The United States Marine Corps defines adherence to tradition. The beginning of the appreciation for tradition and the task of instilling that appreciation begins at Boot Camp (Marine Corps Recruit Depots at San Diego and Parris Island) and Officer Candidate School (Quantico). There is an absolute dedication to and felt responsibility of not letting down those who went before, but rather carrying on and passing along the Traditions of those who served before us.
The Marine Corps is the military organization that is unashamedly dedicated to the military raison d’être – the fighting of war. The heroes of younger Marines are the warriors that came before them and among whom they serve. This respect for (bordering on worship) the combat veterans of the past and present drives the motivation and efforts of the Drill Instructors and Sergeant Instructors who find themselves tasked with training the newest generation of Marines. Those who are combat veterans know well why the training and molding that is done is so important (life saving in reality). Those of us who served along side the combat veterans learned from them of this importance, worked hard to emulate them and not let them down. And not let down those who have gone before and who have forged the reputation of the Corps in the bloody fields that are named on the sides of the Marine Corps Memorial.
I joined the Corps right out of high school in 1972. As the Corps had been pulled out of Viet Nam in 1971, I missed it. Since that time and until 2001 when I retired, I was never near a combat zone due to the vagaries of the duties I was assigned. I did get activated from the Reserves for Desert Storm (1991) but found myself being sent with my unit (B 1/14) to Norway for Operation Battle Griffin; far from the war in Kuwait and Iraq.
As it was, I was ordered to the Drill Field in 1975 sporting only a National Defense Ribbon and my Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge. I did later pick up the Good Conduct Medal, which Major DeBona (Navy Cross) attributed to “three years of undetected crime.” Most of the Marines that I served with at San Diego were Viet Nam combat veterans. The picture above is a prime example of those with whom I served. To the right is Gunnery Sergeant Bill Wire. Gunny had gone to Viet Nam in 1965 armed with the M-14 and was part of those assigned to the defense of the Da Nang air base. In the center is Staff Sergeant Henderson, the platoon’s Platoon Commander (now called the Senior Drill Instructor). He was in Viet Nam in 1969-70. On the left was the newest Drill Instructor assigned to Platoon 1132, Staff Sergeant Gallegos. SSgt Gallegos is one of those who were the last out of Viet Nam. His unit was assigned to guard the evacuation of the embassy in 1975. As he told it, he saw the last CH-46 leave, all the time praying that it would make it back to retrieve him and his squad. In that photo of the Drill Instructor team, you have the history of the Viet Nam War. And these are only a sampling of the Marine Combat vets at San Diego at the time.
On our series team was also Staff Sergeant Bob Colosanti (the short one holding the guidon). SSgt. Colosanti sported a Silver Star and five purple hearts to go with it (yes, five). He is written up in the book The Magnificent Bastards: The Joint Army-Marine Defense of Dong Ha, 1968 where his earning of the Silver Star is presented. Interestingly enough, and typical enough, when I asked him how he got it, he said, “because we didn’t get the word.” Apparently his platoon, which he led because of death or injury to the officers, did not get the word to pull back as the company attacked a heavily armed village and so continued and took the village under heavy fire.
At that time, to this young, non-combat experienced Sergeant, these men were (and remain) heroes and giants. I listened to every story they could tell me or the recruits. I wanted to know what they knew to be important to instill in our charges and how to instill it best. I wanted so very much to learn from them, and, more importantly, not to disappoint them or let them down or be thought to be letting them or the Corps down in my training of our charges. They had been through it, had acquitted themselves, their unit, and the Corps well. They had contributed to the Tradition. I did not want to disappoint them.
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And for that time, they stood as the closest example of the history and traditions that went before us. Before them was Korea with Inchon and Chosin Reservoir. Before Korea was World War II with Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima (to note only the most well known). Before World War II was World War I and Belleau Wood and Chateau Thierry. And before that War, continuing back to the establishment of the Continental Marines in 1775 are countless conflicts where those who claimed the title Marine have served and acquitted themselves well and notably, and had laid the foundation and first rows of the Wall of Tradition that we, 200 years later, had inherited and were now charged with reforging and continuing.
Marine History is an important and significant part of Boot Camp and Drill Instructor School. The Corps knows the importance of those who preceded the present generation; it knows that for the newest to succeed they must know the history of the Old Breed. As I have said, in my twenty years in the Corps I can claim no combat experience. But my close conversations with those who have revealed that their combat actions were first and foremost because of the Marine and Corpsman with them, and then for those who had gone before and built the reputation that the Corps rightfully has as a fighting organization. Above all they did not want to let down those who were serving with them and who were ducking and shooting next to them (and especially those with whom they were charged with leading) and they were ever aware that they also had a responsibility to those who had gone before. Of late, when you read of Fallujah, you hear also of Hue, of Seoul. The Marines of Seoul and Hue would recognize and salute the Marines of Fallujah because the tradition of the embrace of that “which is highest in soldierly virtue” was passed onto the latest combat veterans by their Drill Instructors at San Diego or Parris Island or Quantico.
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I saw this passing of the torch personally after Desert Storm. I home port at Dallas, Texas and that city had a victory parade after we all got back. We who headed to the “snows of far off northern lands” donned desert cammies and joined the formation with those who stayed behind and those of our unit who did go and serve, augmenting the reserve units who were sent. We lined up outside of Dallas in a formation that had to have stretched for a couple of miles. As each unit approached downtown we saw a group of old Viet Nam vets standing on the grass on either side of the road. Older, grayer, heavier, bearded, and many sporting vests with unit patches and insignia denoting their brothers who served with them in that “old crazy Asian war.” As we approached where they were and halted while waiting our turn to enter to receive The Heroes Welcome, these old vets, these old Soldiers, these old Sailors and Coasties, these old Airman, and these old Marines; these combat veterans and warriors from that tried to be forgotten war; these who were spat on by the nation that sent them; these who did not get The Heroes Parade – they came to attention and they saluted us. And we, we unhesitantly, we gratefully, we lovingly, came to attention and returned the salute to those in whose lineage we now belonged; those whose lineage they told us by their salute that we had upheld; those whose lineage by their look and their tears told us that we were now the bearers of it, the preservers of it, the custodians of it. Our salute was our promise to not let them down and to well preserve what they gave us.
If you ask me how to define Semper Fi! That is how.
Major Shawn Madden first enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1972 and qualified as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician. Major Madden served with the 1st EOD Platoon before reporting to MCRD San Diego for Drill Instructor duty from 1975-1977. Major Madden was then selected for the MECEP program and sent to Texas A&M where he earned a BA in History. Upon graduation he reported to OCS and TBS after which he served as an Infantry Officer with 1/6. He resigned his Regular Commission and transferred to reserve duty with 1/23. While serving in the reserves Major Madden obtained his Masters and Ph.D. in Biblical Studies after which he taught Hebrew for 20 years. Major Madden now lives in Dallas with Cathy, his wife of 42 years and founded O’Madden Aerial Photography, an aircraft and drone photography company (http://omaddenaerialphotography.com).