A FEW GOOD MEN
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 09 July 2010
"...And trained Americans fight best with rifles. Men get tired of carrying grenades and chaut-chaut clips; the guns cannot, even under the most favorable conditions, keep pace with the advancing infantry. Machine-gun crews have a way of getting killed at the start; trench-mortars and one-pounders are not always possible. But the rifle and the bayonet goes anywhere a man can go, and the rifle and the bayonet win battles..." Colonel John W. Thomason, USMC (Fix Bayonets!)
On Tuesday, 24 February 2009, I posted a Commentary titled, "F COMPANY"--it can be found in the February Archive link left. My aim today is not to rewrite that Commentary. Rather, to build upon it and address a reunion of "F" Company Marines that took place 1, 2, and 3 July of this year--a week ago--aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. For readers unfamiliar with Marine Corps recruit training, reading the "F COMPANY" story may be a helpful prelude to today's words.
And a few good men who happen to be Marines gathered...
Bailey, Hickinbotham, Barrow, Weddington, Moore, Fetherson, Bratton, Tully, Prendergast, Karam, Phillips, Coan, McGhee, Sheppard, Summerville, Wills, Bocook, McPherson, Franceskino, Griggs, Robbins, and Cline. And I hope I did not overlook anyone.
Among the absent and some unaccounted for: Gaskin, McGill, Jones, Winzeler, Gunn, O'Conner, Graham, Biggs, Hasegawa, Koehler, Outz, Frampton, Russell, Ciccarelli, Eversmeyer, Ernst, Hodgeman, Malone, Merrill, Schomaker, Myers, Claytor, Miller, Foreman, Driscoll, Andrews, Skelley, Lauria, Hawkins, Lane, Strickland, Vinesett, Green, et. al. More would come to mind were I to pause and focus.
More than a quarter century ago for less than a handful of years a relatively small group of men cycled through a recruit training company at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. Those men were the Drill Instructors (DIs) and officers of "F" Company--Second Recruit Training Battalion of the Recruit Training Regiment. The Depot, one of the oldest and most revered posts of the Corps, has a history and traditions as rich as they come. The Marines of "F" Company in the early 80s are part of that history and rich tradition.
One simple example of rich tradition unique to the Depot (and San Diego, too) is posted left. The photograph is of a hatch leading into a DI house. The procedure for a recruit reporting to a DI is the same as its been for scores of years. While at the position of attention the recruit anchors the yellow foot prints adjacent to the bulkhead and with three loud raps on the handprint the recruit with a loud voice sounds off, "Recruit Jones reporting to the Drill Instructor as ordered." When so directed by his DI, Recruit Jones executes a step forward, a right face, and centers himself just outside the house (on the footprints) and awaits further orders. Timeless. And heartwarming!--in a peculiar sort of way.
Eighteen DIs and four officers made the reunion. Regrettably, many were not able to make it; and they were sure missed.
All the DIs in attendance are now retired. They completed their careers at the top--First Sergeants, Master Sergeants, Master Gunnery Sergeants and Sergeants Major. Ranks that are hard-earned and command respect from Marines; regardless of rank.
Three of the officers served in "F" Company--two are retired and the other an active duty major general (then a captain and commanding officer of "F" Company) who presently commands Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. The other officer--Lieutenant Colonel Tom Hickinbotham, USMC (Ret)--the commanding officer of Second Recruit Training Battalion (1984-1986).
Over the course of three days we had ample opportunity to reacquaint, and reminisce. The group attended a Depot headquarters Morning Colors ceremony, witnessed (and, of course, critiqued) an "F" Company graduation, walked through our old company building and recruit squadbays, and had time for a short tour of some training areas.
It did not go unnoticed that no one (unless there was a rare exception or two) on the parade deck for graduation--DI, officer, and certainly not recruit--was alive when we served in "F" Company in the early 80s. But it also did not go unnoticed that the business of making Marines has not changed all that much; with the exception of long overdue improvements in facilities and some refinements to training. Bottom line: The DI/recruit relationship endures. As it must.
Following graduation the current crop of "F" Company Marines indulged the old guys. While milling smartly about the company area we noticed those who marched across the parade deck where amidst having a company photograph taken; something that will mean more to them as the years roll by. Once that shot was snapped we older Marines fell in amongst the ranks for a photo (posted left). I don't know if the current company of Marines shares the chemistry of yesteryear's Marines or not. Maybe. No matter. We share being a part of "F" Company.
A formal dinner Friday evening was attended by the current commanding general, regimental commander, and second battalion commander, and their respective sergeants major. Interestingly enough there were some links--having served together at Parris Island in the 90s--between some of the active duty Marines and the retirees. It's a small Corps--a point noted just a time or two in previous Commentaries. As is customary with such gatherings, a small table with place setting honoring our fallen was set to one side. For me, Recruit Hurst, James E. who died during training on Saturday, 01 October 1983 came to mind; again. As he has every day since his death.
During the course of the evening each "F" Company Marine was afforded a few moments to stand and say a few words. There was not much story-telling that evening. The remarks were directed back to the leadership. Today we speak of "command climate" when addressing the atmosphere in a unit. Our battalion commander, back in the day, mentioned a term to me during the reunion he uses in his current work, "Tone from the Top." Same thing. He also mentioned a word that has resonated with me since he said it--"humility."
The Marines spoke to the leadership of Captain Ron Bailey (now Major General) and First Sergeant James Moore (now Sergeant Major (Retired)) and how the "F" Company experience changed them and set them up for success in life--during their career and afterward. That is a fact. For few other things could explain the extraordinary number of "F" Company Marines--enlisted and officer--who reached senior ranks and enjoyed respectable careers. General Bailey and Sergeant Major Moore, as any would have expected, brushed their role and impact aside. Two better examples of humility do not come to mind. It was not and is not their style to take a bow. Never, ever. But there is no denying they set the "Tone from the top." They needn't look over their shoulders. The company was right behind them. And the commanding general back in the day would agree and actually reaffirmed same when we visited a couple of months back. He well remembered "F" Company and the leadership. He, too, was and remains an example in humility. Likewise our regimental commander, Colonel Don Myers, USMC (Ret).
As the evening was wrapping up the current second battalion commander remarked had he known what he was going to see and hear throughout the evening he'd have directed more of his officers and DIs to attend. Apparently there was a lesson or two in there for the younger Marines.
On Saturday afternoon a picnic--a lowcountry boil--at the fabulous home and grounds of the Moore estate made for lighter fare and hilarious stories. Typical Marines. One in particular, Sergeant Major Fetherson, proved he missed his calling in standup comedy. His photo posted left--for that jovial demeanor and perpetual smile has always been a part of him. We worked the 2016 and 2060 Series together. Memorable times is an understatement. He's a great Marine. As they all are.
And so the casual affair was the perfect way to wrap up the reunion.
Thinking back on those few days we had together after so many years brought back a flood of memories. Important, challenging work. Good times. Rewarding times. Life-changing times. And enduring friendships.
I was not sure what to expect seeing so many Marines after three decades. And in some respects I am still replaying the moments and making sense of it all. The few days I could hardly wait to arrive passed much too quickly. Is that not always the case?
But one thought struck hard afterwards and while driving the roads of the Carolinas and flying back to southern California...
amongst that small group of Marines were men who were once a battalion commander, a couple of company commanders, series officers, a company first sergeant and Senior Drill Instructors and Drill Instructors...some of whom went on to be battalion sergeants major, Depot sergeant major, and a Depot commanding general...
the passage of three decades has stripped some of their hair and grayed that of others. Some have deservedly added a pound or two. And most have slowed a step or two--at least in regard to rigorous exercise; though one or two may be in denial. But the inevitabilities time takes on the body aside, the Marine spirit continues to burn; vigorously. That fire in each was unmistakable. And so it struck me that were there some extraordinary circumstances and call for us to form an outfit for training recruits--for making Marines--we could do it. The physical rigors of staying out in front of recruits may present some challenges but what may be lacking in fitness and spryness countered by years of experience and newfound wisdom. Yes, we could still make Marines. To that I have no doubt. No question.
And not to slight the importance of family they, too, were part of the reunion. Hats off to the gracious and sporting wives, fiancés, and children who came along to partake in the reunion. Some were with us back in the day. Some newcomers to the "F" Co family. A couple of young daughters had a chance to hear stories and see their Dads from a slightly different perspective--something they will appreciate much more as they mature. Surely.
For our brothers who could not make it due to work and family commitments or other responsibilities we look forward to seeing you the next time--mid to late July 2012 is not all that far off. Plan to join us.
For now, visit the newly established Facebook group: "F" Co. 2ndRtBn 1980-1984 MCRD Parris Island, SC at http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/group.php?gid=110877762294246&ref=ts Thank you Master Gunnery Sergeant Karam for the website and coordinating a fabulous reunion.
In closing, the old Marines of "F" Company decided to start a fund to help a deserving Marine/family. Who else but Major General Bailey leading the way by anteing up the initial contribution. The rest followed and the fund is growing. This is not a plea for contributions. But if you desire to contribute--to make a difference in the life of a Marine or Marine family--and whether an "F" Company Marine are not, donations can be made payable to: Fox Company Reunion Send to: Fox Company Reunion, C/O Parris Island Armed Services Bank, PO Box 5025, Parris Island, South Carolina, 29905-0025.
As for today's opening quote, lest we forget the whole point of U. S. Marine Corps recruit training is to make a basic Marine--the foundation for building the world's finest warrior--imbued with the Marine spirit; that spirit, coupled with discipline, training, and leadership, that compels them, contrary to all instinct, to move forward under fire. And yes, to fix bayonets; when necessary.
Recruit training is serious business. Dead serious. And there rests another piece of the puzzle toward explaining the chemistry and enduring camaraderie of "F" Company.
One of my favorite stories from the Friday dinner was told by one of my DIs, then Staff Sergeant Ricardo McPherson (today a retired First Sergeant), who, when being considered for a step up to don the black belt of a Senior Drill Instructor, was asked by the company first sergeant if he could handle Sergeant Green--an especially strong NCO. He assured the first sergeant he could. Staff Sergeant McPherson wore that black belt and did well. Today Sergeant Green is Sergeant Major Carl R. Green and the Sergeant Major for II MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force)--pronounced: "Two MEF" the major warfighting force headquartered aboard Camp Lejeune, NC. Unfortunately, Sergeant Major Green was otherwise committed and unable to attend the reunion. Too bad. How fitting it'd have been to have had all the players in the same room when that story was told. There will be another day.
As many have asked and I know many are waiting for this news, an update about the iconic front gate sign...
It's yet to be restored. A tour of the Depot Museum on Saturday morning, 03 July, revealed the iconic sign stood between 1943 and 2001--for 58 years greeting well more than one million recruits on their soul-searching bus ride in the middle of the night as they entered the Depot--before being changed sometime after 9/11. Why the commanding general at the time felt it necessary to add "Eastern Recruiting Region" (which was formed in 1975) and subordinate our emblem(s) for his and the sergeant major's names remains one hell of a puzzle and mystery. A real head-scratcher. And disappointing. Hmm--humility? That subsequent commanding generals, void of Depot experience as company or field grade officer and none the wiser, carried on with their names is not surprising and understandable; one does not know what one does not know. But the history of that iconic sign and it's place in Depot and Marine Corps history is now known.
The sign is not a trivial matter. It is not about "the old Corps." It's about the Marine Corps. And goes to tradition. And it goes to representing a unique piece of real estate on earth designated as a Marine Corps Recruit Depot with the sole mission of 'Making Marines'; nothing more.
Maybe one day reason--humility--will restore what should rightfully greet all visiting the Depot; Marine or not and whether for a reunion or an extended 13-week "visit." Time will tell.
Return the iconic front gate sign at Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island at last count tallied 667 members. http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=109532469070130