June 2018

Sound Off

Volume 101, Issue 6

Sara W. Bock

National Capital Region Trial Counsel
Sergeant Kyle Brayer, USMC
Courtesy of Brooke Brayer

Letter of the Month

(Leatherneck will pay $25 for a “Sound Off Letter of the Month” submitted by an MCA&F member or provide a one-year courtesy subscription to a non-member whose letter is selected.)

My brother, Kyle Brayer, was a veteran U.S. Marine who served two tours overseas and was a captain of the Tempe Fire Department in Arizona. On Feb. 4, a tragedy ended his life. I was speechless and completely moved by the honor bestowed on my brother at his service.

Kyle had a ceremony that was a combination of Marines and firefighters. The Marine veterans surrounded the entire city block around the church, holding the largest American flags I’d ever seen. The Patriot Riders were there, among others. The 21-gun salute was presented by special authorization. There were two honor guards and a Marine Corps Honor Guard folded the American flag.

Kyle’s fire department ladder truck (number 276) was present with the boom raised and the American flag flying at the top. The Firefighters Honor Guard presented a second American flag to me, and my brother’s captain’s helmet was presented to my father. There were more than 1,000 people attending his service.

A celebration of life was held after the service, where Marines presented a wooden plaque that was custom-made and flown in from California. I’ve never seen a more honorable and moving ceremony. For this, the family is forever grateful to the U.S. Marine Corps and Tempe fire department. We will never forget the honor bestowed on behalf of my brother.

Below is what I wrote shortly after his service.

The twenty-one gun salute

Sent shockwaves through the air;

Followed by deeply respectful silence

To honor Sergeant Kyle Brayer.

The American Flag swayed proudly

Beneath the Arizona sky;

Over a thousand loved ones

and strangers

Lined up to say goodbye.

The methodical beating of the drums

The honor guard standing proud;

Stilled our wounded hearts

And drew silence on the crowd.

The solemn folding of the flags

As tears fell without control;

Were presented by U.S. Marines

As restitution for the soul.

Kyle’s spirit lives amongst us

The protector of us all;

As we continue to live out his legacy

For true heroes never fall.

Kyle has been nominated for the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame.

Brooke A. Brayer

Davie, Fla.

No Next of Kin

The subject line of the email from the Sarasota National Cemetery says “Service Support, Unclaimed, NO—NOK.” Almost once a week the call for volunteers to represent a fallen veteran, a brother or sister that put on the cloth of our nation, took the oath and served honorably, who is being buried alone. As veterans, we will never let that happen.

Volunteers from the Knights of Columbus, Patriot Guard Riders, Florida Highway Patrol, and Sarasota County Veterans Commission and New York Fire Department retirees, the Tidewell Hospice chaplain and patriotic citizens make sure this veteran is not forgotten.

At the committal shelter the Patriot Guard form a Flag Line, “Taps” is sounded and active-duty personnel present Folds of the Flag. The chaplain reads the name, branch of service and dates of service. This is all we know about this veteran but it is all we have to know. Burial with honors has been rendered to a deserving veteran.

Ted Smith

USMC, 1960-1964

Sarasota, Fla.

Recon Extractions

I have been a loyal reader of Leatherneck magazine since I first enlisted 48 years ago. In all of those years, I have read it cover to cover, and enjoyed the articles and stories. In the April issue though, you really knocked it out of the park. The story “The Flying Ladder: Emergency Extractions and the Lifesaver from the Sky” and follow-up reunion story were probably the most well-written and truly great stories I have ever read in Leatherneck. Thanks for a great story.

Maj Bob Fields, USMC (Ret)

Bradenton, Fla.

I just finished reading “The Flying Ladder: Emergency Extractions and the Lifesaver from the Sky” by Kyle Watts in the April issue of Leatherneck. I think I held my breath most of the time. An incredible true story of true heroes, it is a testament of courage, ingenuity, dedication and more.

Then I turned the page and read about the reunion of three of those who made that mission a success. Awesome!

Like Kyle Watts, I believe it is important to hear the stories of the veterans who returned from Vietnam. Recently, I interviewed three in the Atlanta area and plan to send their recordings to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. I’m a volunteer whose experience began when I wrote to soldiers in 1970.

Thanks to everyone who made the story and its publication possible.

Elaine Westfall

Lawrenceville, Ga.

In reference to the April Leatherneck the story on “The Flying Ladder: Emergency Extractions and the Lifesaver from the Sky,” I was the team leader of the eight-man Force Recon team “Forefather.” I need to clarify a couple points.

The most important is page 25, where it stated, “Thompson squeezed the trigger and dropped the NVA soldier. The rest of the Marines opened up killing two more.” All the enemy killed on that patrol, NVA six KIA (confirmed), including the three in the above statement, and one NVA KIA (probable) have to be credited to my team members, not me personally. So it would be better stated, “Some of the team opened up killing three NVA Soldiers.” Not all the team members were in position to fire. My team of Fleming, Greene, Marr, Griggs, Thurman, Private Grant and “Doc” Welch consisting of five PFCs, one private and my HM3 (E-4) corpsman get the credit on this patrol. As this was my last long-range patrol as a team leader, they were assigned a new patrol leader and sorry to say, I have not been in contact with any of these team members since leaving Vietnam.

The other minor correction is on page 31 in the parade photo caption. The parade was in my hometown of Richland Center, Wis., not in Madison, where I was presented the Silver Star by the governor about a month earlier.

Sgt David B. Thompson, USMC


Richland Center, Wis.

Better Helmet Protection Needed

I read with interest the article, “Something’s Not Right: Marine Corps, DOD Confront Signature Wound of Modern-Day Combat,” in the March and April issues. I came to the conclusion that the modern combat helmet has to be changed to better protect the eyes and the ear canal leading into the brain from explosives and impact waves. From recent photos of Marines in the combat zones, it is apparent the boonie cover and short length helmets are not protecting these areas.

The Kevlar helmet should be redesigned with longer sides around the skull and ear protection around the ears. The front of the helmet should have a wraparound clear ballistic shield, similar to a hockey helmet. The helmet should look similar to a baseball protective helmet with no ear holes or bill. The eye shield should withstand tremendous explosive force, pressures and ballistic metals.

The practice of driving local highways and Middle East war zone roads should be avoided. Drive off-road and use old tire tracks as an indication of previous convoys and new tire activity of possible IED activity.

I saw an Army documentary on the cable military channel where they traveled the same roads day after day and cleared IEDs day after day. Reminds me of Vietnam where the North Vietnamese could set their clocks when the airplanes would arrive.

With modern material sound protection built into the helmet we can help protect our troops better. A Kevlar woven ear cover and chin strap would further protect the ear canal.

I served as corpsman at the old naval hospital next to Lake O’Neill in 1962. I served with honor and I love our military!

HN John Sanchez

USN, 1961-1966

Hanford, Calif.

Machine Gun Recovery

In the summer of 1953 Marine Air Group (MAG) 32 was returning from Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, to Opka-Locka, Fla. The first flight landed at “Gitmo” in Cuba to refuel. Two planes went on non-stop to Opka-Locka. One plane crashed at a small field in Homestead, Fla. The pilot ejected and the plane was destroyed.

The second plane splashed in the Biscayne Bay in 12 to 15 feet of water with six .50-caliber machine guns. The first recovery team put a hole in the tail section letting the air out and the plane sank out of sight. I was a member of the second recovery team along with three buck sergeants and a tech sergeant. We were sent to recover the guns. We met the Coast Guard at MacArthur Park at the foot of Rickenbacker Causeway. The ship was a buoy tender with a crew of four, speed of 7 knots and a 35 to 40 foot boom.

Our diving equipment was the fuzzy blue swimsuit and a length of nylon line rope. After we found the plane we took turns diving off the ship and got a line under the tail of the plane. We stood the plane on its nose, popped the gun bay doors open while standing on them, took a deep breath, ducked underwater and put a line through the breach of the gun. We were able to haul away all six guns.

It wasn’t a bad day cruising on Biscayne Bay looking for a ship and a dip in the ocean recovering guns. Our reward, a cup of hot Navy coffee.

My question, is the plane still there?

Sgt Mike Loughney

USMC, 1950-1954

Chicago, Ill.


R. Lee Ermey

Greetings from England. I was somewhat sad today when I saw in the international press the passing of R. Lee Ermey, retired U.S. Marine and actor.

I’d like to extend to you my condolences to his family and the Corps on the death of R. Lee Ermey, known for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and also who was a true full-time Marine Corps veteran.

As a Royal Marine Commando veteran in England, I admired his Vietnam War film appearances. Those of us in our respective Corps realized that this could only be a man who had been a real drill [instructor].

How true the Marine Corps saying, “Improvise, adapt, and overcome.” It is very similar to our Royal Marine Commando code of, “Be the first to understand; the first to adapt and respond; and the first to overcome!”

Both of our Corps have much in common, and that camaraderie will never change or be forgotten.

I salute him and your Corps with the salutation of “Semper Fi” and our salutation “Per Mare Per Terram.”

Martin F. Kelly

Lymington, Hampshire

  • In memory of R. Lee Ermey who passed away on April 15, 2018, we have reprinted “The Man Under the Hat—GySgt R. Lee Ermey,” from our August 2002 issue which can be found on page 52. His obituary is listed in our In Memoriam department on page 62.—Editor

Eligibility Dates: Service Dates Versus Defense Service Medal

I’ve never truly been given an explanation as to why these dates are not the same for award of the National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognized wartime dates. NDSM for the Korean War is June 27, 1950 to July 27, 1954, yet the VA Korean Wartime dates are June 27, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955. For Vietnam War eligibility for the NDSM is Jan. 1, 1961 to Aug. 14, 1974, yet the VA eligibility dates for Vietnam Wartime Service is Aug. 5, 1964 (Feb. 28, 1961, for veterans who served “in country” before Aug. 5, 1964) through May 7, 1975.

Am I correct that you could serve active duty during the Korean War after July 27, 1954, and not rate the NDSM but would qualify as a Korean War-era veteran for the VA until Jan. 31, 1955? Same goes for Vietnam, no NDSM after Aug. 14, 1974, but by VA dates you’re a Vietnam wartime-era veteran until May 7, 1975.

Seems to me that the dates for awards of the NDSM should coincide with VA Wartime Service dates. I have also observed World War II veterans wearing the NDSM. I can find no reference to World War II-era rating the NDSM. Just seems it was made difficult when it didn’t have to be.

Cpl Joe Green, USMC (Ret)

Beloit, Wis.

  • The National Defense Service Medal was awarded for honorable active service for any period between June 27, 1950 and July 27, 1954; between Jan. 1, 1961 and Aug. 14, 1974; between Aug. 2, 1990 and Nov. 30, 1995 and between Sept. 11, 2001 and a closing date to be determined. If someone is wearing the NDSM as a result of their service in World War II, they are in error. As to why the VA and the DOD aren’t in sync on the dates, this is a much more common occurrence than you would think. The two distinct departments differ on a variety of things including names, verbiage and policies.—Editor

Yuma Disbursing Reunion

From 1967 to 1969, I served as a disbursing clerk (MOS 3421) at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. In March 1968, on a typical sunny weekend in Yuma at the Holiday Inn, I and several of my fellow disbursing clerks posed poolside for a photo. I had not seen this photo or even remembered it being taken for nearly 50 years. Then, not long ago, the Marine who took the photo sent it to me. I got in touch with all the guys in the photo and we agreed to have a 50-year reunion at MCAS Yuma. That reunion, which was attended by four of the five guys, along with another fellow Yuma disbursing clerk, not pictured, was on March 21, 2018, almost 50 years to the day the original was taken.

We had a great time reminiscing and enjoyed visiting our old stomping grounds, both on station at MCAS and in the city of Yuma. We were pleased to find that our beloved MCAS Yuma is in good hands under the leadership of Commanding Officer Colonel David Suggs, the Air Station Adjutant, Captain Herman Haynes and the many Marines under their command with whom we came in contact during our visit. Our thanks to them all.

Chuck Robertson

Owosso, Mich.

Honored Meeting

When I graduated from boot camp in 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt was on the West Coast running for his fourth term. While there, he chose to come to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, and review the troops of Platoon 402, my platoon, at graduation.

I had the good fortune of being one of the top three of 600 Marines on the rifle range at Camp Mathews. As the youngest and smallest Marine at age 17, I was at the very top of success as expert rifleman. I view my high score (being a Kentuckian) due to Kentucky windage. I was assigned to school as a tail gunman in dive bombers.

At graduation, because of my high score, I was called out to display my pack which was on the other side of the lane where the President’s limousine came down in front of the platoons being reviewed. The President passed between the row of Marines standing at attention and me with my pack laid out standing right next to the President’s limousine when he came down to review the troops. I acknowledged him with either a salute or a shake of my head. Seeing President Franklin Roosevelt was one of the historic happenings in my life.

This ranks slightly above dancing with Betty Davis at the Hollywood Canteen in Los Angeles.

E. Bruce Heilman

Richmond, Va.

Chosin Reservoir Retreat, Not So

I liked Corporal John Soper’s letter, “Bible Travels Through Three Wars,” in the April issue, about the Bible helping his family’s Marines through three wars, but I have to let him know something. There was no retreat from the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War. Not one of us thought so at the time; especially not our commanding general, Major General Oliver P. Smith.

The 1stMarDiv and its supporting elements fought its way to the sea. We absolutely did not retreat. I’m sure that has been taught to all recruits since those days in November and December 1950. I’m surprised to hear it said by a veteran Marine.

GySgt John Boring, USMC (Ret)

Phoenix, Ariz.

Oohrah or Oorah?

I beg to differ with a letter I read by 1stSgt Harry O. Blake Jr., in your March issue about “Oorah” not having a meaning. Everything we say has some kind of a meaning. I first heard it at Parris Island, S.C., boot camp in 1956. My question is when and where did it originate? Sgt Grit has T-shirts with it spelled as “Oohrah” and “Oorah.” Which is correct? Most Marines that I have asked said that “Oorah” is preferred over the other.

GySgt Lewis R. Souder III, USMC (Ret)


Sebastian, Fla.

  • This question comes up periodically. Although the other services have since come up with their own versions, “Oorah” is the uniquely Marine way of replying positively to almost anything. According to the Leatherneck archives, in 1953 members of 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company were aboard the submarine USS Perch (ASSP-313). Perch was a WW II diesel retrofitted to carry underwater demolition teams and recon Marines. Whenever the boat was to dive, someone would announce over the PA system, “Dive, dive!” and sound a klaxon horn that sounded like “Arrugha!” While 1st Amphib Recon Marines were on conditioning runs on land, they started singing chants. Someone imitated the horn sound “Arrugha,” and it became a Recon mantra. Former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps John Massaro took “Arrugha” from recon with him to Drill Instructor School and passed it to the DI students, who in turn passed it to their recruits. “Arrugha” eventually evolved into “Oorah.”—Editor

Sgt Vince Carter

You may find this of interest. During my recent trip to Clarksville, Tenn., I ran across a statue of “Sgt Vince Carter,” known best from the TV series “Gomer Pyle: USMC.” Frank Sutton, who played Sgt Carter, is from Clarksville.

Mike King

Paducah, Ky.

Gunny Molded My Career

I would like to locate a gunnery sergeant I served under at Marine Barracks Brooklyn during the years 1967-1968. I believe this Marine had more to do with the success in my 30 years in law enforcement than any single person I can think of.

I arrived at Marine Barracks Brooklyn and was told to report to Gunny George in the brig. I would be working under him in the Third Naval District Brig as a brig supervisor. Gunny George was the most “squared away” Marine I had ever seen. When I reported in, the first thing Gunny George said was, “Marine, get a haircut.” I informed the Gunny that I had just gotten a haircut. He replied, “Not good enough. Get another one.” I could tell by looking at the gunny’s hair that unless I had blood coming from my scalp it was not going to be good enough. Regardless, I went to the base barber and got another haircut and reported back. Again, not good enough and this time he sent me to his barber, and as I expected, this time it would be more than acceptable.

I really thought my time at Marine Barracks was going to be rough and that the gunny and I would never get along, but I was very wrong and what I learned from Gunny George lasted me throughout my entire 30 years in law enforcement. During the years where I supervised other investigators, I always tried to treat the investigators under me as Gunny George treated me and tried to train the investigators in the method in which I was trained during my time in the Corps. My only regret was when Gunny George came to me and said he was going back to Vietnam where I knew he had been wounded on his last tour; he told me to come and go with him. Having only a few months left I felt that there was not enough time to accomplish this; I regrettably could not go.

Looking back, I wish I had gone and made the Marine Corps my career. Young men today should seriously look at the Marine Corps for their future as the Corps has more to offer young people than anything outside.

Roy Tex

Livingston, Mont.

  • For any of our readers looking to connect with Marines from their past, our “Reader Assistance” section is available; we’re happy to publish notices with no charge in order to assist Marines. Send an email to [email protected] or a letter to Reader Assistance Editor, Leatherneck Magazine, P.O. Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134 with the pertinent details and we’ll run requests on a space-available basis.—Editor