17 March 2011


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 18 March 2011

                                                             "Get off your butt and join the Marines." John Wayne

Last week's Commentary offered perspective on the matter of enlisted rank insignia. That is, what Marines  should be privileged to wear the distinctive "crossed rifles"--a bit of simple stitchery on chevrons, and plastic on collar devices, that represents the heart of being Marine; that all are riflemen. Some young warriors think differently. Oh, the importance and power of symbols--the little bit of drab green or gold thread or black plastic disproportionate to the magnitude of what it represents.

Quite a few readers opined (one brave soul posted his thoughts following the Commentary) and nary a one felt, as did the corporal who wrote Marine Times, that designating the "crossed rifles" for infantrymen only was a good idea. A non-scientific but safe bet conclusion--none who opined were young infantry Marines. All were wiser, seasoned (older) Marines, some from infantry and combat arms and other specialties but most, if not all, with hostile fire experience, with a deeper appreciation for the 'Every Marine a Rifleman' ideal. As it must be.

This week a little more about riflemen but not so much Commentary as a report--augmented with color--vibrant color--visuals produced by the author on a new sort of weapon.

Some twenty-five years ago I met a Navy commander, last name DuBois, who loved parades. The mere mention of a parade and his face lit up and a spark fired in his eye. He'd excitedly talk about how wonderful a parade and that Marines put on the best parades--"The Marines parade with 'pizzazz,'" he'd say. Pizzazz or pizazz--glamour; vitality. Yes sir, they do! Marines parade with "pizzazz"--a better descriptor does not come to mind. Pizzazz sounds so much better than Pomp and Circumstance.

So by golly let's have a parade--a parade with pizzazz!

"Hurry, call the Marines!"--a cry familiar for forming a parade, or responding to a national/international crisis or emergency. Marines excel at both.

While polishing last week's words, "CROSSED RIFLES / CRISS-CROSSED WIRES," I had opportunity, as has been for the past nine years about this time, to watch a unique unit of Marine riflemen work. Perform. Parade. And I thought about that Navy commander--who died following a gallant battle against cancer a couple of years after meeting him. I went to his funeral--his final parade. The music to close his parade? A twenty-one gun salute, and Taps by a lone horn-blower--a bugler; not a rifleman but a Sailor. And when  departing the cemetery, the drum beat--heart beat--of life went on.

But the parade last week was not a somber occasion. Not a tribute. Not a farewell. No weapons were fired. And the horn-blowers blared Reveille. It was a patriotic affair. It was a parade--a parade with pizzazz!

Commander DuBois would have smiled--he'd have loved it. No doubt about it.

The Marine riflemen paraded on a field named after a brother rifleman--Lance Corporal Torrey Gray, USMC--who, while assigned to the 29 Palms-based infantry regiment, was killed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, on 11 April 2004 while conducting combat operations. A fire team leader leading three other riflemen at the time of his death, Lance Corporal Gray's courage under fire was later recognized with posthumous award of the Silver Star (our land's 3rd highest decoration for combat valor) and Purple Heart.

A couple of years later, what was once only known as the Combat Center's (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms) Commanding General's Parade Field was named in honor of Lance Corporal Gray--a granite marker tells his story and welcomes all to the field. Our Corps does not forget its heroes.

The perfect stage set--Marine riflemen parading on hallowed ground named for a Marine rifleman.

It was last Wednesday mid-morning aboard the Combat Center that the United States Marine Corps presented the 2011 edition of our Battle Color Ceremony.

The detachment of Marines--riflemen--was comprised of "The Commandant's Own" Drum & Bugle Corps--80 Marines, the Silent Drill Platoon--24 Marines, and the Corps Color Guard--4 Marines. The detachement of riflemen commanded by a captain who was accompanied by a young Marine carrying the familiar scarlet and gold guidon--they, too, riflemen.

The detachment is amidst their west coast swing performing for Marines, families, schoolchildren, and distinguished guests while putting spit and polish to their routine--preparing for the May through August parade season back east in the National Capitol Region. That is, the Tuesday Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial (aka: Iwo Jima Memorial) in Arlington, Virginia, and the Friday Evening Parade at Marine Barracks, 8th and I, Washington, D.C.

All the Marines on parade basic riflemen. All completed recruit training. Silent Drill Platoon Marines  screened and selected, for the two-year ceremonial tour of duty, from the two Schools of Infantry--one at Camp Lejeune, NC, the other at Camp Pendleton, CA.

The Drum & Bugle Corps music and field marching opened the parade. Their superb horn-blowing and drumming and precise marching only a taste of what was to follow. This year's serenade opened with 'Don't Rain on My Parade' (not much chance of that in the desert), included a 'Medley from Pirates of the Caribbean,' and Sousa's powerful signature 100% American red, white, and blue--the electric 'Stars & Stripes Forever' closed the show.

The Silent Drill Platoon took the field. Their routine, executed without verbal command, as stunning as ever. The riflemen's leg slaps and snap and pop handling weapons as if one with them serving as metronome cadence--with drill movements executed to perfection while shouldering, tossing, twirling, spinning, and swapping fully-operational 10.5 pound M-1 Garand rifles with gleaming fixed bayonets. Passing within inches of one another there's no room for error. There were none. Their mechanical movements, their "noise"--their "music," perfect harmony in sight and sound. Sweet to eyes and ears of Marines. Mesmerizing  to all others.

The Color Guard--the detachment's accent mark. Two sergeants--big, strapping Marines--and two lance corporal rifle bearers protect our National Ensign and our Corps Battle Color--decorated with 54 colored streamers and silver bands representing an illustrious battle history. After marching on and taking their position, our National Anthem.

The detachment, as ordered by the captain, executed 'Pass in Review.' Colors, led by the Drum & Bugle Corps playing our Marines Hymn and trailed by the Silent Drill Platoon, marched by the reviewing stand executing 'eyes right' and rending a salute. The Combat Center's commanding general formally reviewed and returned each salute. And all in attendance admired, payed due respect to passing colors, and applauded the riflemen.

In short, the thereabouts hour-long inspiring performance and parade a direct reflection of honor, courage, commitment, discipline, practice, sacrifice, teamwork, and leadership; a quite simple recipe that when properly measured, mixed, and baked yields pizzazz. And it was all that--Pizzazz! and a bag of chips.

For those who've witnessed the Battle Color Ceremony or Marines on parade in the D. C. area or elsewhere then you know of that I speak. If you've not been so fortunate and privileged to see this spectacular team of Marine riflemen parade then make plans to do so--especially if in the D. C. area.

In the interim, a handful of vibrant color visuals--"sketches/paintings" done on my new "weapon" (iPad)--that capture the essence of the ceremony are available for review at http://www.weddingtonartgallery.com/.  All would be posted left but size limits do not do the effort(s) justice. You're cordially invited to visit. Once in the gallery, hit the "MARINES" link (red with yellow lettering) in the "Commentary" block.

The "sketches/paintings" will bring the above report to life--you'll be able to see, to get a feel for, the pizzazz with some pizzazz. And I trust you'll feel your few valuable minutes well spent.

Semper Fidelis.

Post Script

If visiting the D. C. area during parade season make one or the other or both evenings a "must attend" on your sight-seeing agenda. You'll bear witness to some of the most amazing and inspiring teamwork--military precision and excellence at its best--imaginable.

Links for more information about the Battle Color Ceremony and Marines.

Author's Endnote

Last week a faithful reader, who did not serve in the military, wrote wondering if I was writing the Commentary mostly for a military audience?

"No," I answered, "take another look at the wide variety of themes. But I do write about the military, and particularly our Marine Corps, largely due to a sense of responsibility to play a small part educating the enormous percent--well into the 90s--of the American public that does not serve in uniform, and has little understanding of, though most appreciation for, our military. If only they become a little more informed then my writing and their reading worth the effort." Think about a copy of "Making Marines," Joe. You'll further your knowledge and have something unique--one of 232.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

As you know, Colonel, a subject close to my heart as one who was about to join the "Commandants Own" until the NYPD called me. I've witnessed Battle Colors twice now and each time - and I suppose any future time I'm lucky enough to get the space - chills run up and down my spine even though I am not a Marine. But having spent my life as a bugler in up to a National Champion drum and bugle corps I have a great appreciation for musicianship and marching ability the Marine D&B Corps and Marine Band displays. There are none better in the country, as far as I'm concerned, and the only organization that can compete with various British marching units. I was also honored to have known the late and great Colonel Tru Crawford of the Commandants Own - a true virtuoso known throughout the world of drum and bugle corps. Thanks for recognizing billets not often known also as "Riflemen."