missed two award ceremonies this past week and these two
ceremonies make interesting contrasts regarding Marines.
admit that I was not invited to the first ceremony nor is there
any earthly reason why I should have been. I read about it in a
Bing West article, "Distinguished
Disservice: In honoring Murtha, the Navy insults its own".
West, a Marine veteran, is the noted author of several books. His
latest is an excellent work about the Iraq War entitled, The
Strongest Tribe. The Secretary of
the Navy, Mr. Donald C. Winter, awarded the Distinguished Public
Service Award to Representative John P. Murtha (D-Pennsylvania).
Mr. Winter apparently signed off on the award just before he
departed with the Bush Administration. This means Mr. Winter’s
name appears on the award but he was not present to award it.
Murtha, also a Marine veteran, is famous for
his press conference about the Haditha Incident. At that press
conference (and others throughout subsequent weeks), Murtha
accused a Marine rifle squad, ambushed by terrorist, of “cold
blooded murder”. These accusations resulted in legal charges
against eight Marines (officer and enlisted). Two of the eight
cases are pending (one due to lack of prosecutorial evidence and
the other due to unlawful command influence). Five other cases
have been dismissed. The eighth Marine was acquitted of all
charges in a courts-martial.
Mr. West takes exception to the Murtha award
and rightfully so. He makes the point that it was not justice that
Murtha was after with his premature accusations but “press hype”
for his own personal political gain.
For that reason, I can picture this award
presentation in Washington. Probably held in a government room
designated for such events with pictures of forgotten bureaucrats
on the walls, formal looking carpeting still showing the night
maintenance crew vacuum marks and fake wooden GAO furniture pushed
to the side to make room for the attendees.
I can see the attendees gathering inside this
room wearing their expensive suits and “glad handing” their
political acquaintances. These folks are masters at the ten second
sound-bit and can equivocate and bombast for hours. They are
capable of launching into a political move at the drop of a hat,
and usually do. They present smiles to the press cameras while
wishing they had a protective mini-cam view of their own
self-servicing backs. Not a pretty mental picture but as Mr. West
states, “Murtha did a great disservice to the military and the
nation, and never apologized. The secretary of the Navy did a
disservice in honoring Congressman Murtha.”
The second ceremony took place in a small, old
neighborhood in western Pennsylvania. In a neat but weathered
brick building displaying the letters providing its title,
American Legion Post, a small group of neighbors gathered to honor
one of their local sons.
This group, mostly husbands, fathers and grand
fathers, with a sprinkling of wives and moms, is very different
when compared to the Washington crowd. Much less stylish, more
heads of gray hair and paunches that now cover the muscle that
provided the long ago high school era athletic achievements.
Despite the extra pounds, grey hair, bent
backs, and other creeping signs of aging, these men individually
project an element of strength. You can still see it in their
forearms when they grasp a tool and you feel it when they look you
in the eye and shake hands. They still have the ability to square
their shoulders, set their jaws and provide a disapproving glare
that would humble Clint Eastwood. They also send a non-verbal
message, that they have the character and will to back it up, that
comes through no matter how old.
These men are normally reluctant to provide
their political beliefs but can and do interrupt a politically
extreme discussion. These interruptions usually consist of the
most amazing and imaginable stream of cuss words, learned from
their drill instructor, that pauses the targeted orator in total
confusion. The bewilderment is usually shaken off when a mutual
acquaintance leans over and whispers, “He’s a Marine vet”. That
phase usually brings the simple exclamation of “oh” from the
confused, as silent understanding seeps into their mind that both
have a constitutional right to express their opinion. The
difference is that a Marine has committed himself, body and soul,
to fighting in combat for that right.
I suspect that these are the types of men who
gathered last night for the Washington County Marine Corps League
meeting in Pennsylvania. Men who serviced their country and
returned home to work and raise their families, never expecting
anything except the acknowledgement that they did their job.
These men naturally seek each other through the
local Marine Corps League because they understand what it means to
be a Marine. Much of the that meaning is captured and described
simply yet, powerfully in the US Marine Corps motto, Semper
Fidelis - Always Faithful.
Last night, in Houston, Pennsylvania, a small
group of Marines gathered to honor one of their own, LCpl. Justin
Sharratt. They presented him with a Marine Corps league medal, a
simple award, nothing as prestigious or as official as a
Department of Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, but a medal
presented by Marines to a Marine for his bravery and the presence
of mind he demonstrated in combat. The significance of this event,
well founded in Marine Corps lore, is that the best and highest
praise always comes from your fellow Marines, something Mr. Murtha
could not and did not obtain with his award.
Congratulations to LCpl Justin Sharrett and to
the members of the Washington County Marine Corps League. I offer
my praise, admiration and salute.
Semper Fidelis, Marines
LtCol USMC Ret.
Defend Our Marines
10 April 2009
Photos from the event: