Above It All
Column: Dan Keating
Tulsa Beacon, Tulsa
June 26th, 2008

Twelve days prior to Memorial Day, United States Marine Corps Basic School Class 5-68 held its 40th reunion in Washington, D.C.
The Basic School is the Marine Corps initial infantry training for all lieutenants, except those officers going on to flight school at Pensacola, Fla. The Corps makes good on its belief that all Marines are infantry first and then other specialists second.

I was one of the 241 lieutenants that graduated in the 5-68 class. Our motto was, “Above it all.”

These were men, smart men who came from across America, graduating from many of the most prestigious universities such as Harvard, U.C. Berkley, Columbia, Yale, MIT, and our own Oklahoma University, Tulsa University, Southwestern Oklahoma University, Oklahoma Baptist and Oklahoma State to join the Marine Corps as volunteers during one of the country’s most difficult periods.

These are the same type of individuals you find in Iraq and Afghanistan and countless other trouble spots that our politicians can’t seem to stay away from.

It’s good that we have a Memorial Day. America would not exist if it weren’t for those who stepped forward to shoulder burdens that no one should have to carry, and at such a young age.

Although, I had not seen most members of Echo Company in years, after a few double takes I recognized their eyes, the smile and the voice. The class had taken good care of itself. Our class was reported to have produced more general officers than any other except that of former Commandant General P.X. Kelly.

Approximately 100 former officers attended with their wives. Many widows of our fallen shipmates also came with their families.
This was a real reunion a very special time. Capt. Don Brooks, a platoon leader and basic school instructor, and his wife also attended.
Like all reunions there is much socializing with a multitude of hand gestures. The planning for the events took nearly two years and the effort of a great committee headed by Don Duvall and Bill Ryan.

Other members included Tim Balch, Ed Flanagan, Mike Henehan, Scott Herriott, Nes Kusnnierz, Dick Mathis, Bob McSweeney, Don Saunders,Bill Schmitt, Jay Standish, Tom Smith, Chris Van Ardel and Quint Worthams.

There was golf at the Army-Navy Club and a White House tour. There was a visit to Marine Corps Base Quantico and to Officer Candidate School.

Col. Richard Mancini is the commanding officer and gave us his view of their mission. Today, women candidates train alongside their male counterparts. Why? Because they will one day lead Marines, and Quantico is the place to determine if you can.

There is a 50 percent attrition rate for women and 35 percent of the men fail to become officers. There is no reprieve. No coming back.
Grading of the candidates is 25 percent physical, 25 percent mental and 50 percent leadership. All candidates - both enlisted and college graduates - must meet a minimum ACT score to be admitted.

Later that week I was relaying the OCS experience with my brother Martin’s son-in-law, who heads 3M’s aerospace division. He said 3M also places much emphasis on leadership. Their managers are smart but not all are leaders. He got so involved in the process that he visited the new Marine Corps Museum at Quantico to see about leadership first hand.

We also toured the museum and planted a tree there for those classmates who died in Vietnam. At the tree ceremony, the class also presented a $16,500 check to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a group helping financially those Marines and their families who need the assistance.

The fund has raised $22 million and dispensed most of it. Quantico is also the home of Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), which is responsible for the transportation of the president. The class got a tour of their facilities. The security was tighter than at the White House.

The squadron uses a number of helicopters including the CH-53E, the smaller Apache and the old standby the CH-46. The Marines have been responsible for flying the president since President Dwight Eisenhower.

The story is told he was first flown by the Air Force in a “bubble” helicopter, and upon arrival one summer, he left the helicopter with his suit drenched in perspiration. He turned to the Corps to solve this problem and they did.

Our class also attended the Friday evening parade at the Commandant’s residence at Eighth and I Street. The full red-coated Marine band played and the drill team performed for the guests. The commandant’s three-story home sits to the northern end of the drill field. It was spared destruction during the War of 1812 by the British out of respect for the Marine Corps.

The culmination of the five-day reunion was a Sunday morning memorial service on the National Mall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The service was presided over by Commander John Maurice, Assistant Deputy Chaplin of the Marine Corps.

The names of the thirty-three deceased shipmates were read by former Lieutenants Don Duvall and Don Saunders.

Chris Van Arsdel gave the eulogy which included, “We have come to honor our fallen classmates; both those who died from injuries received on active duty, and those who have since gone on before us. They were and they are, Marine officers, every one. One can hardly reflect on their young and shortened lives without asking the questions about their service. What was it all about? What can we say about their commitment? Did their service to Corps and country really make a difference?

“Questions like these revive in the minds of some, the controversies of the Vietnam War. But those issues are perhaps best left to the passage of time and to the wisdom of history; allowing history itself to be the final arbiter and to reach the final conclusions.

“But what we do know, and have always known, is that their service was in the finest traditions of the United States Marine Corps and in the cause of freedom-loving people everywhere.”

Taps was played by two buglers, the colors were furled and the fortieth reunion of TBS Class 5-68 ended.

This was a remarkable group of men whose early motto was “Above it all.” This was not a parade Marine group nor one that required mess nights to build comradery. This was an action unit that got the job done and truly felt they were above it all.

And the eulogy said it best, concluding with, “The fight for freedom is often complicated, sometimes messy, and all too often lacks a quick and tidy ending. But as we learn more about this fight and the role of our fallen classmates in it, we can say of their efforts all over again, and this time with renewed confidence that: Their service was in the cause of freedom. And that’s not rhetoric!

“Their efforts did make a difference in the personal and national lives of the freedom-loving people in many nations, and that’s not rhetoric!
“And the last full measure of their devotion was in the cause of liberty, and neither is that rhetoric!

“And so we say to them, on behalf of the entire TBS Class 5-68, and on behalf of a long line of Marine Officers, and on behalf of the freedom-loving citizens of this great nation; we say to their spirits who are surely with us in this hallowed place:

Well Done! Well Done Marines! Semper Fidelis! Amen!”

Ellie