by Andy Weddington
Monday, 04 March 2013
"I love the Corps for those intangible possessions that cannot be issued: pride, honor, integrity, and being able to carry on the traditions for generations of warriors past." Corporal Jeff Sornig, USMC
An MV-22, what Marines call an Osprey (a remarkable bird that can hover like a helicopter and fly like a plane - designed to carry Marines into battle), flew over the crowd toward the mountains, banked to starboard, landed, and taxied into position as the centerpiece of a static display - powerful rolling stock and deadly flying machines - the gear of war - of I MEF (1st Marine Expeditionary Force).
So was the impressive start and backdrop for a retirement ceremony last Friday afternoon. After 37 years, yet another Marine's - Mel's - time had come to move along.
The ceremony was tradition - the 1st Marine Division Band; the MEF headquarters; the Division; the Wing; the Logistics Group - the major subordinate commands of the MEF - and their respective colors with battle streamers complementing our Stars & Stripes were on parade. It's something to behold!
The Marines, as Marines always do, performed drill - with precision. Planning, practice, and hours of rehearsal evident. Teamwork. The MEF commander had a front row seat.
Hundreds had gathered at the airfield aboard Camp Pendleton to witness; to pay respects; to enjoy camaraderie; to thank a Marine and his Marine family; for selfless service to Corps and Country.
Joe was there. So was Ron and Jerry and Dexter and George and Pat and more Marines, from all generations - active and retired - and of every rank possible, than there's time and room to cite. And there were plenty of civilians there, too; patriots and some Marines at heart (Hugh seated to my port and Jim starboard).
Sitting and reflecting, it was thirty-three years ago about this time I stood in a platoon of fellow officer candidates as we paraded on graduation day (Brown Field, Quantico, Virginia) - hours before pinning on the coveted gold bars of second lieutenant. And throughout nearly 27 years in uniform I participated in many a parade. The format always the same - just like Friday afternoon. Heritage. Tradition. Marine!
So what about Work?
That would be The Honorable Robert O. Work, Under Secretary of the Navy, a retired Marine officer; an artilleryman. He was the retiring official and, along with Mel, parade reviewing officer.
Secretary Work and Mel, an infantryman, go back 41 years - to NROTC midshipmen days at the University of Illinois. Midshipman Work, a Marine Option, was two years senior and a mentor - a bond formed.
During his remarks, Secretary Work told humorous tales about Mel and chided him for not being smart enough to pass the tests for being anything other than an infantryman. But infantrymen know there is nothing better than the infantry. Take it from an infantryman, the chiding is more jealousy and envy. So goes the spirited rivalry and camaraderie amongst Marines - all of whom, even aviators, are first and foremost riflemen, and proudly avow it.
Mel, too, had a turn at the microphone. He was brief - a feat in and of itself when considering nearly four decades of service. He spoke of Secretary Work and his leadership and their friendship. And not surprising, he did not have much to say about himself but thanked others with his most poignant thoughts reserved about and for family - his stalwart wife and three children (all commissioned officers - two Marines and a Sailor) who sacrificed aplenty supporting his demanding career.
One bit of Mel's perspective as to family stood out - again deployed and away from them for a long time, he told of receiving a phone call from his wife who asked that he explain to their young daughter her parents were not divorced. There was a soft chuckle in the crowd. But a better example of the hardships and stresses placed on a Marine family, a military family, does not come to mind. The vast majority of American families have no clue. That's regrettable.
And while we were celebrating, and our enemies scheming, I MEF Marines were planning and training and others deployed worldwide - all to safeguard America.
I've known Mel for nearly 30 years. And have some humorous tales, too. How odd sitting in that crowd Friday afternoon and thinking that it hardly seemed possible so much time had passed. But so it has.
In some fashion, every Marine contributes and makes a difference. That goes for Mel - and perhaps maybe a little more than most from him - Deputy Commanding General, I MEF and Commanding General, 1st MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade); now retired.
And come this Friday afternoon, somewhere in our Corps, there will be another parade - same format - a fitting farewell for another Marine, another Marine family. As it should be. As it must be.
That parade, too, will start with, "Sound Adjutant's Call!" - and with that command the band strikes up and the big green machine marches on.
Marines know how to fight. And Marines know how to parade.
Major General Mel Spiese, USMC (Retired)
Enjoying a well-deserved cold beer - post ceremony.
The Honorable Robert O. Work
Major General Melvin G. Spiese, USMC (Ret)