View Full Version : Marines not a stereotypical lot

11-14-06, 11:20 AM
Marines not a stereotypical lot
By Richard Clark

Here’s health to you and to our Corps

Which we are proud to serve...”
The Marines Hymn

ESCANABA — Mention Marine. The mental image, often as not, is John Wayne in the “Sands of Iwo Jima.” A tough guy, born to lead, fearless. The Marine Corps reinforces the image in its advertising. It challenges potential recruits to become one of the proud, the few. But, in reality, who are these folks who, in Kipling’s words, are “soldier an’ sailor too” Can you pick them out of a crowd?

Each Nov. 10 I have the privilege to attend the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. Marine Corps Birthday Balls are held throughout the world. In the Delta County the Ball is put on by the local detachment of the Marine Corps League. These are the people who bring you the Toys-for-Tots campaign.

Many Marines who attend the ball haven’t been in active service for over 50 years. The ball is a chance to renew the special relationship the Marines have with one another. Unless you know these men and women personally, you might be trapped into thinking they are uber patriots, not questioning authority, but only do or die. How wrong you would be.

Two days before the ball James Webb was elected senator in Virginia against a popular incumbent. It was a huge upset against great odds. Mr. Webb fits the Marine stereotype, tough. Not faux tough like some politicians. He was a Marine infantry officer in Vietnam. He was awarded the Navy Cross, which is only superseded by the Medal of Honor for valor.

When his opponent tried to Swift Boat him, Mr. Webb immediately responded. “Allen (is) a coward who sat out the Vietnam War playing cowboy at a dude ranch in Nevada.” The response was John Wayne. One might be surprised that it was Mr. Webb’s opposition to the proposed flag-burning amendment that Allen tried to use to malign his patriotism.

Mr. Webb opposes a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. He is the author of six novels and one nonfiction book “Born Fighting.” From the start he opposed the attack on Iraq. Tough, smart and questioning.

Smedley Butler rose to the rank of major general and was one of 19 Americans to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice. Uniquely, he tried to return the first because he didn’t believe he deserved it.

In 1935 he wrote “War is a Racket.” He warned about economic interests that drive war. He became a popular speaker with pacifists, communists, veterans and church groups.

Sometimes Marines don’t fit the macho mold. Think of Jonathon Winters, Bea Arthur, Art Buchwald, Mark Shields, Lee Trevino, Bob Keeshen (Captain Kangaroo) and Bob Bell (Bozo the Clown). Marines, all.

The Marines at the Ball Friday come from all walks of life. The oldest Marine at the Birthday Ball was 90, “Hob” Erickson a World War II Marine. The youngest was the evening’s featured speaker, Brent Brugman. Brent is home from Iraq.

Norm Nelsen, Gladstone, about as decent and considerate as anyone you will ever meet, was awarded a medal for his service in the Marine Corps League. Anyone who knows Norm knows he deserves it.

You cannot find a group of more friendly and temperate people than those who attended the ball. Graciousness is partly a function of age, but fondness for one another is characteristic of their esprit de corps.

The movie “Flags of Our Fathers” does an excellent job of defining the Marine Corps esprit. Hard to watch, but when it concludes, you will understand the bond between Marines and the Navy folks who stand with them, particularly the Navy corpsmen, “the docs.”

Somewhat paradoxically, Marines work for kids in the Toys-for-Tots campaign, but are ingrained with a attitude found in the last stanza of The Marines Hymn:

“If the Army and the Navy

Ever look on Heaven’s scenes:

They will find the streets are guarded by

United States Marines.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Richard Clark, Escanaba, is a practicing trial lawyer who works throughout the Upper Peninsula. His area of emphasis is civil law.