26 March 2014


by Andy Weddington
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
"Men do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction. They fight for one another. And if you came through this ordeal, you would age with dignity."
William Manchester
Facing the 'Veterans Museum and Memorial Center' - that once served as a chapel - in Balboa Park, San Diego, sits an impressive red rock to starboard of the entrance. Along the sidewalk, the big chunk of granite is a marker for Chapter 49 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. As noted on the front of the stone, the natural red color represents blood - blood lost in battle.
The red rock is starboard just out of the photograph.
The red Purple Heart rock.
On the back of the stone is etched Chapter 49 member names, dozens and dozens of them.
Saturday afternoon past, arriving early for the retirement ceremony of a U. S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer, I stood and read those names. Four, in particular stood out: Marine Jay Vargas; Sailor John Finn; Soldier John Baca; and Soldier Audie Murphy. These four men had the letters MOH beside their names. For those who don't know MOH represents the Medal of Honor.
About the time I finished reading the names my iPhone alerted to incoming mail. A longtime friend was delivering sad news - a mutual friend of 33 years died the night before.
Though we'd stayed in touch periodically through the years, I'd not known he was ill.
After reading that email I thought back to first meeting him - tall and lean and confident First Lieutenant Mike Lowe was the commanding officer of Echo Company 2/6. Though not assigned to his company (me and Harley were assigned to Golf Company - also commanded by a skilled first lieutenant), it did not take long to get to know Lieutenant Lowe - he was an unpretentious, outgoing, dynamic sort of gent who loved everything about being a Marine.
He was a leader - talented in the field and gregarious at the club. Once in a while he was known to drink a beer. Sometimes two. But always while talking Marine things.
We deployed with BLT 2/6 / 32 MAU / MARG 3-81 on a 'Med Cruise' - Echo Company (and Golf and Weapons), commanded by Captain Lowe, aboard the USS Saipan. It was a relatively uneventful deployment though the assassination of Anwar Sadat made for some excitement. As did liberty.
From the Med Cruise book.

Med Cruise book - page 187.

          Captain Mike Lowe, USMC - CO, Echo 2/6.

Though busy ever planning and training his Marines, Captain Lowe occasionally found time to attend movie call in the officers mess (his repartee during the film hilarious) and sit at the card table (Spades was the game). But he did not sit still for long.
As depicted in the Cruise Book, the deployment's official slogan was "On the road again..." - when leaving port, Willie Nelson's song was piped over the 1MC.
But the Marine lieutenants, to better capture the experience, came up with "We had some fun..." - though we did (have fun) that unofficial slogan was mostly sarcasm. Captain Lowe agreed on both counts. And we all preferred Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys Are Back In Town' when pulling into port (strange, the ship's Captain did not pipe it over the 1MC).
After 2d Marine Division days, Mike moved on to HQMC and was a ground monitor - Captain Lowe visited Parris Island and asked, after three years in the regiment, where I wanted to go. Returning to the FMF was not an option so he suggested MOI duty - Ole Miss it was (over Nebraska; Oklahoma; Michigan; MIT; Citadel). I thanked him for years afterwards. And still do.
Ten years later he was an I&I and we crossed paths aboard Camp Lejeune. Same ol' Mike but now he was a lieutenant colonel. He had a four-word mantra for the Active/Reserve relationship - "One Team - One Fight!" Over the course of a few days he must have said it a dozen or more times. I can still hear him saying it, with conviction.
Another ten or twelve years pass and retirement looms. I knew Mike was the base commander at Quantico and was familiar with the straightforward, inspiring remarks he gave at a TBS company of lieutenants mess night. A couple of his thoughts struck a chord and I wanted to include them in a program. Rather than just lift them (with credit, of course) I sent Mike a note outlining my plan and asked for permission. A busy base commander, he came back with a short reply - "Yes, Andy, go ahead." 
Colonel Mike Lowe's remarks to those lieutenants are something every Marine should read - and more than once.
Though Mike's speech is readily available on the Internet and again making rounds via email, I kindly ask Marines, and all others too, for help spreading the Marine spirit of a great Marine. Thank you!
Colonel James Michael "Mike" Lowe, USMC... 
"From that elegant introduction, you may or not have picked up on the fact that I have had 5 tours in Marine divisions, serving in all 4 divisions and 3d MarDiv twice. I have made 8 Marine expeditionary unit deployments, served with the special operations command and have been to every level of PME possible in order to hone my warfighting skills.

Utilizing your great deductive abilities, intellect and experience as Lieutenants, you should have questioned the Corps' collective judgment when they decided to make me a Base Commander! I sure as hell did and I still do! Look up "base" in the dictionary. According to Mr. Webster: "lowest part or bottom. Having or showing little or no honor, courage or decency; mean; ignoble; contemptible; menial or degrading; inferior in quality; of comparative low worth". So... After 28 years of focusing on locating, closing with and destroying, I've got that going for me! That's ok! Go ahead and laugh! There is at least one future base commander sitting among you right now!

Seriously, I am honored to return to the Basic School as your guest, at this, one of our most time honored traditions. I have been asked to speak on my insights and experiences as a leader of Marines. Basically, I was told to talk about what I have learned over the last 28 years of leading Marines. Well, I have only learned eight things, and it will only take me about 60 seconds to share them with you.

Now that I think of it, if I had been invited to speak to you the day Charlie Company formed up, I could have probably saved you six months of TBS training. I thought I would get this structured portion out of the way up front so I could talk about anything I want to, so here goes.

1. Seek brilliance in the basics, always do the right thing, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

2. If you are riding at the head of the herd, look back every now and then and make sure it is still there.

3. Never enter an hour-long firefight with 5 minutes of ammo.

4. This one is really important for all of you born North of Washington, DC. Never, never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

5. If you're not shooting, and I can see by your marksmanship badges that some of you are challenged in this area, you better be communicating or reloading for another Marine.

6. There are three types of leaders. Those who learn from reading, those who learn from observation, and those who still have to touch the electric fence to get the message.

7. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap.

8. And finally, you might want to write this one down: Never slap a grown man who has a mouth full of chewing tobacco.

Now that I've put that check in "proper military instruction" block, are there any questions? Of course not! What a stupid question to ask a bunch of Lieutenants so close to graduation! Now that I think of it, my TBS class stopped asking questions after the first two weeks. I have a few minutes left; so let's talk about something I like, Marines.

Up front, let me tell you how much I admire you. Why is that? Unlike the vast majority of your fellow citizens, you stepped forward and committed yourself to a greater cause without concern for your personal safety or comfort. And you did it knowing that you would gain nothing in return. Except the honor and cherished privilege of earning the title of "Marine Officer". Individually, you are as different as apples and oranges, but you are linked for eternity by the title "Marine" and the fact that you are part of the finest fighting force that has ever existed in history. If you haven't picked up on it, I like being a Marine and I like being around Marines. Like most of you are probably thinking, I came into the Corps to do four years and four years only. But a strange happened. I was having so much fun that I simply forgot to get out. Hell, at this point, I am thinking seriously about making the Corps a career!

So what is it that I like about Marines? This is the easy part!

I like the fact that you always know were you stand with a Marine! With Marines, there is no middle ground or gray area. There are only missions, objectives and facts.

I like the fact that if you are a self-declared enemy of America, that running into a Marine outfit in combat is your worst nightmare, and that your health record is about to get a lot thicker or be closed out entirely!

I like the fact that Marines are steadfast and consistent in everything they do. Regardless of whether you agree with them or not; that Marines hold the term "politically correct" with nothing but pure disdain; that Marines stand tall and rigid in their actions, thoughts and deeds when others bend with the direction of the wind and are as confused as a dog looking at a ceiling fan!

I like the fact that each and every Marine considers the honor and legacy of the Corps as his personal and sacred trust to protect and defend.

I like the fact that most civilians don't have a clue what makes us tick! And that's not a bad thing. Because if they did, it would scare the hell out of them! I like the fact that others say they want to be like us, but don't have what it takes in the "pain-gain-pride" department to make it happen.

I like the fact that the Marines came into being in a bar, Tun Tavern, and that Marines still gather in pubs, bars and slop chutes to share sea stories and hot scoop.

I like our motto: Semper Fidelis, and the fact that we don't shed it when the going gets tough, the battlefield gets deadly or when we hang up our uniform for the last time. I like the fact that Marines take care of each other. In combat and in time of peace.

I like the fact that Marines consider the term "Marines take care of their own" as meaning we will give up our very life for our fellow Marines, if necessary. I like the fact that Marines know the difference between "chicken salad" and "chicken shit" and aren't afraid to call either for what it is! I like the fact that Marines have never failed the people of America and that we don't use the words "can't", "retreat", or "lose".

I like the fact that the people of America hold Marines in the highest esteem and that they know that they can count of us to locate, close with and destroy those who would harm them!

I like Marines. And being around Marines.

I like the fact that a couple of years ago an elected member of congress felt compelled to publicly accuse the Marine Corps of being "radical and extreme". I like the fact that our Commandant informed that member of congress that he was absolutely correct and that he passed on his thanks for the compliment.

I like the fact that Marine leaders --- of every rank--- know that issuing every man and woman a black beret --- or polka-dotted boxer shorts for that matter--- does absolutely nothing to promote morale, fighting spirit or combat effectiveness.

I like the fact that Marines are Marines first. Regardless of age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin or how long they served or what goals they achieve in life!

Let me give you one example: a young man enlists in the Navy in WWI. When the war is over, he ships over and joins the Army. He next enlisted in the Marine Corps and served from 1920-1922. There was no Air Force back then, so I guess he felt he had put all the checks in the block! When he served out his time in the Corps, he went after an education: receiving various degrees in engineering, history and political science from UCLA and Montana State University. He entered politics and served for 11 years in the House of Representatives. Next, he tackled the Senate where he served for 24 years, as both the Democratic whip and later as the Senate majority leader. He was then appointed as the ambassador to Japan where he served for 11 years. This gentleman went from snuffy to national and international prominence. And when he passed away in 2001, he was rightly buried in Arlington. If you want to visit his grave, don't look for him near the Kennedy Eternal Flame where so many politicians are laid to rest. Look for a small, common marker shared by the majority of our heroes. Look for the marker that says "Michael J. Mansfield, PFC, U.S. Marine Corps.

You see, Senator Mike Mansfield, like each of us gathered here tonight was prouder of being a Marine than anything else in his incredible life of national service. There is one thing I have learned for sure over the last 28 years. The years fly by, names change, the weapons and the gear change, political leaders and agendas change, national priorities and budgets change, the threats to our nation change. But through it all, there is one abiding constant ---- the basic issue, do-or-die Marine. He or she will do damn near anything asked, under terrible conditions, with better results and fewer complaints than any civilized human being should have reason to expect. And we, who have the privilege of serving them and leading them, make our plans and execute crucial missions based primarily on one fact of life. That the basic Marine will not fail his country, his Corps and his fellow Marines. That they will overcome any threat. If allowed to do so.

Think about that and remember that for 228 years it has worked and it has kept the wolf away from America's door. I like Marines, because being a Marine is serious business. We're not a social club or a fraternal organization and we don't pretend to be. We're a brotherhood of "warriors" -- nothing more, nothing less, pure and simple. We are in the ass-kicking business, and unfortunately, these days business is good. But don't worry about that. What you need to remember is that the mere association of the word "Marine" with a crisis is an automatic source of confidence to America, and encouragement to all nations who stand with us. As Marines, our message to our foes has always been essentially the same. "We own this side of the street! Threaten my country or our allies and we will come over to your side of the street, burn your hut down, and whisper in your ear "can you hear me now?" And then secure your heartbeat.

Now I must tell you that I had an opportunity to review your MOS assignments. I remember that time in my life well as a real group tightener! Regardless of what MOS you now have, if you don't already know it, being a leader of Marines is about as much fun as you can legally have with your clothes on! And that's true regardless if you are a grunt, datadink, sparkchaser, stewburner, wiredog, buttplate, remington raider, rotorhead, legal beagle, fast stick, cannon cocker, track head, skivvie stacker, dual fool or a boxkicker. And if you don't believe it you will! Trust me!

Why is that? Because each us fought to gain the coveted title "Marine", it wasn't given to us. We earned it. And on the day we finally became Marines, an eternal flame of devotion and fierce pride was ignited in our souls. Charlie Company, let's not fool ourselves. You know it and I know it. You have some challenging times and emotional events ahead of you. I am not talking about tomorrow morning's headache. I am talking about the fact that the world is a dangerous place and as leaders of Marines, you will be walking point on world events. Make sure you keep that flame that I mentioned earlier burning brightly. It will keep you warm when times are hard. It will provide light in the darkest of nights. Use it and draw strength from it, as generations of leathernecks have done since our beginning.

Before PCS'ing to Quantico, I completed a 24-month tour with the 31st MEU aboard the USS Essex. Some of the Marines here tonight were with me. The Essex is a great ship and one of six to bear that name in defense of our nation.

In 1813, the first Essex was commanded by a tough skipper named Capt. David Porter. By all accounts, Captain Porter was the type man you did not want to see at Captain's Mast. He was tough, but he was a true warrior. On one particular mission, the Essex was ordered to sail alone to the Pacific and attack Great Britain's Pacific whaling fleet. Obviously, Captain Porter knew the fleet was well-guarded by British men-of-war and he knew his job would be a tough one and that he would be severely out gunned in his task. Prior to sailing, Captain Porter addressed the assembled crew of sailors and Marines on the deck and explained the task at hand. He asked for volunteers only and told his men to "take seven steps forward" if they would willingly go in harms way with him. He then turned his back and waited. After a few moments, he turned to face his crew and noticed no holes in the ranks. The ranks looked just as they had and not a single Marine or sailor stood to the front of the formation. It is reported that he went on a tirade and screamed, "What is this? Not a single volunteer among you?" With this, an aide leaned over and whispered in Porter's ear, "Sir, the whole line has stepped forward 7 paces."

I think of this story often. And when I do, I think of Marines like you. Charlie Company, on behalf of the generations of Marine lieutenants who have gone before you, thank you for taking the "7 steps forward", thank you for your love of country, thank you for your life-long commitment as a United States Marine. For those of you who are wondering, "Am I up to it?" forget it. You will be magnificent, just as Marine officers always have been. I realize that many of your young Marines are going to be "been there, done that" warriors and that they will wear the decorations to prove it. But you need to know, that they respect you and admire you. You need to know that they want and need your leadership. All you have to do is never fail them in this regard and everything will turn out great. Hold up your end of the bargain and they will not fail.

I am pretty sure I can speak for the entire group of distinguished guests here tonight when I say, "We admire you and would trade places with you in a minute to do it all over again." Sooooo, if you're interested in giving up a platoon in order to be a base commander, see me at the bar! One last thing. When you check into your first unit and start the fantastic voyage that only Marines will ever know, kick some serious ass. Because it is a full time job and there is a lot of that activity that must occur for America and her allies to survive. "Long live the United States. And success to the Marine Corps!""

Inside 'Veterans Museum and Memorial Center.'

How fitting to be standing before that red Purple Heart rock (representing Chapter 49 - named after a Marine) when learning of Mike's death, and to then sit in what was once a chapel for a couple of hours to witness a retirement and reflect on a longtime friend - a great Marine!

Semper Fidelis, Mike.

Post Script


Funeral - Friday, 04 April 1100 at Marine Memorial Chapel, MCB, Quantico. Burial - 1300 at Quantico National Cemetery. Memorial gathering - Thursday, 03 April from 1800-2000 at the Mountcastle Funeral Home, 4143 Dale Boulevard, Dale City.

Family has requested that in lieu of flowers donations be made to one of the following:

Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund
Wounded Warrior Regiment
Marine Corps Heritage Foundation

Note: Chapter 49 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart is named after First Sergeant Henry G. "Sunny" Jones, USMC. First Sergeant Jones was killed during the Battle of Blanc Mont.


Anonymous said...

Well said Andy. Thanks for sharing.

Ed Gregory said...

Mike Lowe was a living legend in our Corps. He left a mark high up on the wall. Semper Fidelis!