DEATH OF A MARINE—THE PASSING OF GENERAL ROBERT H. BARROW
By Andy Weddington
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Late Thursday afternoon I received an email from one of my former Commanding Officers who was relaying the news about the death of General Barrow (05Feb1922—30Oct2008)—27th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Despite his death being overshadowed by the presidential election in mainstream media, rest assured this was breaking headline news flashed around the Corps—active, reserve, retired, former. If, before reading this article, you had no idea as to the exemplary life and distinguished service of General Barrow then just know our nation has lost a true gentleman and highly decorated warrior. Any Marine, who remembers General Barrow and his 41 years of remarkable service to Corps and Country, certainly paused for a moment of reflection and respect. I did and will tell you why.
When I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the spring of 1980, General Barrow was completing his first year in office as the Commandant. The Corps is small but not so small that a lowly second lieutenant would likely meet the Commandant. Such just did not seem feasible. Nor was such an encounter necessarily desired. But the Commandant’s presence was everywhere—in his routine guidance to the Corps and especially on recruiting posters. One poster in particular made a lasting impression on me. The Commandant—immaculate in uniform—was photographed from head to mid-thigh with his hands casually resting on his hips. Staring straight into the camera with a look of wisdom that could only be sculpted through decades of personal sacrifice, extreme hardship, and stressful responsibility, the caption read: “Are There Any More At Home Like You?” For me the poster had special meaning—my brother, Ken, was completing his education at N.C. State University and would soon be commissioned a Marine second lieutenant. The general knew if a family produced one Marine there may very well be another one in waiting. What a poster.
Three years later, in the spring of 1983, now wearing the silver bars of a seasoned first lieutenant and having completed a stint with the 2nd Marine Division, I reported aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island for duty with the Recruit Training Regiment. Upon assignment to Company F, Second Recruit Training Battalion a fellow Series Officer in the company introduced himself simply as “Rob.” First Lieutenant Robert H. Barrow was the Commandant’s son. As it turned out, Rob and I served together for three years in the battalion. We enjoyed a great professional relationship and, as we were among the battalion’s handful of eligible bachelors, ventured out together on occasion for a cold beer and to enjoy the company of the fairer gender. But this story is not about recruit training or the liberty antics of a couple of first lieutenants in the low country. This story is about how I came to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Twenty-five years is a long time so I do not recall the details but one day Rob and I were discussing off-duty interests and hobbies and the topic of me being a painter came up. I remember Rob’s interest and comment that he had always wanted a portrait of his Dad. So, relying on a few of Rob’s photographs, and as a favor for a good friend, I painted his Dad’s—the Commandant’s—portrait. Little did I know that some weeks after completing the portrait, General and Mrs. Barrow would be aboard the recruit depot for a visit and Rob was quietly arranging for me to make a small presentation of the portrait to his Dad in the VIP Quarters. What was intended to be a short, intimate event between me, Rob, and his parents grew to include commanding officers of the regiment and battalion and a few other senior officers aboard the depot. I believe my Dad was also in attendance—in town for some other reason which I do not recall. I have no recollection of what I said to the General—the Commandant—and the others in attendance that afternoon. I do remember how gracious and kind the General was to me upon unveiling and receiving the portrait. I still have an official photograph of him that was presented to me a few days later. On the white matt surrounding his photograph he inscribed: “For 1stLt Andy Weddington—“Keep the Faith” and signed his name. Those three words—“Keep the Faith”—came from a fellow Marine—the Commandant—who was made aware (by Rob) of some personally challenging times. “Keep the Faith” was the Commandant’s way of saying: “things will get better.” They did. As a wise general knew they would. And, through the years and to this day, I recall those words whenever facing tough times. And things always get better. Mrs. Barrow also penned one of the kindest “thank you” notes I have ever received. I still have that note as well.
Rob told me years ago that the portrait hung in his parent’s home and they took much pride showing it to visitors. Interesting how what started as a casual favor for a friend evolved into an opportunity for a young lieutenant to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps. I suppose Rob will now get the portrait of his Dad that he always wanted.
I served under six subsequent Commandants—all distinguished leaders in their own right and each left their imprint on Marines and the Corps. The 34th Commandant is now on duty. But, when I think of the Commandant of the Marine Corps the haunting image that immediately comes to mind is that of General Robert H. Barrow and his probing question—
“Are There Any More At Home Like You?” Yes, General, there was—and, one more since—and, perhaps, more to come. Semper Fidelis.