View Full Version : 1st Marine Division celebrates 65 years

02-09-06, 05:59 PM
1st Marine Division celebrates 65 years
MCB Camp Pendleton
Story by Cpl. Tom Sloan

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Feb. 9, 2006) -- More than 100 members of the 1st Marine Division Association assembled aboard Camp Pendleton and celebrated the “Blue Diamond’s” 65th anniversary with active duty division Marines and Sailors Jan. 31 – Feb. 2.

Established in 1941 aboard the Battleship Texas, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Feb. 1, 1941, 1st Marine Division is the oldest, most decorated and largest division in the Marine Corps.

The 1st Marine Division’s personnel have participated in major battles of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, and now Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and have conducted numerous humanitarian and peace keeping missions across the globe.

Celebrations kicked off with a golf tournament at the Marine Memorial Golf Course here the morning of Jan. 31.

More than 100 retired and active duty Marines turned out for the event. The 1st Marine Division’s assistant commander, Col. Kevin A. Vietti, delivered a brief speech prior to tee time.

“Today’s event brings former warriors of 1st Marine Division together with today’s Marines,” he said. “The Marines (of the past) have established the standards that have allowed us to perform the way we are in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

This was the seventh year the tournament had been held, according to the 1st Marine Division’s safety director, Paul W. Ojala, 1st Marine Division, who said the focus this year was to have the older Marines bond with the younger Marines.

“It’s a good time to come together and have fun and share war stories,” he said. “The staff here at the golf course always do a great job supporting us, and we have a great time every year.”

The tournament was a chance for Cpl. Josh A. Seaton, a communications specialist with Headquarters Battalion, to experience camaraderie while enjoying his favorite sport.

“I love the game of golf and being out here with the 1st Marine Division veterans is the best day I can have,” said the 21-year-old from Coweta, Okla., and two-time OIF veteran.

Anniversary celebrations continued that night at Gunner Park in the Las Pulgas Area, where more than 100 members of the 1st Marine Division Association, some of which were past 11th Marine Regiment Marines, gathered with current members of the regiment for a dinner.

“Old Salts” and Marines of the “New Breed” shared sea stories while they enjoyed cold beer on tap and hot chow provided by the 11th Marines mess hall.

Live music from the 1st Marine Division band playing in the background made for a festive scene.

“I enjoyed talking with the older Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Justin M. Slaughter, a fire direction controller with F Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines. “He had a lot of good stories,” added the 25-year-old from Norman, Okla.

Henry Tassinari, a former staff sergeant and Korean War veteran, enjoyed traveling down memory lane with his fellow Marines. The 78-year-old resident of Walnut Creek said the Marine Corps still maintains many of its traditions he remembers being a part of when he wore the uniform in the 1950s.

“The Corps hasn’t changed that much,” he said. “Sure, the equipment is modernized, but there’s still the same camaraderie that I remember. It’s great for the (former) Marines to come here and enjoy (themselves).”

Lance Cpl. Vernon Ellis Jr. echoed Tassinari.

“It’s amazing to hear the older Marines talk about the same Marine Corps traditions that we carry out,” said the 20-year-old from Philadelphia, and a radar technician with Headquarters Battery, 11th Marines.

During his brief speech, the 1st Marine Division Association’s president, retired Capt. G. “Peepsight” Pendas, said what it meant for Marines of the past and present to have fellowship.

“We are humbled to be in the presence of you Marines tonight,” he said. “We are fortunate to be able to gather together like this.”

Celebrations commemorating the division’s anniversary continued when seven members of the 1/5 Vietnam Unit Chapter of the 1st Marine Division Association dedicated a plaque to the Marines of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment during a ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Garden in the South Mesa Memorial Park the fist morning of February.

Two platoons from 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, along with 1st Marine Division Association members and their families attended the dedication

“Every year, the 1/5 Vietnam veterans like to leave something behind in the communities that host our reunions,” said chapter member Nicholas Warr in a speech.

Retired Col. Bob Thompson, who was the infantry battalion’s commander during Operation Hue City in the Vietnam War, addressed those in attendance.

“From Bellawood to Ramadi, our 1st Battalion, 5th Marines have fought,” said Thompson. “For my Marines in Hue City in the Arizona Territory, the Korean War veterans, the World War II veterans, those today (serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom) and our brothers who were killed in battle, we will never forget you.”

Thompson then thanked the battalion’s current commander, Lt. Col. Eric M. Smith, for adding a new and decorated chapter to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines’ colorful history.

“God bless you and Semper Fidelis,” he said.

“For us as active duty Marines, it’s an honor to be here today in the presence of the 1/5 Vietnam veterans and other veteran Marines,” Smith said. “We are honored to be a part of the legacy that you have fought and died to build. We are unbelievably grateful and proud to serve with you as fellow war fighters of 1/5.”

The Vietnam veterans donated a 16” by 16” granite memorial brick that was emplaced in the Veterans’ Memorial Park and is inscribed with the words, “To Honor and Remember 1/5 Marines who served in Vietnam. Semper Fidelis.”

The 1st Marine Division’s commanding general and former sergeant major unveiled a new conference center as part of anniversary celebrations Feb. 2.

Major Gen. Richard F. Natonski and Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell cut the ribbon to the “Waltzing Matilda,” the 1st Marine Division’s official song.

Scores of veterans were on hand for the grand opening of the conference center, which was a refurbished bunker outfitted with new cabinets, ceiling tiles, a bathroom and two flat-screen televisions. Old ammunition crates comprised a wall of one of the rooms.

Those in attendance got to walk through and look at the facility, which took three months to build and cost $70,000, according to Master Gunnery Sgt. James Adwell, 1st Marine Division logistics chief.

Major Gen. Richard F. Natonski conducted a presentation on the 1st Marine Division’s involvement in the Battle of Fallujah at the base theater on Mainside Feb. 2.

Maj. Gen. Natonski delivered the presentation, called “Operation Al Fajr, The Battle for Fallujah,” to a theater full of former and active duty Marines.

“My father was a military man,; I was a Marine stationed here, and now I brought my grandson to see what it (Marine Corps) is about,” said 50-year-old Carson Gibbson, a former sergeant from Fontana.

His five-year-old grandson, Ruben Soto, may have been too young to fully appreciate the experience, but Gibbson was grateful.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I never had a ‘two-star’ talk to me when I was in; now he comes and shakes my hand.”

During the presentation, Maj. Gen. Natonski, while using a slideshow presentation, gave a detailed description of the battle.

Members of the 1st Marine Division Association had a chance to patrol down memory lane and relive some of their active duty Marine Corps days when they spent a few hours at Range 314 C at Camp Day Feb. 2.

The event was hosted by 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and started with veterans eating a lunch of tray rations served by the infantry battalion’s food service specialists.

After lunch, many of the veterans donned Flak and Kevlar helmets and shot pop-up targets with M-16 A4s.

Many of the veterans relished the opportunity to fire the Marine Corps’ current service weapon.

“The weapons the Marines have in their hands today are excellent,” proclaimed Rick H. Salinas, 78, of San Jose. “If we would’ve had the weapons the Marines have now, we would have won the “Chosin” faster. They are superior weapons.”

Salinas, who was a corporal at the time, spent a year fighting in the Korean War.

“These gatherings are a way of life for me,” he said. “I really enjoy interacting with the Marines and meeting up with old friends. Firing the weapons was nice, too.”