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02-04-03, 07:32 AM
Gen. Leonard F. Chapman Jr.

Spit-And-Polish Commandant Steered The Corps Through Troubled Waters

By Bethanne Kelly Patrick

Marine Corps Gen. Leonard Fielding Chapman Jr., the man who guided the Corps through the turbulence of the 1960s without losing his gentlemanly ways or compromising his values, was described as "a Rock of Gibraltar in a sea of change." He served first as chief of staff from 1964-68, and then as commandant of the Marines from 1968-72, using education and organization to defuse racial, cultural, and societal tensions that threatened to demoralize his beloved Corps.

Chapman, the son and grandson of Methodist ministers in Florida, entered the Marine Corps shortly after graduating from the University of Florida in 1935. As a captain in World War II, he took part in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, and earned the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star in service with the First Marine Division on Peleliu and Okinawa. "His early years of sea-duty ... gave him a spit-and-polish that never left," Gen. Carl Mundy said in his eulogy at Chapman's January 2000 funeral.

When Chapman became commanding officer of the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., he used that spit-and-polish attitude to institute the famous Friday night retreat parades. In his later staff positions, he refused to relax the Marines' Spartan standards. "These high standards breed pride, and pride, in turn, builds the kind of discipline that is essential to battlefield success with minimum casualties," he said.

That pride was the tool that carried the Marine Corps, including Chapman's two sons, through the end of the Vietnam War, when service members faced a country not always sure about the worth of such a rules-bound institution. That pride carried the Corps over integration hurdles, as Chapman created equality education programs and allowed black Marines to use the fist-closed Black Panther salute. And it was behind Chapman's statement, "Nobody likes to fight, but somebody has to know how to do it."