Today is the 238th anniversary of the formation of the United States Marine Corps. Around the world, Marines will slice a cake with an officer’s Mameluke Sword and sing the Marine Corps Hymn. It is a tradition that celebrates the pride and honor of being a member of one of the most effective military fighting organizations in the history of humankind.
|Northern I Corps, Khe Sahn, Vietnam|
When that song is sung by some of the toughest men you might ever chance to meet, they sing it gruffly and off-key but with immense pride. When I hear it again and again on this day each year, November 10, I can still smell the always-leaking hydraulic fluid of an H-46 helicopter, the cosmoline of a freshly issued rifle, and even the unique odor that accompanies a half-dozen men as they rush up the back ramp after having been on patrol in the bush for a week. It is the smell of the jungle, not men. I can hear the chaos of the radio in my ears as men on the ground, rescue choppers, fighter support, and air traffic control - all on the same frequency - coordinate the pickup of a reconnaissance team in trouble or a wounded Marine in a gunfight. I can remember clearly the smell of burning sandalwood, the fuel of choice for heating and cooking throughout the country, and the rancid pervasiveness of the fish sauce they put on nearly everything they ate - noucnam.
The "Rock Pile", Northern I Corps, Vietnam
My time in Vietnam was over 45 years ago and while the sensations and images that work their way out of the back recesses of my mind each year are still fresh, the actual memory of the experiences that caused them are, thankfully, no longer as tack sharp as they once were. While normally ignoring the occasional emotional ripples that might catch me by surprise during the rest of the year, on this day I quietly allow them, as many will, in honor of our comrades in arms who shared with us the unique fears and strange exhilarations of war.
Semper Fi, Marines, and Happy Birthday.