A Father’s Day Salute To Marines

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 14, 2006
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June is the month in which we celebrate fathers. My father was a Marine.

It would be impossible to celebrate him - he died in 1998 - without also celebrating his beloved U.S. Marine Corps, from which he derived the values he taught me: honor, discipline and character.

I fall short in these areas. He never did.

In June of 2006 the character of the Marine Corps is under fire. The alleged unspeakable acts of a few Marines in Haditha, a town in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq, last November, if proven, are indefensible. Nothing more can be said about the killing of civilians, children in particular, but there will be more said ... and more ... and more. Like the media reaction to Abu Ghraib - or any misstep by our U.S. military in Iraq - this event will be covered and re-covered.

But in decrying the acts of these few, let’s not get so carried away as to besmirch the great sacrifice, courage and honor exhibited by the brave and proud Marines of our past and current history. The freedoms we enjoy today are due, in great part, to that sacrifice.

The month of June yields many reasons to hold the Marine Corps in our hearts.

One of the best examples is the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood that ended on June 26, 1918, after 20 bloody days. The report simply said, “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.”

But back on June 6, with the German Army only 45 miles from Paris, the Marine Second Division was ordered to take the woods, which was being continuously fired on by machine guns and artillery. The 4th Brigade with its 5th and 6th Marine Regiments launched their assault.

The fighting was just too tough for some, even to protect their own capital. While French forces were retreating, they urged the Marines to join them, provoking Marine Capt. Lloyd Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines to answer with the now-famous words, “Retreat, hell. We just got here.”

He did not survive.

But after the battle, the French renamed the wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” (“Wood of the Marine Brigade”) to honor the tenacity of the Marines, and their government awarded the 4th Brigade the Croix de Guerre. Belleau Wood is also where the Marines got their German nickname of “Teufelshunde” or “Devil Dogs.”

In June 2006 Marines are under fire by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), sniper fire, suicide bombers and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) every single day in Afghanistan and Iraq - and often in our own media. Yet, under unimaginable pressure, they carry out their duty with humility and honor.

There are 180,000 regular Marines and 39,000 reserves, and they serve all over the world often under horrific conditions.

They also serve in other ways. Jim Hake, founder and president of Spirit of America, an organization created to spread American goodwill and humanitarian help in Iraq and Afghanistan, works with Marines there every day. He writes:

“As you know, with your support Spirit of America has fulfilled many requests from Marines in Iraq for items that have helped Iraqi citizens - sewing machines, funding for women’s centers, sandals for children, medical supplies, tools books, toys and more.

“You have probably heard the allegations about terrible actions in Haditha, Iraq. We expect that the truth will be found and, if the allegations are confirmed, the guilty will be identified and punished. We don’t have anything to add to the discussion of the investigation. While it is under way we ask you to remember that the vast, vast majority of men and women serving America in Iraq are honorable and regularly put their lives on the line in service to the USA. I’ve personally witnessed humanitarian activities by far greater numbers of Marines than the accused. The difficulty of their service has been greatly compounded by the alleged actions of a few. Our men and women in Iraq need our moral support - maybe now more than ever. Showing support in no way excuses or defends those who commit crimes. It simply acknowledges the sacrifice and service of the great majority.”

As we honor our own fathers, think about the many Marines serving “over there” who are also fathers. And think of how willing they are to die for our freedom to celebrate ... and to blame them all for the acts of a wrong few.

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