areas LeHew, Kinzer and Shinohara were approaching. The Facebook group members would also coordinate with each other to give assistance to the men along the way.

And as the Facebook group grew, those early followers would answer questions asked by new followers. They also ex­citedly shared photos and details about meeting the men when they passed through their part of the United States. The Facebook page took on a life of its own according to LeHew. “This isn’t like every platform you find on the internet; this is a good one. There’s no finger point­ing, there’s no politics. It was a com­munity bulletin board that worked the way community bulletin boards are supposed to work,” he said.

The cross-country trek wasn’t without its complications. Early on in the journey, LeHew was infected with anaplasmosis from a tick’s bite. He had to leave the road for 10 days while he recovered. This was before Shinohara joined the group, so Kinzer had to power on by himself, which he said was more of a challenge than he had anticipated, adding that he was glad to have some temporary company as he was passing through one town when a resident came out and walked a few miles with him. “One thing I didn’t expect to happen to me was I did get lonely out there on the road. Obviously going with somebody makes it better,” Kinzer said.

Over the miles, they faced danger from drivers they shared the highway with. LeHew was quick to point out, however, that truck drivers on Route 20 were some of their biggest allies. “American truckers were the best people across 12 states,” he said, explaining that truck drivers would alert each other to be on the lookout for the walkers, while passing the word about their mission. The average automobile was more of a concern for Team Long Road. “When you walk a highway there’s not a time that you can take your eyes off the road for 3,365 miles … [just in case] you have to dive over a guard rail because somebody is texting,” said LeHew. He explained that it was draining to do that all day, and that he hadn’t really thought about that aspect of the trip when he was planning it. “You had to really learn, even though it’s not land nav, and ‘all I’ve got to do is follow the road,’ so many different things are happening on this road that you are mentally exhausted at the end of every day,” he said, adding that the hyper vigilance was similar to being on patrol nearly every day for 6 1/2 months.

There were times during the journey when no one else was around for miles and miles. (Photo by SgtMaj Justin Lehew, USMC (Ret))
There were plenty of light moments during the trek. In the middle of Iowa farm country, a turkey joined Team Long Road and according to Kinzer, pictured here with his walking poles, walked along with them for several miles.

There were some light and funny mo­ments on The Long Road. In September while they were walking by a cornfield in Iowa, a turkey accompanied them for 3 miles. In a video that LeHew posted in the Facebook group, the turkey can be seen trotting along with the hikers. “The Long Road is for everyone, friend and fowl,” quips LeHew in the video, which was viewed 63,000 times and garnered dozens of comments and reactions.

Shinohara said there were other funny animal encounters besides the turkey trot. On one stretch of road, he looked behind him to see two Great Pyrenees dogs running toward him at full speed. He prepared for what he was sure was going to be an attack, but the two large dogs only wanted to play and walked along with the trio for a while. Shinohara said they had to backtrack about a mile to return the dogs to their home out of concern that the exuberant animals might be hit by a car.

When they didn’t have animal com­panions to laugh at, Kinzer said that during those long days on the road they had some entertaining conversations with each other, and they kept each other laughing with funny stories.

They didn’t walk side by side all the time. Sometimes, they spread out along the road so they could watch each others’ backs. LeHew said he developed an appreciation for the alone time during those stretches. “Most people during, their day, they are moving so fast they don’t have the think space to be able to weigh …. what’s working, what’s not working,” he said. “It allows you to sit there when you don’t have the distractions and everything else to get a certain amount of clarity that isn’t afforded to you anywhere else so you are not making rash, emotional decisions,” he added.

Along the way they accomplished a few of the “bucket list” items that led to the idea of the trip. They walked through Yellowstone National Park and saw the geyser Old Faithful, and their stay in Chicago included taking in a White Sox baseball game with Kinzer delivering the ball to the pitcher’s mound so LeHew could throw out the first pitch. “It’s something I’ll never get to do in my life again,” Kinzer said. “They interviewed us on Sox radio … those are experiences some people never get in a lifetime, you know you can’t trade them for anything,” he added.

At night they slept in hotels or they camped. They ate in diners and small local restaurants and sometimes they cooked. LeHew noted that along the way, volunteer firefighters were incredibly accommodating, allowing the Marines to use the bathrooms, bunkrooms and kitchens in the fire stations. Perhaps their biggest game changer in terms of logistics happened in Moville, Iowa, when they welcomed a new member of The Long Road Team: a motorhome.

For the rest of the voyage, they took turns driving the 1985 Winnebago Chieftain that LeHew bought. It served as a forward operating base on wheels and provided them with the needed supplies when they traversed the more desolate stretches of the route. It also served as a source of shelter when no other accommodations were available.

All across the country, there were moments of absolute awe and wonder. “You’re standing in the middle of an American empty highway and you’re watching nature’s fireworks show go off at night and there’s no headlights that’s disrupting any of this … the whole sky looks like it’s on fire,” said LeHew. “But it looks like it’s on fire because as the sun’s going down and it’s uninterrupted by all of these other influences from headlights or anything else.” he added.

“Until you actually lay eyes on a high alpine lake that’s frozen over, surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides … a picture doesn’t do it any justice. Words don’t do it any justice. It’s one of those things where you have to be there, you have to see it,” said Kinzer. He said he made it a point to appreciate the natural beauty of every region they walked through but there was one place in particular that mesmerized him. “Really the place I think that got me the most was the western side of the Cascades … getting into that rainforest area on the western side of them as you drop down into the coastal area that was otherworldly,” he said.

The journey came to a close on Dec. 17, 2022, in Newport, Ore. A large crowd of people lined the streets to greet the walkers as they reached their destination—the end of the highway.

“For the last mile, where everybody started coming in, it was amazing,” Shinohara said. “The craziest thing was seeing people we met along the way. We posted when we were going to get to Newport and there were people that we met along the way on Route 20 that came to see us and … it made it more special because … someone would say, ‘hey, remember me from Iowa?’ It was just an amazing feeling.”

While Kinzer, LeHew and Shinohara have completed their journey on The Long Road, the intent behind their epic journey is still a driving force in their everyday lives. “This affects the living, not just the dead,” LeHew said, referencing the families of those fallen men who were never recovered and the sadness they live with.

With that in mind, History Flight con­tinues its work locating remains of Ameri­ca’s MIAs. Recovery operations on Betio, in the Philippines and in Europe are ongoing and are nearly back to pre-COVID-19 levels. And on this Memorial Day weekend, LeHew and his family will be doing what has become a tradition for them. They will be at Arlington National Cemetery visiting graves, including the grave of LeHew’s father, LeHew’s Marines who were killed in Iraq, and the servicemembers who were killed in World War II, but only recently were brought home through the work of History Flight.

Author’s note: To learn more about History Flight, read “Until They All Come Home” in the Leatherneck November 2020 issue. To donate, visit www.historyflight.com/donate.

When Team Long Road reached the end of the road, they gathered for a photo before celebrating with family and friends. Photo courtesy of SgtMaj Justin LeHew, USMC (Ret).

Toys for Tots: 75 Years of Delivering Joy to Children

By Jennifer Castro

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William L. Hendricks was a major in the Marine Corps Reserve when he established Toys for Tots in 1947. Hendricks worked in the motion picture industry, and he was presented with an Honorary Oscar for his patriotism after writing and producing the Marine Corps documentary, “A Force in Readiness,” in 1961.

Toys for Tots was founded in 1947 by Marine Corps Reserve officer Major William “Bill” L. Hendricks when his wife, Diane, wanted to donate dolls to a charity that would distribute the toys to children in need. Unable to find such an organization, Diane convinced her husband to create one. Hendricks, who was a public relations director for Warner Brothers Studios, called not only on his celebrity friends to help, he also looked to fellow Marine reservists to get the job done. The project was a huge success: Hendricks’ reserve unit in Los Angeles, Calif., collected and distributed 5,000 toys that year.

The program was officially adopted by the Marine Corps in 1948 and went nationwide almost immediately. Today it is recognized as an official activity of the Marine Corps and is part of the official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve. For the past 75 years, the Toys for Tots program along with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve have led a campaign to collect new and unwrapped toys, providing millions of gifts annually to underprivileged children during the holiday season.

Perhaps the most familiar part of the campaign is the festive seasonal posters advertising the toy drive.

Of the many artists responsible for creating iconic imagery for Toys for Tots, Marine Corps combat artist Keith McConnell is of exceptional note. He designed nine posters for Toys for Tots including for the 35th, 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries. McConnell served as a combat artist during the Vietnam War and during Operation Desert Storm. Following his service in Vietnam, he went on to illustrate children’s books and medical texts.

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Walt Disney. Courtesy of Toys for Tots.

The Toys for Tots program and its posters have had a long association with cartoonists. The organization’s first poster was personally supervised by Walt Disney in 1948. Disney also designed the original Toys for Tots logo featuring a toy train. Over the years, Toys for Tots posters have featured numerous cartoon characters, including Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, as well as Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace and his dog, Ruff.

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1972, by Hank Ketcham. Courtesy of Hank Ketcham.

Bob Moore is another notable artist who designed a Toys for Tots poster. A cornerstone of early Disney animation, Moore was a liaison to the U.S. military, producing special projects for the U.S. government during World War II. He designed the Mickey Mouse-themed poster for the 1978 Toys for Tots campaign. The National Museum of the Marine Corps collection contains an original galley proof of the special poster.


Author’s bio: Jennifer Castro is the Cultural and Material History Curator for the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Click here to view the related Saved Round from the December issue.

“Not Bad for a Lance Corporal”

Philanthropist, Entrepreneur Bob Parsons Turned the Discipline He Learned in the Marine Corps into High-Tech Success

By Joel Searls

Bob Parsons’ name is synonymous with entrepreneurship, resilience, and the American spirit. Parsons came from very humble beginnings and grew up in Baltimore, Md., fighting for every inch of success he achieved. He founded two successful tech companies, Parsons Tech­nology (sold to Intuit in 1994 for $64 mil­lion) and GoDaddy (sold to private equity investors in 2011 for $2.25 billion). In 2012, Parsons started YAM Worldwide Inc., for his entrepreneurial endeavors in power sports, golf, real estate, marketing, innovation, and philanthropy. Parsons’ organizations include Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG), Harley Davidson of Scotts­dale, YAM Properties and, most importantly, The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation, which has awarded donations to 100 charities and organizations world­wide since 2012.

I recently spoke with Parsons to dis­cuss how his time in the Marine Corps contributed to his later success in life.

How were you inspired to join the Marines? Well, you must understand I was ter­rible in school. Just terrible. If I were a kid today, I would be pumped so full of Ritalin! My senior year, I discovered the opposite sex and alcohol, which didn’t help my schooling either. I was failing several subjects and I was pretty sure I was not going to graduate.

Bob Parsons (top), founder of internet hosting provider GoDaddy, attributes much of his success to his Marine Corps training. Parsons (above) went to boot camp at MCRD Parris Island and was an infantry Marine in Vietnam.

 

One day … in the spring of 1968, I had two friends, Aggie Psirocus and Charlie Mason, tell me that we were going to talk to a Marine Corps recruiter and ask if I would like to join them. Aggie had already joined and was helping the recruiter … so Charlie and I went down with him. The recruiter had us at “Hello.” We walked in and he said, “How are you men doing?” This guy looked like Sergeant Rock; everything was starched, and the creases were perfect, and he was in incredible shape. He asked us to wait a moment and went and rattled in his closet a little bit, came out and said, “I was gonna pour you men a drink, but I’m all out.” I think one of us said, “Don’t even worry. We’ll bring it next time.” He said, “Nah, it’s okay. We’ll drink my stuff.” Thinking back on it, I am pretty sure his stuff never existed.

Bob Parsons (top), founder of internet hosting provider GoDaddy, attributes much of his success to his Marine Corps training. Parsons (above) went to boot camp at MCRD Parris Island and was an infantry Marine in Vietnam.

After about an hour, this guy knew he had us and said, “If you want, I’ll see if I can get you in,” and we said, “Absolutely!” He told us there were three reasons we should enlist now. No. 1, Charlie and I could join on the buddy plan and go through training together. No. 2, we didn’t have to leave for Parris Island until August. Somehow or another we thought Parris Island in August would be a good thing. At least we’d have our summer at home in Baltimore. Then, the third reason, which made all the sense in the world to us, was that we didn’t have to worry about getting drafted into the Army. We said, “That sounds good,” and then he said, “We’re going to have to check your grades and so forth,” and my thought was, “Uh oh!”

I was 17 at the time so my mother had to sign my papers. She was a little reluctant, but she finally did. I went back with my papers two weeks later, still worried about the recruiter checking my grades, and he said, “Robert, we think you’ll make a fine Marine.” Our first orders were to report to Fort Holabird for transfer to Parris Island.

When I showed my orders to my teachers, they knew what was happening, they all passed me! In many ways, I owe the Marine Corps my high school diploma. The more I thought about going to boot camp, the more I could not wait to get there, and the same was true for my buddy, Charlie.

When we got down to Parris Island, the DI that got on the bus didn’t exactly say, “How are you men doing?”

Charlie and I were both made riflemen.

The bunker in Vietnam where Parsons served with Delta Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines on Hill 190 in Quang Nam Province.
The bunker in Vietnam where Parsons served with Delta Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines on Hill 190 in Quang Nam Province.

What was your experience in Vietnam?

The bunker in Vietnam where Parsons served with Delta Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines on Hill 190 in Quang Nam Province.

My unit was “Delta” Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and we operated on Hill 190. We were in Quảng Nam Province, where there were rice paddies as far as you could see on one side and mountains and jungle on the other side. Our job was to keep the North Vietnamese Army out of those villages, which we did by running ambushes at night. When I got there, the most senior man in my squad had only been there for six weeks … The squad was ambushed a few days before I got there. Four Marines were KIA [Killed in Action], and one Marine was seriously WIA [Wounded in Action]. I was one of the replacements.

The bunker in Vietnam where Parsons served with Delta Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines on Hill 190 in Quang Nam Province.
The bunker in Vietnam where Parsons served with Delta Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines on Hill 190 in Quang Nam Province.

After meeting with my squad, I sat on a wall while I was waiting to go into the bush and thought, “Wow, I’m going to be here for 13 months. The most senior guy here has only been here for six weeks. How in the world am I going to live through this?” Then it occurred to me as I looked out at the valley that I am going to die here. When I accepted that, every­thing changed for me. Then I made myself two promises. The first promise was I would do everything I could to do my job as a United States Marine. I wanted to make my folks back home proud and not let the guys in my squad down. My second promise was I wanted to do everything I could to be alive for mail call.
Many of my buddies from the war told me they accepted death. They said, “I thought for sure I was going to die.” I believe that made us a much more formidable combat unit. We were worried about one thing and one thing only: doing our job. I hadn’t been with my squad for four hours when I saw my first combat. A fellow Marine was hurt horrifically—his name was Ermel Hunt.

The bunker in Vietnam where Parsons served with Delta Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines on Hill 190 in Quang Nam Province.

That night our squad was set up in one place and a sister squad was set up in a location a couple clicks apart. We had a corpsman with us, and they did not. We got a radio call from Hill 190 that said, “Get your ass over there as quick as you can with the corpsman.” I remember running through those rice paddies … We get there and their squad leader, Larry Blackwell, was in the rice paddy and he was losing his cookies. He looked like he was in shock and the Huey was going to land right on top of him. When I saw it, I took off and started pushing Larry until we hit a rice paddy dike and went ass over apple cart into the adjacent paddy. The Huey missed us both. At first, he was pissed at me, and then he realized what had happened, so then he thanked me. Did I save his bacon? Oh, for sure.

The second night we were moving out on an ambush, and a Marine named Ray Livsey was walking point. He used to call himself Sgt Rock … walking through a rice paddy is one nasty thing … walking on the rice paddy dikes was so much easier. The problem was that the North Vietnamese knew it was easy. The point man made the decision if he was willing to walk on the dikes or not, and Ray said, “I’m going to walk on the dikes.” It wasn’t five minutes, KABOOM! The explosion mangled his legs. I helped carry him about a mile back to the medevac point.

When we got back to Hill 190 the next morning, I went to clean my rifle. After falling over and over while carrying Ray, my rifle was straight mud from the tip of the barrel to the beginning of the chamber. Had I pulled the trigger, oh my! Thank God that didn’t happen, but I learned you’ve got to keep the barrel up and out of the mud.

I did every job. I walked “tail end Charlie,” which is the safest but also the creepiest job. Then I carried a radio for a while. During Vietnam that was the only communication for the squad, so being the radio man was like wearing a sign that said, “Please shoot me first.” Eventual­ly, I volunteered for the point team, which is how I got hurt.

One month to the day after I arrived, we were going through a village. I’m walking second point; Gene was first point and Gene’s a real high-stepping guy, so he steps over this trip wire and of course, I hit it. When the trap exploded, at first, I didn’t know it was me. As I was laying on the ground, I reached over to stop some of the bleeding on my leg and I realized my elbow joint was outside of my arm … The boys carried me back and then I was medevacked in a jeep. I eventually ended up in Yokosuka Naval Hospital in Japan for the better part of two months. Then I received orders back to the bush.

Parsons was wounded a month after he arrived in Vietnam and subsequently received a Purple Heart.
Parsons was wounded a month after he arrived in Vietnam and subsequently received a Purple Heart.

In the Marine Corps back then, you had to be wounded three times before you could opt out. I don’t know if that’s changed, but it was three times, assuming you were physically able. When I got to Okinawa, they did a full physical since I came from the hospital and saw my elbow still hadn’t healed. So, they put me into a casualty company.

Parsons was wounded a month after he arrived in Vietnam and subsequently received a Purple Heart.

Eventually all my wounds healed, and I told the doctor over at the sick bay I wanted to go back. I said, “Sir, I am all healed and I’m ready to go back.” The doctor said to me, “Parsons, you did what you needed to do. If you want, I’ll keep you here all war, son.” I said to him, “Nah, I want to go back. I want to be with my squad.” Even though it had only been a month; I was closer to them than so many people. He said, “OK.” He put it through and several days later I got notice: “Here’s your orders. You’re going to leave in the morning. And, your payroll records, which had been lost since you were wounded, have finally showed up.” I was given four months’ pay and told to, “Go off base, have yourself a good time, and be back at midnight.”

At 3 in the morning, I was still whoop­ing it up. As I’m walking, the rain is com­ing down sideways. I see a guy walking towards me. I recognized it was the guy who I saved that first night in the bush, Larry Blackwell. He told me that he was wounded when his squad was ambushed. Because it was his third time wounded, he didn’t have to go back to a rifle company.

It was his third Purple Heart, and he was now stationed in Marine Corps intelli­gence … He stops, and he says to me, “You know you saved my life,” and I said, “I know.” … He says, “The guy that runs the print shop just left, and we haven’t put someone in that position yet.” He said, “I can get that for you,” and I said, “Really, how?” He goes, “Well, the gunnery ser­geant is a friend of mine, and when I tell him that you saved my life and that you’ve already been there and you’ve got a Purple Heart, he’ll probably be OK with assigning you instead of someone just coming through.” I said, “I appreciate that, brother.” My orders were for 7 a.m. and it would be tough for him to make a change. And, in a way, I wanted to go back.

When I arrived back on base, I was immediately arrested for not being back by midnight. I said, “I was wounded, and the Navy lost my payroll records and I’m going back to Vietnam tomorrow.” The second lieutenant said, “Get him the f— out of here,” which was him being nice to me. I went back to the barracks and a couple of hours later woke up with a hangover from hell. Whoever was managing the formation called my name and said, “I’ve got orders that you’re now stationed here on Okinawa.”

An entrepreneur at heart, the veteran Marine established Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG), a company that manufactures custom-fitted golf clubs.
An entrepreneur at heart, the veteran Marine established Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG), a company that manufactures custom-fitted golf clubs.

Blackwell came to me a couple of months later and said, “Parsons, I came over to say goodbye. I requested a transfer back to a rifle company. I can’t deal with it here.” I said, “Brother, good luck and I’m going to miss you.” A couple of weeks later I also put in my request to go back to my squad in Vietnam. When the request got to the company gunny, [he] looked at it and said, “Parsons, you’re requesting to go back to your unit?” I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Have you lost your mind? You’ll get yourself killed, son.” He ripped it up and said, “Request denied.” I requested again a few months later and was denied again.

How did your Marine Corps experience factor into your return home from Vietnam?

An entrepreneur at heart, the veteran Marine established Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG), a company that manufactures custom-fitted golf clubs.

When I came home from the war, I was a different guy in a lot of ways. First, I worked in a steel mill as a laborer. Then, another job I applied for and got was a machinist apprentice.

Eventually, I saw an ad for the Univer­sity of Baltimore, [that was] focused on veterans. You didn’t need to take the en­trance exams or provide your high school grades. If you had a GED or graduated from high school, that was sufficient. My cousin lent me the money to pay the first advance on my tuition. That’s how I was able to go to college and study accounting. Lo and behold, I graduated Magna Cum Laude. Then I took the CPA exam and passed it the first time. I bought a book later and taught myself how to program a computer and became a hobbyist. I used that book to start my first company, Parsons Technology. I would never have done any of this without the Marine Corps! The Marine Corps totally changed me.

Here’s what they taught me: they taught me the importance of discipline—not discipline in the form of punishment, although there was plenty of that. They taught me that responsibility is sacred. If you have a job to do, you must have the discipline and backbone to see it through. You don’t have to want to do it, but you must do it to the best of your ability to not let the guy next to you down.

In enlisted boot camp, when somebody screws up, the whole platoon gets punished except for the guy that screws up. If some­one is caught with pogey bait in the bar­racks, your brothers in the platoon are going to push all the racks to the middle, and everybody is going to be doing squats as low as they can with their hands behind their head, which is very painful after a while. They go around the barracks re­peatedly and the guy with the pogey bait stands there and eats his candy bar and watches them suffer. When everybody passes him, they usually say, “I’m going to f—ing kill you,” but what that drives across is that we operate as a unit. If you don’t operate the way you are supposed to, it hurts the whole unit. The unit is only as strong as the weakest link. That really brought the concept of teamwork home, and teamwork is our calling card.

A gift made for Parsons by 6th Engineer Support Battalion.
A gift made for Parsons by 6th Engineer Support Battalion.

The other two lessons I learned that helped me a lot were that I could accom­plish much more than I ever dreamed I could, and I had a right to be proud. I’ll say it again—everything I have ever ac­complished I owe to the United States Marine Corps and the lessons I learned while serving.

A gift made for Parsons by 6th Engineer Support Battalion.

How did your Marine Corps experience in Vietnam change and motivate you to start your own company?I came back from Vietnam with a new work ethic, but not all the changes in me were positive. I was a different guy. The guy that went over there was on the happy-go-lucky side, liked being around people, liked going to different events and so forth. The guy who came home had a short temper, was always a little bit depressed, occasionally, when he was alone, he’d cry and didn’t want to be around people. He buried himself in his work and that kept him going.

Sometimes I think, without PTSD, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am. I was a worker bee to get my first business off the ground and wrote all the programming code with no formal education. I would come to work at 8 in the morning, let’s say Monday, straight through to Wednesday at 8 in the morning, and about 8 o’clock at night on Wednesday I’d start to slow down and not get much done. I knew it was time to quit when I would start to hallucinate and hear voices that weren’t there. I worked those crazy hours until I got my business up off the ground, and I did it because I loved it. Then I took it a little easier, but I worked hard every day, again, because I loved it. Would I have done that without the Marine Corps? No … They taught me the importance of hard work. I couldn’t outspend my competitors, I couldn’t out-hire them, but I could outwork them.

My making peace with probable death in Vietnam 100 percent allowed me to focus on what I had to do. I will tell you: I’m no hero. And many Marines saw way more combat than I did. I’m sure camara­d­erie exists in other branches, but nowhere does it exist like in the Marine Corps. I mean, nobody else celebrates their birth­days. Do you ever hear of the Air Force celebrating birthdays? We have a cele­bration at my company every year. Any­one that was in the Marine Corps can participate, and I even let a few squids [Navy] into the event. We have a cake, drink a shot, and sing the Marine Corps hymn. Everybody looks forward to it and everybody gets “Semper Fi’d,” and we share a little story here or there. We keep it alive.

Bob and his wife, Renee, founded The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation, which has made significant donations to 100 charities and organizations worldwide since 2012.
Bob and his wife, Renee, founded The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation, which has made significant donations to 100 charities and organizations worldwide since 2012.

Everything we do is a tribute to the Marine Corps. Look at the PXG logo … that’s military stencil. Our clubs, our best irons, the model number is 0311. Another line of our irons is 0317. We have a “Heroes Program,” which verifies service and gives significant discounts to veterans, guys and gals in the military, law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs. We call them all heroes.

What are you currently focused on and what do you want your legacy to be?

Every year, my wife and I give Semper Fi & America’s Fund $10 million. We also donate money to help prevent suicide. We help Team Rubicon, which give veterans a purpose, something to do … We recently donated $5 million to the Mount Sinai Center for Psychedelic Healing. One mil­lion of that went to the Bronx VA, where they are doing field trials with veterans. They understand as much as anybody about PTSD. We helped MAPS (Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) with $2 million for their third field trial intended to help with MDMA FDA approval. Right now, our foundation donates an average of a million dollars every 14 days to charity. That’s not bad for a lance corporal.

Bob and his wife, Renee, founded The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation, which has made significant donations to 100 charities and organizations worldwide since 2012.

Author’s bio: Joel Searls is a creative and business professional in the enter­tainment industry. He writes for We are the Mighty. He serves in the Marine Corps Reserve and enjoys time with his family and friends.

“There’s a Place for You in the American Legion”

These Marine Vets are the Face of the Next Generation of Legionnaires

By Sara W. Bock

Finding Purpose
Elizabeth Hartman was five years out of the Marine Corps when, in 2019, she bumped into a Vietnam-era Marine veteran in the small town of New Bern, N.C., where she resides.

“Hey, Marine, you need to continue to serve—get off your butt and come help!” she recalls Ed Hughes saying as he encouraged her to join the local American Legion Post 539. Not one to refuse orders, the 31-year-old self-described “boot lance corporal,” who had heard people complain that the American Legion was little more than a bunch of old guys in a bar, decided to see for herself.

Elizabeth joined MCA’s Scuttlebutt Podcast to talk about the American Legion, Click Here to Listen

What she found defied every stereotype: a diverse group of veterans from all gen­erations, a large segment of them fellow post-9/11 veterans, who were committed to supporting each other and continuing to serve their community and country even after hanging up their uniforms. Today, just three years after she first set foot in the door, Hartman serves both as the post’s commander and as Chair of the Legion’s National Legislative Council.

“Rank we leave at the door, we leave gender at the door, we leave race at the door. We just serve. And I think that’s what’s so beautiful because you can come in and you can just find that purpose,” said Hartman, who added that due to its proximity to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, many of the post’s legion­naires are veteran Marines. “I would say a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging are the two things we frequently hear as what’s missing when someone separates from the Marine Corps. Joining an American Legion post, you belong, and you’re surrounded by people who get it.”

For Hartman, who served as an Arabic linguist during her time in the Corps and now works as a personal financial advisor, it’s important that Post 539 of­fers programming that appeals to all generations of Marines. The post has retained traditional offerings like Bingo nights and weekly gatherings at a bar, but also has added activities like a “Yak Attack” kayaking trip and an annual 22-mile hike that brings awareness to veteran suicide rates while raising funds for suicide prevention programming. Recently, when members of the post became aware that veterans’ headstones at a historically Black cemetery in the local area had fallen into disrepair and not been receiving the same honors and recognition as veterans in the nearby national cemetery, they procured grave cleaning kits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and spent two weekends cleaning up the headstones before holding a ceremony to render proper honors for those who had been laid to rest there.

“We put a flag by each, saluted, and said their name aloud to ensure they would get the honors they deserved. I was really proud of that one,” said Hartman, adding that the post has also found other ways to serve the community in recent months, including taking three homeless veterans off the street and helping them secure housing and jobs.

A pivotal experience for Hartman took place last summer in the wake of the attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, which claimed the lives of 13 U.S. servicemembers who were assisting in the evacuation of America’s Afghan allies as the Taliban took control of the country. A week later, Post 539 held a town hall meeting for anyone who wanted to talk about what had transpired.

“We had GWOT [global war on terror] veterans crying because they were trying to cope with their feelings and emotions—two seats over you had a Vietnam veteran also crying because [of] seeing a photo of Kabul juxtaposed by Saigon,” Hartman recalled. “I think so often we see a dif­ferent generation of veterans and we think, ‘They’re so different from me.’ But really, we’re the same and we are going through the exact same situations and emotions, and it’s imperative that we come together and view ourselves as one team.”

The efforts at Hartman’s post are reflec­tive of a sea change at the highest levels of the national veteran service organization, which boasts 1.8 million members and more than 12,000 posts nationwide, as it navigates the challenge of attracting the next generation of veterans to join its ranks while ensuring that its older members continue to feel valued and seen. With a recently unveiled new logo, which does not replace its iconic star emblem but rather provides a secondary “brand mark,” the American Legion has its sights set on the future.

Addressing the Suicide CrisisFounded in 1919 by a small group of World War I veterans, the Legion has throughout its history not only provided a place for veterans to belong, but also has identified the biggest issue facing the next generation and figured out how to help solve or alleviate it. Historically, this has primarily been accomplished through lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., where the Legion, which has one of the largest veterans lobbying groups, has played a vital role in ensuring that legislation that benefits veterans is signed into law.

“The WW I American Legion veteran set up the GI Bill for the World War II veteran, and then the WW II legionnaire took care of all the care and compensation around Agent Orange—that was the big­gest issue facing the next generation,” said the Legion’s Chief Marketing Officer, Dean Kessel, who added that today, the core of the Legion’s members are Vietnam veterans who are continuing that tradition of paying it forward. “What is the biggest issue facing this generation of veteran? It’s suicide and mental health.”

Recognizing that this complex issue can’t be addressed solely through legisla­tion, the American Legion recently rolled out its “Be the One” awareness and de-stig­ma­tization campaign, which encour­ages individuals to, rather than quote the alarming number of daily veteran suicides, “be the one to save one veteran.”

“Be the one to ask veterans in your life how they are doing; to listen when a veteran needs to talk; to reach out when a veteran is struggling,” the campaign urges.

According to retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Chanin Nuntavong, who sits at the helm of the Legion’s Washington, D.C., office as the executive director of government and veteran affairs, the organization instituted a new “Buddy Check” program at the local level several years ago, asking post members to call their fellow legionnaires to check on them and see if they need anything. Less than two years later, the stay-at-home orders that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic made the Buddy Check concept even more vital.

“We found people who were older and needed groceries and needed help and support,” said Nuntavong, adding that at the time, the idea for the Be the One campaign had not yet been conceived. “We are incorporating the Be the One campaign into our Buddy Check program, so not only are we going to call and ask how you’re doing, but we’re really going to dive a little deeper and check on your mental health, making sure you have services if you need any, or any assistance that we can provide locally.”

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Elizabeth Hartman, commander of American Legion Post 539, enjoys a beer with fellow post members during one of the post’s weekly Thursday evening gatherings.

Advocating on the HillNuntavong, who retired from the Corps in 2017 and previously served as public affairs advisor to the 17th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Micheal P. Barrett, is responsible for overseeing the Legion’s lobbying arm and regularly testifies before Congress on matters concerning veterans. Since he assumed his current position, Nuntavong has had the opportunity to help ensure benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides while serving off the coast of Vietnam, as well as to testify in support of the recent Honoring our PACT Act, which will give the next generation of veterans harmed by toxins, largely from burn pits, presumption of service connection and access to earned benefits and healthcare. He and his team regularly meet with senators and members of the House of Representatives and review bills to determine their impact—both positive and negative—on those who have served. The Washington, D.C., office also employs nearly 50 individuals who work to process dis­ability compensation claims and appeals for veterans, free of charge. In 2021 alone, the American Legion secured a staggering $14 billion in benefits for veterans.

“Quite honestly, no one is going to fight for our brothers and sisters in arms as much as the American Legion,” said Hartman, whose role on the organization’s National Legislative Council is to help ensure that veterans are aware of the Legion’s legislative agenda, know their services and resources available, and are encouraged to pick up the phone and call their representatives on matters that affect their fellow veterans.

Nuntavong understands that some individuals may be at a point in their lives where they don’t have the time or feel the need to participate in their local post, and he finds their sentiments com­pletely valid. Still, he encourages all veterans to join the Legion because their membership fee—which is de­pendent on location but averages about $40 per year—helps support the org­ani­zation’s lobbying efforts on the Hill and its important work in processing veteran claims.

“Membership matters. So, if you can donate your $30 to the Legion, you’re going to help us advocate, and then when you’re ready to walk in the door and contribute your time, we’ll be there for you,” said Nuntavong, who hopes to dispel the myth that the American Legion is little more than a smoky bar that serves cheap beer.
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American Legion Executive Director Chanin Nuntavong, a retired Marine, testifies in support of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Aug. 1, 2018.

Staying RelevantWorking in the Los Angeles entertain­ment industry, Gulf War-era Marine vet­eran Jeff Daly had never even heard of the American Legion until five years ago when a friend invited him to attend a writing workshop with a group called Veterans in Media and Entertainment. The event was held at the Legion’s Hollywood Post 43— incidentally, the post at which Nuntavong is a member. The colossal art-deco style building is located just down the street from the Hollywood Bowl and is home to a multi-million dollar theater. Once referred to by The Wall Street Journal as “the coolest club in LA you can’t buy yourself into,” the structure made Daly’s eyes widen with interest.

“What is this place?” he remembers asking the person sitting next to him. Before he knew it, he too was a legionnaire and just recently became the commander of Post 43. Daly also is a co-host of the Legion’s national podcast, Tango Alpha Lima, in which he and fellow veterans have what he describes as “conversations that aren’t typically associated with the American Legion.”

“We talked about the George Floyd thing because the police officers were veterans. We’ve done Pride Month things, Black History Month things, women’s things,” said Daly of the podcast. “We’re speaking to two audiences: one’s internal and one’s external. Internal are the youn­ger members or actually any members that we already have that have a perception, true or false, that the Legion’s losing its relevance. And then the external is to show prospective members that we’re not.”

Daly describes his post of 1,300 mem­bers as younger on average, but still re­presentative of every living era, from World War II down to 18-year-olds who are serving on active duty.

“What drew me was the vibrance of all the members—because we have members of all ages—but [also] doing stuff,” said Daly. “We do professional development, because we’re in Hollywood that means we’re working with groups like Veterans in Media and Entertainment, because they bring in people to teach how to pitch a project, how to work with casting directors, get jobs behind the scenes in production. So we’re engaging people in the rest of their life, not just the memory of serving. That was important. […] That’s what brought me in. What’s kept me is that I also have learned to really latch on to the notion of continued service.”

When Daly suffered a stroke in March of this year, members of his post visited him every single day as he recovered.

“A lot of us, especially here, aren’t from here, don’t have family here, so this is a de facto family,” said Daly.
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Rediscovering Identity
The Marine Corps was in the rearview mirror for Ron Neff, who retired as a sergeant major in 2017 and headed for corporate America.

“The people were magnificent, the pay was fantastic, but it didn’t take long. Like so many other veterans, I started to experience what I felt like was an existential crisis of identity. I felt like I didn’t have purpose, I wasn’t surrounded by Marines anymore to kind of remind me of my value to them and the organization, I began to worry about my own mental and physical health. And while things were going well with the new job on the surface, below the surface I was definitely looking, grasping for something more,” said the sergeant major, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during his 24-year career.

A motorcycle enthusiast, Neff happened to be at a Harley-David­son dealership near his home in Indianapolis, Ind., when a group of American Legion Riders rolled up. A fellow Marine he recognized from his time in the Corps was among them. The group invited him to visit the local post, which turned out to be less than a mile from his home, where he immediately joined and became a legionnaire.

“It kind of felt like you were hanging out with your Marines in the field or something. The flavors vary every day, but it was there, and you knew that if you needed to be transparent, to be yourself for a moment, whether it was a period of vulnerability or just pride and confidence in your service, there was somebody there that could listen,” said Neff of his experience at his post.

Within months of getting involved, Neff, who still was dissatisfied with his career path, noticed a position had opened at the American Legion National Head­quar­ters in Indianapolis, and applied.

“Fortunately for me I got it and I kind of feel like a Marine all over again,” Neff, who serves as director of the Legion’s Americanism Division, said with a laugh.

Americanism is one of the Legion’s “pillars,” focused on the development of the nation’s most valuable resource: its youth. As director, Neff is responsible for youth programs that include American Legion Baseball, Junior Shooting Sports, Boys Nation, the National Oratorical Contest, Youth Cadet Law Enforcement and Scouting, as well as flag etiquette, youth scholarships and the child welfare foundation.

“It’s externally focused on the same population of great Americans that we served in uniform, so it’s like being that humble servant to Americans again, and not uniquely devoted to taking care of our fellow veterans,” said Neff of his work in the division. “That’s a mandate that never goes away, but Americanism from the American Legion is really externally focused and just selling the message that this country is beautiful and amazing, and patriotism is not partisan, and that’s why we serve, this country’s worth it, and we communicate that to others.”

Neff considers becoming a legionnaire to be an extension of service and encour­ages all veteran Marines who are search­ing for purpose to find a home in the American Legion.

“There is a common excitement when you walk out of uniform. You’re looking forward to living the ‘other life,’ so to speak. But in your excitement to leave, sometimes it’s lost upon you that when you’ve selflessly served others for so long it becomes a part of your identity, an innate characteristic or trait that doesn’t go away,” said Neff, adding these words aimed at his fellow veterans: “There’s a place for you in the American Legion.”

Carolina Museum of the Marine

Building a Firm Foundation for the Future

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An aerial rendering of the Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute which will be located in Jacksonville, N.C. (Photo courtesy of CJMW Architecture, Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute)

 

By Ashley Danielson

The mission of Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute is to honor the legacy of Carolina Marines and Sailors, sustain the ideals that are the foundation of our nation, and inspire principle-committed citizens.

Originally named Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas, the organization was founded by Major General Ray Smith, USMC (Ret) who was the commanding general for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune from 1997 to 1999. Smith and his wife, Colleen, wanted to preserve the storied legacy of Carolina Marines and Sailors so they contacted Sergeant Major Joe Houle just before his own retirement. “We wanted someone who understands the Carolina MAGTF,” MajGen Smith said. “And someone who would work tirelessly to make the vision of an enduring tribute a reality,” he added.

Houle joined the organization in 2000, wearing a number of hats over the years, all with the focus of building the museum. Now as Director of Operations and Artifacts, Houle works with Ashley Danielson, the Executive Director and Vice President of Development, and Richard Koeckert, the Finance Manager, overseeing the organization while a search for a chief executive officer is underway.

“Over the years we have been collecting artifacts for the museum’s exhibits,” Houle said. “Board members CWO-5 Lisa Potts, USMC (Ret) and SgtMaj Ray Mackey, USMC (Ret) have worked tirelessly with the organization’s historian, LtCol Lynn “Kim” Kimball, USMC (Ret), and museum archivist and volunteer Frances Hayden to ensure best practices in the accession and care of the artifacts,” he added.

Late in 2021, the state of North Carolina awarded $26 million to the organization for construction of the 40,000-square-foot facility. Local government entities are joining private donors to ensure that the organization has operating capital to oversee and run the project during construction and after its doors open. “We are excited to see this organization moving from grassroots to the national stage,” said Danielson. “We have numerous faithful supporters to which we owe a debt of gratitude.”
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Reflection and Celebration Park, the first of the museum’s two phases, has become the site of numerous promotion and retirement ceremonies thanks in large part to its huge eagle, globe and anchor statue. (Photo courtesy of CJMW Architecture, Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute)

The Museum

The museum will include displays featuring Expeditionary Warfare and Amphibious Operations, Carolina MAGTF (Marine air-ground task force) Development of Maneuver Warfare Philosophy, Women Marines, Montford Point Marines, MARSOC (Marine Forces, Special Operations Command), Military Working Dogs, and Wounded Warrior Barracks among other firsts and innovations of the Carolinas. “We are honoring Marines and Sailors, and their families, whose service to the nation exemplifies civic commitment in action,” said Chairman of the Board, Brigadier General Richard F. Vercauteren, USMC (Ret).

The museum will highlight the many ac-complishments and innovations of Carolina Marines and Sailors and the enduring contributions of their host communities. It will also provide a unique and inspiring new venue for public and private events including military balls, reunions, promotion and retirement ceremonies, weddings and civic events.
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Gen Al Gray, USMC (Ret), left, and SgtMaj Joe Houle, USMC (Ret) pose for a photo at Reflection and Celebration Park.

The museum’s plans have stayed the course since 2000 with award-winning architectural and engineering plans already in place. “We are building in two phases,” Vercauteren said. “Phase One, Reflection and Celebration Park, was opened to the public in May 2016 and gifted to the Department of the Navy in 2018.” According to Onslow County Assistant Manager Glenn Hargett, Reflection and Celebration Park is the most “Instagrammed” site in the community. Hundreds of people—military personnel and civilians—use the park and its world’s largest eagle, globe and anchor statue as the site of promotion and retirement ceremonies, weddings and photo opportunities. Recently, thanks to gifts from Byrd Family Foundation, Patriots Walkway was dedicated at the site.

“Plans for Phase 2, the construction of the 40,000-square-foot Museum and Institute, are now underway,” Vercauteren said, adding that a Marine veteran legislator was instrumental in backing the project. “Thanks to dedicated North Carolina Senator Mike Lazzara and his success in obtaining a $26 million construction grant this year.” Lazzara was joined in his efforts by North Carolina state representatives George Cleveland, Pat McElfraft and Phil Shepard.

“We are excited to move forward with this project,” said SgtMaj Houle. “We will show quite clearly, with our immersive exhibits, the honor, courage and com­mitment of Carolina Marines and Sailors.” The museum will be located near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and is anticipated to be a major attraction for the 138,000 Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen serving in the area as well as their families and friends. Houle also expects numerous military and history aficionados as well as tourists to the state’s coastline to visit the museum.
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A rendering of the Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute. The museum will honor the legacy of Carolina Marines and Sailors and will highlight their accomplishments and innovations. (Photo courtesy of CJMW Architecture, Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute)

Headwinds

As with any project, the group has encountered headwinds and obstacles along the way, including very real questions about the efficacy of museums in the current milieu. “We knew we needed to look at our business model,” said Danielson. To do that, the group began talking to other museum leaders about what does and does not work. Danielson said that one of the most compelling conversations early in her tenure with the organization was with General Alfred M. Gray, USMC (Ret), the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

“We spoke about the need to increase or even restore civics education in our nation,” she recalled. “General Gray has had in mind for a number of years an institute at which individuals of all ages can learn about the foundation of our nation, the core values of our founding fathers, and the principles of creative, critical, and strategic thinking that will lead to effective civic engagement.” The synergy between the core values of the Marine Corps and the characteristics of a good citizen made sense to the group, and plans began to create and launch the civic institute, now named for its founder, General Gray. The Al Gray Civic Institute will offer courses on site, online and on location.
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The rear of the museum, as shown in this artist’s rendering, will overlook the Route 17 bypass which runs through Jacksonville, N.C. (Photo courtesy of CJMW Architecture, Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute)

The Institute

Since 1775, the United States Marine Corps has been integral to the security of our country, and integral to its mission are honor, courage and commitment. Marines are inculcated with an understanding of honor and the qualities that define not just a well-formed Marine but a well-formed person and citizen. “Marines demonstrate civic commitment in action as they defend and protect our Constitution,” said General Gray. “We want to showcase their many innovations and accomplishments while teaching to students young and old a basic knowledge and understanding of our government and our individual responsibilities in preserving our democracy for future generations,” he continued.

With Gen Gray’s leadership, Board of Directors Vice Chair Mark Cramer, and ethics professor James Danielson, are overseeing development of the curriculum for the Al Gray Civic Institute. “Critical Thinking for Civic Engagement,” the Institute’s first offering, has been delivered at Swansboro High School in Swansboro, N.C. and at Camp Johnson to active-duty Marines awaiting MOS training. The 15-hour course is being adapted for online presentation as well. Other classes under development include, “The Founding Principles of the United States,” “Understanding the American Constitution,” “Critical Thinking for Civic Engagement,” “Leading Self, Leading Others,” “History of Political and Economic Thought” and “Ethics at Home, School and Work.” “The Houle School” is a summer fitness, civics and leadership program for middle and high school students. The Institute also produces essays in the organization’s monthly newsletter, “Front and Center.”

Gen Gray is especially interested in teaching critical thinking which he defines as the study and analysis of problems, issues and facts to develop and form a sound judgement. “It is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-motivated, and self-corrected thinking,” he said. “This course was already conducted at Swansboro High School in 2019 with excellent results. We want to be prepared to defend our convictions and interests as well as our institutions.” Gen Gray continued, “We don’t have to take sides concerning political or religious questions which may be in dispute in America. We can endeavor to state as simply as possible those great convictions upon which nearly all Americans agree. These are the simple principles as rules of life, beliefs that secure our order, our justice and our freedom.”

For more information and to follow the organization’s progress, visit Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute’s website at MuseumoftheMarine.org.
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James Danielson, Ph.D., teaches Critical Thinking for Civic Engagement at MCB Camp Johnson, N.C. as part of the curriculum developed by the Al Gray Civic Institute. Bottom: Students in Swansboro High School pose for a photo with James Danielson, Ph.D., and social studies teacher, Erik Matticola.

Author’s bio: Ashley Danielson is the executive director and vice president of development at Carolina Museum of the Marine | Al Gray Civic Institute in Jacksonville, N.C. She has worked in nonprofit management and philanthropy for more than 30 years and is married to a Marine veteran.Image

BGen Dick Vercauteren, USMC (Ret), left; Gen Al Gray, USMC (Ret), center; and MajGen Ray Smith, USMC (Ret) pose for a photo at Reflection and Celebration Park. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Danielson)