October 2018

Sound Off

Volume 101, Issue 10
The bust of Cpl Tom Green sits in a special place at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #5146 in Athens, Tenn., honoring him for his faithful service.
Courtesy of CDR Jack Ferrell, USNR (Ret)

Have a question or feel like sounding off? Address your letter to: Sound Off, Leatherneck Magazine, P.O. Box 1775, Quantico, VA 22134, or send an email to:[email protected]. Due to the heavy volume, we cannot answer every letter received. Do not send original photographs, as we cannot guarantee their return. All letters must be signed, and emails must contain complete names and postal mailing addresses. Anonymous letters will not be published.—Editor

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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.)

Corporal Tom Green was born July 4, 1947. Tom and I became good friends and made a tradition of observing each other’s birthdays. On one occasion Tom gave me a subscription to Leatherneck magazine, which I still eagerly await at my doorstep. His birthday was always special. We’d all gather at Tom’s farm where he and Major Jim Haney, USMC (Desert Storm veteran) would set up for a barbecue cookout for all his friends and family to enjoy. It was always a joyous occasion.

Tom was appointed the McMinn County Veterans Affairs officer in 1991, a post that he held for more than 20 years. He helped veterans obtain and receive their benefits, especially veterans and their families who had existing disabilities. He would drive them to VA hospitals that were hours away, wait for them to receive medical help, and then drive them home.

Tom died on Oct. 28, 2017, and the funeral was Nov. 3. It was a cold and rainy night but close to 500 veterans drove to Tom’s hometown of Madisonville, Tenn., to pay their respects. My daughter and I stood in the receiving line for more than an hour to pay our respects to his family. It was very sad and touching.

It was decided that we should honor him for his extraordinary service as a caring Veterans Affairs officer who went the extra mile to help his fellow veterans. We decided to have a bronze bust made and mount it in a special place in our Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #5146 so we would always remember Tom’s faithful service to us and as a war hero.

He did two combat tours in Vietnam. He was part of the Marine detachment that was completely surrounded at Khe Sanh for 77 days by the Viet Cong. We will always be grateful to Cpl Green and all the Marines who faced the enemy during those days and stood their ground. They are all very special heroes. All I can say is “Semper Fi” to them all.

CDR Jack Ferrell, USNR (Ret)

Knoxville, Tenn.

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Our local Marine Corps League Detachment #759 in Lynchburg, Va., started a tradition of a monthly leatherneck dinner. Marines and Navy corpsmen with invited guests attend the dinners held at various restaurants around the area. Our rules have always been no business discussed, no head table, no speeches, no one in charge and no dinner fees. It is a great evening with some old jarheads enjoying great camaraderie, good food, good fun, clean jokes, war stories and sometimes B.S. We always end the evening by standing and singing “The Marines’ Hymn” which gets applause from other patrons. For me, it is always a nice evening with old and new friends. We began with about a half dozen and now frequently have 22 to 30 attending.

Our April meeting was held in my old home town of Bedford and it turned out to be a wonderful surprise for me. My son insisted that we go even though I was not feeling well. Upon arrival I was shocked and pleased to see some family members attending from Texas that I had not seen in some time. Seven Marines with a total of 39 years of service attended; I am very proud of our service to our Corps over the years from 1955 to the present.

Among those attending were my sons Roger with six years of service and Mark, four years of service. My grandson Georgie with five years of service and my godson, Chris, a retired gunny with 16 years, were also there. Missing was my grandson Edwin who is currently a master sergeant with 18 years of service. Had he been able to be with us it would have made a total of 57 years to our Corps.

I want to give a special “oorah” to my family as we did set a new record of 32 family members in attendance that evening. And, as is my custom, I was able to award “oorah” rhinestone pins worn by the wives and ladies to my granddaughter Carmen and Chris’ wife Sharon.

It was a fantastic surprise and mini-family reunion. It certainly was a memorable evening for this old Marine and one proud “Pappy” of some of my favorite Marines.

Dale Wilson Sr.

USMC, 1955-1963

Lynchburg, Va.

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There are a variety of stories concerning the history of the swagger stick. Some even trace it as far back as Roman centurions who carried a vine staff as an emblem of office. Although not entirely unknown to Marine Corps officers during the late 1800s, swagger sticks (or riding crops) gained prominence with them during World War I due to their encounter with British officers who carried them. A 1922 change in uniform regulations authorized them for enlisted personnel as well. Their appearance in the Marine Corps, however, was sporadic until they were encouraged by a 1952 regulation.

Encouraged but not required, by the mid-1950s swagger sticks were ubiquitous within the Corps.

I carried one in 1957 while assigned as assistant S-4 of the 4th Marines which was part of the 1st Marine Brigade stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Since they were widely carried but not required, policy concerning swagger sticks was more or less left up to the discretion of the local commander. Colonel John H. Masters, CO of the 4th Marines, did not require them in the regimental area, but Brigadier General Avery Kier encouraged them in the Brigade headquarters area.

The regimental S-4 officer was located a couple of doors down from the CO. Occasionally, Col Masters would appear in our doorway and ask to borrow my swagger stick. This was the signal that he was on his way to a meeting at Brigade headquarters.

In the spring of 1959, I was on temporary duty at NAS North Island in California as part of a planning staff associated with an upcoming brigade exercise at Camp Pendleton. One evening before going to dinner at the officers’ club, I left my cover and swagger stick on a coat rack at the entrance. Later that evening I discovered that while my cover was still there, my swagger stick was missing. I did not immediately replace it, and, as it turned out, replacement was not necessary. Early in 1960, the newly installed Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David M. Shoup, referring to the swagger stick, stated, “It shall remain an optional item of interference. If you feel the need of it, carry it.” Not surprisingly few Marines felt the need, and the era of the swagger stick was effectively over.

Col Richard H. Stableford, USMC (Ret)

Dumfries, Va.

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I have a World War I recruiting poster with a World War I Marine putting a notch on his rifle stock, with the saying, “Another Notch Chateau-Thierry.” This is a rather iconic poster. However, “The U.S. Marine Corps Story,” revised edition, by J. Robert Moskin, says no Marine ever claimed he fought in Chateau-Thierry. Maybe one of the WW I historians has an explanation.

Rich Basile

1957-1960

Belvidere, N.J.

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I was a Marine infantry officer from 2nd Marine Division back in the mid-1970s. There has always been a curiosity I have had about an article from that time frame in your magazine. It was about the lost regiment (not battalion or company) that seemingly disappeared off a Pacific island when at war with the Japanese. Now that we are all buddy, buddy with [the Japanese], has anyone thought to ask where did they put that lost regiment, equipment, and all that was connected to them?

The second question is about who was issued what weapon in a World War II infantry platoon. In the 1970s every rifleman had an M16. But there were also carbines, M1 rifles, BARs and Tommy Guns, etc. What determined who got what? Did they give the smallest guy the BAR? Did the platoon commander and platoon sergeant get their choice to augment their .45 pistol?

James Rish

Wewahitchka, Fla.

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The July issue of Leatherneck has a photo on page 10 of Camp Fuji, Japan. I served there from 1954 to 1955 in the same Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines until we were suddenly shipped out to form the 4th Marines (Reinforced), a regimental combat team.

When I was at Camp Fuji, we were quartered in tents, in which we built a room of drywall to keep out the cold. We had two small stoves for warmth—it snowed in winter and the wind blew really hard. We only had 105 mm and 155 mm howitzers.

The photo gave me a sense of nostalgia (I am 83 years old), and I wonder if the Marines stationed there today still live in tents.

Cpl D.P. Van Blaricom

Bellevue, Wash.

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As a follow-up to a sea story “Stick ’Em Up” in the May issue of Leatherneck, Sergeant MacIntyre described how a fellow guard negligently fired his shotgun while on guard duty and the results. MacIntyre’s story brought back many memories of 64 years ago at Atsugi, Japan’s East Camp. I knew him as a fellow aviation ordnanceman from 1953 to 1955. I was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 224, Marine Air Group 11, 1st Marine Air Wing.

I thought you might like to see a picture from one of my scrapbooks showing the so-called Korean Village and the fence they were guarding during the shooting and a photo of Sgt MacIntyre taken at K-3, Pohang, Korea, during the 1st MAW gunnery meet in the summer of 1954, one year after the truce ending the war.

MSgt Richard Kinnel, USMC (Ret)

1952-1973

Huntington Beach, Calif.

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I received my July issue of Leatherneck today and to my surprise on page 6, the letter “Marine Corps Basic Badge” was displayed. I have not read or heard about it since I was honorably discharged in November 1955.

I coached recruits from MCRD San Diego, Calif., at Weapons Training Battalion Camp Mathews, San Clemente, Calif. I don’t recall when I received my badge but I have it proudly displayed among all my other Marine mementos. My time at Camp Mathews was one of my best stations as a Marine.

I have heard there is a small monument at the California Community College in honor of Marine personnel who were stationed at Camp Mathews. Scuttlebutt perhaps?

The letter made my day. Marines are the best, in my unbiased opinion, and always will be.

Sgt Joe J. Champagne, USMC

Gold Bar, Wash.

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Preferring my Leatherneck magazine in magazine form (not digital) I just couldn’t wait to read your very informative article about Cherry Point [August issue], so I ventured online. You see, I was stationed there from 1965 to 1968. Your history of Cherry Point added so much to the general history that I thought I knew.

My time at Cherry Point was just as Vietnam was beginning to really ramp up. I witnessed a lot of activity as aircraft of all types, Marine Corps C-130s, Air Force C-141s, even 707 airliners from scheduled airlines and charter airlines, arrived and departed from Cherry Point. They stopped to refuel or pick up Marine Corps units or all manner of cargo, destined for Vietnam, sometimes throughout the night. In addition to all of that we had a full complement of active squadrons, A-4s, A-6s, EA-6s, F-4s and C-130s, that continually conducted training missions in and around the many outlying installations, i.e., Bogue Field, Oak Grove and others. 

Your descriptions of the surrounding area brought back many memories of off-time jaunts to the likes of Beaufort, New Bern, Moorhead City, the Outer Banks and, of course, Havelock. A recent return to Cherry Point saw a far different air station than the one in the 1960s. I guess the recent visit caught the beginning stages of the transition you described in your article. There were a few F/A-18s, a few TAV-8s, and the C-130 Squadron (VMGR-252) and even a few British or French Jaguars. It was a mere shadow of its former self.

It was quite distressing to see empty flight lines in front of hangars. The control tower was relocated and made taller, which represented a notable change. A fellow crew chief and I had been invited by the CO of VR-1 to attend the decommissioning of the search and rescue operations and our beloved Pedro, the rescue chopper’s call sign. We were part of the flight crew on Pedro back in the 1960s and had a bird’s-eye view of the swamps and rivers and streams you described, and yes, there were alligators in those creeks and some of those alligators were pretty big.

One special memory was being the duty crew chief when the much decorated and history-making Major General Marion E. Carl, then CO of 2nd Marine Air Wing, stopped by to get some stick time on Pedro. His rank aside, he cut an imposing figure of over 6 feet with a temperament and a monosyllable vocabulary that left most everyone shaking in their boots.

Budget cuts and perhaps the evolving new missions for Cherry Point would seem to have been the catalyst for the search-and-rescue function to cease. When we were there three years ago or so, we did see many changes in and around Havelock and how New Bern had become quite upscale with many fine dining options throughout the downtown area which we heartily enjoyed.

The future of Cherry Point certainly sounds exciting and oh to once again be part of that transition and growth. It is heartening to know that Cherry Point will continue to play a crucial role in the Marine Corps’ evolving new missions. Thankfully, time has a way of altering an enlisted man’s perspective of life at Cherry Point from back in the 1960s. MCAS Cherry Point was a part of this “Old Corps” Marine’s life and it now would seem that it will still be around long after I report for guard duty in heaven’s streets. Thank you for a very enjoyable and informative article.

Cpl Ed Barewich

USMC, 1964-1968

North Reading, Mass.

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In November 1964 my close friend, Sergeant Sheppard, and I were having a conversation about birthdays. I told him that the 28th of next month was my birthday. He asked, “Are you going to invite me to your party?” I said, “I am not having a party.”

I had never had a birthday party. I grew up in a small west Texas town where the school and the town were completely segregated and we never celebrated birthdays. End of conversation, I thought.

On Dec. 28, Sgt Sheppard kept insisting we go to lunch. Finally I agreed. Upon entering the mess hall it struck me as unusual. The tables were covered with white tablecloths and on one side of the room was a table with a huge cake that read, “Happy Birthday Sgt Manuel Espudo USMC.” The 20 to 30 sergeants in attendance began to sing happy birthday and were joined by 100 or so corporals and below. They followed by singing “The Marines’ Hymn,” which brought me to tears. My throat felt like I was swallowing a brick and I couldn’t blow out the candles. Sgt Sheppard and another sergeant began cutting the cake and served it.

When Sheppard and I returned to the office, Mr. Ours asked with a smirk on his face, “How was your lunch, Sgt Espudo?” I said, “Oh, it was nice. Sgt Sheppard brought me a cupcake all the way from Lake Elsinore.” Sheppard shouted, “Espudo! I’m going to tell my wife you called your cake a cupcake! The bus driver helped me tilt it through the door.” Sheppard went on to say most of the passengers on the bus were Marines and when he explained why he was carrying such a big cake, they all volunteered to help get it safely to Marine Corps Supply Center, Yermo, Calif.

For my 80th birthday my kids had a party at the Beaumont Auditorium. In attendance were most of my fellow members of Semper Fi #1 Marine Honor Detail of The National Cemetery of Riverside, Calif.

As my 90th birthday nears, I have a commitment from my three grandsons, Chase, Marc and George, to go with me to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. They will be there just in case I fall. Most of my family thinks I need serious therapy.

GySgt Manuel R. Espudo

Banning, Calif.

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The article “WW I: 100 Years Ago: Immortalized in History: The Marines Who Fought at Belleau Wood,” in the June issue brought back memories. During the summer of 1952, I was a trainee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By the end of the summer, I had to leave for two weeks of reserve duty at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

I had written an article for one of the department’s publications, the Agricultural Situation, which at the time had the largest circulation of any monthly government publication. I was told to submit the article to the editor.

When I met with him, the first thing he said was that he had a large backlog of articles and that he might not be able to publish the article for months. I told him that was no problem but I had to leave for Camp Lejeune and would appreciate it if he would send me a copy of the publication once it was published. He asked, “Are you a Marine?” I said, “Yes, Sir.” He said, “Sit down,” then lifted one of his hands which was missing a thumb and forefinger. He said, “I lost them at Belleau Wood.” A shell had come in and killed his best friend and he lost the fingers.

We had a nice chat and off I went. My article appeared in the next issue of the publication.

Nicholas Kominus

USMCR, 1950-1962

Loris, S.C.

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I just want to say how much I enjoyed and appreciated the piece on General Al Gray in the July issue. I had the pleasure of serving with Gen Gray over the years. He promoted me to master sergeant in 1977 when he was the commanding general of the 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade.

Gen Gray’s leadership was always an inspiration to all. Gen Gray, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, officiated at my retirement ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms in July 1988. Gen Gray is a really fine man and a true Marine.

MGySgt Howard C. Snowden

USMC (Ret)

Twentynine Palms, Calif.

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I originally was given this poem/song sometime in the late 1980s by a friend who said he was given it by his brother who is a Marine (always present tense). The original was only four stanzas long and not titled. I do not have the original copy, but had memorized it many years ago. It was originally sung with the melody from a very old song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

While attending a reunion of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the 2nd Marine Division Association, I sang it. Before I sang it, I explained its origin and said that I do not have a very good voice but it was received with a good response. It was so well-liked that I was asked to send it to the editor of the chapter’s newsletter, William “Bill” Banning. We became very good friends and through his mentoring, I became president of the chapter and later national president of the 2nd Marine Division Association.

While I was writing it out to send to Bill, I got, shall we say, inspired, and titled, revised and added to it. It has been revised a number of different times but this is the current version. It is now seven stanzas long. Numbers one and two are modified from the original. Numbers three and six are original. Numbers four, five and seven are my doing.

There is Army Khaki, Air Force and Navy Blue.

But there’s still another fighting man I’ll introduce you to.

His uniform is perfect, the best you’ve ever seen.

The Germans called him Devil Dog,

His real name is Marine.

He comes from Parris Island,

The land that God forgot.

He comes from San Diego where the sun is scorching hot.

He comes from Quantico where they make officers of Marines.

They’re the finest warriors the world has ever seen.

His rifle is his best friend, it never leaves his side.

He shoots it with the meanest eye that no one can deny.

And on the battlefield you can hear his war-like cry

“Come on leathernecks, we’ll kill them till we die.”

He comes from every walk of life, race and color too,

To form fighting units, warriors true and true.

But when he puts on the uniform of a United States Marine,

The only race and color is that of Marine Corps green.

The scarlet and gold are Marine Corps Colors too.

The scarlet for the blood he shed for me and for you.

The eagle, globe and anchor will always reign supreme.

The Germans called him Devil Dog,

His real name is Marine.

Now listen, my ladies, I’ve a tale for you.

Get yourself a good Marine, there’s not much he can’t do.

And when he gets to heaven Saint Peter he will tell,

“Another Marine reporting, Sir, I’ve served my time in hell.”

For he’s the very best the world has ever seen.

The Germans called him Devil Dog,

His real name is Marine.

GySgt Michael A. Piserchia, USMC (Ret)

Bayville, N.J.

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