Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of my departure for war. It is for me my personal “feast of Crispian.” My thoughts today, as they have been at some point in every day for 40 years, are of Vietnam and the Marines and Corpsmen with whom I had the privilege and honor of serving in that place.
Recently, I went to our local “State Store” and found a bottle of Chilean wine. At sunset tonight, I stood on my deck, alone (there is never an Army officer around when you need one) and was “silent, over Chilean wine, in a place [in Pennsylvania], thinking of those days and those men.”
In his Agincourt speech in Henry V, set on the eve of battle, Shakespeare has Harry the King tell his men:
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day!
And tonight, before Taps, I will re-read Red Reese’s moving memorial to PFC William Davis Martin, USMC, and then I will pray “God bless Gunny Winston. God continue to bless the Lucas and Zimmerman, Tews and Unfried, Phipps and Wandro, Buckner and Martin families, and especially Chip's family (2dLt Fred Andrew Hartman, Jr., USMCR, for whom my sons Frederick and Andy are named) and the families of all of our shipmates who laid down their lives on the altar of duty. God bless the Colonel’s Lady—Mrs. Griffis, who shared our beloved Joe with us for all those re-unions and could laugh with us when we laid him to rest in the hallowed hills of Arlington—where America buries its heroes—when he was late for his own funeral! God Bless Colonel Pat O’Toole and Major Bob Kerzic. God Bless our Skippers, Bob Wilson and Frank Satterfield. God Bless Mike Koch, Dick Rollins, Neil Meier, Mike Galyean, Rich Crawford, First Sergeant Lee, Gunny Elsmore, Staff Sergeant Beyer, David Thompson, Red Reese, Obie O’Brien, Darryl Levi, Bob Henson, Mike Tonkyn, “Frag” Felton, Doc Roger Teague (“Doc Love”)and all the other Marines and Corpsmen with whom I share the right to say ‘I am a Marine of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.’ God forgive me if I have forgotten to pray for any of those other men with whom I served and in whose shadow, I stand in awe. I know, merciful Father, that you will never forget them. God bless Charlie Company whenever it goes in harm’s way.
And, of course, God bless Chesty Puller.”
UPDATE: I have added links to the Medal of Honor citation (posthumous) of PFC Jimmy Phipps, the Navy Cross citation of Mike Tonkyn (my 2d Squad Leader) and PFC (later Sergeant) Samuel "Frags" Felton, and a photo of PFC Jimmy Wandro who received the Silver Star Medal(posthumously). And, yes, Wandro, Tonkyn and Felton did receive their decorations for heroic conduct on the same night--known to those of us who were there simply as "That Night." Although they were never more than 100 meters apart, each action was independent of the others. There was a dirty job to do and they did it and their nation ought to be eternally grateful. And yet more kids know Paris Hilton's name than Jimmy Phipps. (He would probably be OK with that--like most Marines, he appreciated eye candy, even if the brains were cotton candy.)
As James Mitchener's Task Force Commander asked at the end of The Bridges At Toko-ri, "Where do we find men such as these?
© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.