TO THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS
Monday, 10 February 2014
Dear General Amos,
Sir, as was my letter eight months ago - of Monday, 24 June 2013 - this letter, too, is offered in the public forum for widest visibility by Marines, Marine families, and supporters of the Marine Corps worldwide. On a global and national front, disturbing days these are for Marines. And disturbing days, too, within the family of our Corps. As before, in content and tone, civility, candor, and most assuredly respect assured.
Why another letter when paper and canvas, awaiting a loaded brush, litter my studio and itchy hands are ever tempted by nearby leaning fly rods eager to land trout? Because things are not getting better. To the contrary. And because that old general noted in my first letter will not leave me alone. Nor will scads of Marines - alive and dead - leave me in peace as this forum is their voice.
And now my dear Dad (a veteran, father of two Marines and grandfather of a Marine) - a man of impeccable character and boundless courage driven by a moral compass I've yet to see equaled - haunts. Recently, as if a curtain call necessary, he proved it all, and then some, by taking control in the face of death - with discipline and dignity. With me, still, he is patiently asking, "Son, don't you have a letter to write?"
And then there's duty. What Marine is ever off duty?
Hundreds and hundreds of Marines wrote in response to my first letter to you. From World War II Marines to active duty and of all ranks, among their notes a dissenter there was not. They opined grave concerns for the Marine Corps. Still they read, and write.
This morning, yet again, I received an email from a retired Sailor; a stranger. Below his note was my letter and attached was a recent article he wanted to bring to my attention about what is going on, disturbingly, with the Marine Corps Times (the article spreading like wildfire on email and social media - outrage the collective reaction). I read the article. Surprise! But in line with much else going on in Corps and country so more disappointing than agog surprise.
Not just about the Marine Corps Times, the Sailor wrote, "Your Corps, our Corps seems to be in a bad way. What can be done?"
His question stumped me. Rhetorical it did not seem.
Is the bad way deliberate? Or not?
Does it matter?
Either way, is this what we as a Corps of Marines have become?
Thinking about it, I turned to my humble library and pulled 'The Marine Officer's Guide' - that which guides Marine officers. As suspected, within the first few pages one answer, a compelling one, caught my eye.
On page 5 of our good book (or once what was considered the Bible for Marine Officers), is "Letter No. 1" penned by Major General John A. Lejeune, 13th commandant. His letter is serious, thought-provoking prose - scholarly, direct, and heartfelt. His a seasoned voice of perspective as germane to today's Marines - every single one - as to every Marine before us. And after.
I cannot better the good general. And even if I could there's no purpose rephrasing our heritage. Therefore, his letter offered (space between paragraphs added for ease of reading):
"TO THE OFFICERS OF THE MARINE CORPS:
I feel that I would like to talk to each of you personally. This, of course, it is impossible for me to do. Consequently, I am going to do the next best thing, by writing letters from time to time which will go to all the officers. In these letters, (sic) will endeavor to embody briefly some of the thoughts which have come into my mind concerning our beloved Corps.
In the first place, I want each of you to feel that the Commandant of the Corps is your friend and that he earnestly desires that you should realize this. At the same time, it is his duty to the Government and to the Marine Corps to exact a high standard of conduct, a strict performance of duty, and a rigid compliance with others on the part of all the officers.
You are the permanent part of the Marine Corps, and the efficiency, the good name, and the esprit of the Corps are in your hands. You can make or mar it.
You should never forget the power of example. The young men serving as enlisted men take their cue from you. If you conduct yourselves at all time as officers and gentlemen should conduct themselves, the moral tone of the whole Corps will be raised, its reputation, which is most precious to all of us, will be enhanced, and the esteem and affection in which the Corps is held by the American people will be increased.
Be kindly and just in your dealings with your men. Never play favorites. Make them feel that justice tempered with mercy may always be counted on. This does not mean a slackening of discipline. Obedience to orders and regulations must always be insisted on, and good conduct on the part of the men exacted. Especially should this be done with reference to the civilian inhabitants of foreign countries in which Marines are serving.
The prestige of the Marine Corps depends greatly on the appearance of its officers and men. Officers should adhere closely to the Uniform Regulations, and be exceedingly careful to be neatly and tidily dressed, and to carry themselves in a military manner. They should observe the appearance of men while on liberty, and should endeavor to instill into their minds the importance of neatness, smartness, and soldierly bearing.
A compliance with the minutiae of military courtesy is a mark of well disciplined troops. The exchange of military salutes between officers and men should not be overlooked. Its omission indicates a poor state of discipline. Similarly, officers should be equally careful to salute each other. Courtesy, too, demands more than an exchange of official salutes between officers. On all occasions when officers are gathered together, juniors should show their esteem and respect for their seniors by taking the initiative in speaking to and shaking hands with their seniors. Particularly should this be done in the case of commanding officers. The older officers appreciate greatly attention and friendliness on the part of younger officers.
We are all members of the same great family, and we should invariably show courtesy and consideration, not only to other officers, but to members of their personal families as well. Do not fail to call on your commanding officers within a week after you join a post. On social occasions the formality with which all of us conduct ourselves should be relaxed, and a spirit of friendliness and good will should prevail.
In conclusion, I wish to impress on all of you that the destiny of our Corps depends on each of you. Our forces, brigades, regiments, battalions, companies, and other detachments are what you make them. An inefficient organization is the product of inefficient officers, and all discreditable occurrences are usually due to the failure of officers to perform their duties properly. Harmonious cooperation and teamwork, together with an intelligent and energetic performance of duty, are essential to success, and these attributes can be attained only by cultivating in your character the qualities of loyalty, unselfishness, devotion to duty, and the highest sense of honor.
Let each one of us resolve to show in himself a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination, and to do all in his power, not only to maintain, but to increase the prestige, the efficiency, and the esprit of the grand old Corps to which we belong.
With my best wishes for your success and happiness, I am, as always,
Your sincere friend,
JOHN A. LEJEUNE
Major General Commandant."
Major General Lejeune surely did not exempt himself from the high standards and expectations he so eloquently penned to, and was demanding of, his Marines, his officers. Rather, history reports he practiced them; as religion.
Now, to answer that Sailor's question, "What can be done?"
Follow, be guided by, the timeless, wise leadership of our 13th commandant. From start to finish his letter a work of art - to be read again and again, studied, and practiced - with his closing paragraphs especially apropos.
Sir, as noted before, your duties I cannot begin to imagine. To judge, I cannot, will not. But you are the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Today's Corps, for better or worse (many so believe), is a reflection of you. Too many Marines - divisions and wings and groups worth - from all generations stand bewildered, disappointed, disgusted, and embarrassed by what is going on in today's Corps.
Not too many months ago a senior officer, a mustang, told me morale has never been so low. As disheartening as it was to hear those words, that officer not the first to vent. There's no need to recap the problems (some not public until after my June letter), the cause, the masses know them all too well.
As to morale, so, remarkable young men and women, who absolutely deserve the best leading them, continue to volunteer and serve with honor and distinction. But for how much longer will these increasingly rare admirable Americans (and those who want citizenship) continue to seek service when many Marines (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, too), young and old, no longer endorse the Marine Corps much less military service?"
Major General Lejeune, a giant of our Corps; a gentleman; a battle-tested warrior; a mentor; and determined keeper of Corps heritage and culture left us not only an annual Birthday message but greater steering wisdom.
If only a look to him, and other Marine Corps stalwarts - they're aplenty, for direction.
I've a good idea what those who haunt me think. But I know exactly what my Dad would think. Hence, for his influence this forthright letter.
There's always more to be said. As in speaking to the basics - leadership traits and principles; Core Values; ethics; morals; and more. But enough.
So, in closing...
Perhaps it's not coincidence, though ironic, that another giant of our Corps, the 27th commandant, hailed from the same area of Louisiana as the 13th. And a short 23 years ago, that general, Robert H. Barrow and long retired, while testifying before Congress, predicted the destruction of the Marine Corps. Yet, surprised he may be - to how and why.
Has the one military outfit in America - that proudly, and not apologetically, embraced history, customs, courtesies, traditions and more for generation after generation - now abandoned that which made it different, great, envied, admired, and feared? At that, another distinguished commandant comes to mind - he set straight a Secretary of the Army for calling Marines "extremists."
Is General Lejeune's grand old Corps lost?
Is the Corps that endured until a handful of years ago lost?
And are the likes of generals Lejeune and Barrow et al., to serve again?
Where is the officer corps - seniors, especially - those to whom our 13th commandant challenged to rise to standards that epitomize excellence; of discipline, of pride?
Marines, near and far, with love of Corps and concern for Country at heart, who painfully bear witness to what is happening, pose a couple of questions:
"What would Major General Lejeune think?"
"What would Major General Lejeune do?"
The questions logical - for from 'The Marine Officer's Guide' they come. Perhaps it's time for this ageless, superb tome to be sold at the front of Marine Corps Exchanges. And beside it? What else, 'Guidebook For Marines.' Sir, that, too, you can make happen.
Somehow, I "Keep the faith!" A struggle though it is.
A. F. "Andy" Weddington
Colonel, U. S. Marines (Retired)
A Public Letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps
Leadership Principle (1 of 11): Keep Your Marines Informed