We would like to convey our belated birthday wishes to the United States Marine Corps on its 241st year of service to the American republic. Marines have served our country with uncommon courage and less common valor. The Corps has been shaped by hard individuals, such as Chesty Puller and others who have spoken with Spartan like concision. In a frozen landscape in 1950, Puller was surrounded and outnumbered by Chinese forces at the Battle of Choisin Reservoir. Puller merely remarked, “We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem.” By such innumerable actions on the part of thousands of Marines, the Corps has helped to establish and define the quintessential spirit of our military forces. Even those whom we might suppose would hold a low view of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are awed by the character of the forces we are able to marshal in the field of battle.
Recently, a French ISAF soldier serving in Afghanistan alongside American soldiers and Marines wrote an op-ed entitled “A Nos Frères D’Armes Américains,” which translates as, “Our American Brothers in Arms.” The French soldier described the American soldier’s physique as “Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine- they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them – we are wimps, even the strongest of us – and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.” This soldier continued his description as follows: “And they are impressive warriors! We have not come across bad ones, as strange as it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us every day with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark – only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered – everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump. Here we discover America as it is often depicted: their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley.” And of their performance in combat the allied soldier writes, “And combat? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all – always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks: they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the enemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting: they just charge!”
We are fortunate to be so represented in contests so critical to our security. Though not all 22 million living veterans have served in combat operations, we thank each of them today for their sacrifice, their service, and the inspiring example they provide to Americans living and not yet born. I conclude with a poem by Sgt. Joshua Helterbran of the 224th Engineer Battalion entitled Final Inspection, Part I.
The Soldier stood and faced God
Which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass.
“Step forward now, you Soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My Church have you been true?”
The Soldier squared his shoulders and
said, “No, Lord, I guess I ain’t
Because those of us who carry guns
Can’t always be a saint.
I’ve had to work most Sundays
And at times my talk was tough,
And sometimes I’ve been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.
But, I never took a penny
That wasn’t mine to keep…
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills got just too steep,
And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear,
And sometimes, God forgive me,
I’ve wept unmanly tears.
I know I don’t deserve a place
Among the people here,
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fears.
If you’ve a place for me here, Lord,
It needn’t be so grand,
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don’t, I’ll understand.”
There was a silence all around the throne
Where the saints had often trod
As the Soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God,
“Step forward now, you Soldier,
You’ve borne your burdens well,
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in Hell.”
Thank you to all who served, all who’ve given, and all who continue to do so on behalf of a grateful country.