You’re Expendable Marine!

Mentors - Bennie Harris

"There are moments in all of our lives that are indelibly etched into our consciousness, and this was one for me."

Memorial Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on those that have fallen in service to our country and the idea of freedom and democracy.

From the early days of the Revolutionary War with Great Britain to today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, young and old alike have selflessly served, giving their all and continue to do so.

I had the pleasure of serving in the United States Marine Corps from February 1975 to August 1982, in addition to the joy of being of service to our men and women in uniform in Iraq from September 2004 until June of 2009. There was nothing harder than not seeing a service member return from a mission and hearing taps played at their memorial service. It's an indescribable pain!

In the summer of 1975 as young Private First Class with an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of 0351 (Anti-Tank), I was in what was then known as Infantry Training School "ITS" at Camp Pendleton, California. Freshly out of Boot Camp, it was an exciting time.

My father spent 22 years in the U.S. Army and I had grown up playing "Army" as many kids on Army installations did during the Viet-Nam era. We'd don of dad's combat gear, grab our guns (it was fashionable and acceptable then) and wage war against each other. I'd also read all my dad's military manuals, dine in the "Mess Hall", fire every weapon on Veteran's Day, jump from the 50ft "Jump Tower's" and go to the "Live-Fire" ranges and pick up "brass" on the weekends. The military was coursing through my veins and I might have bled "green" had I been cut.

So, as we progressed through "ITS", one of the phases had us learning patrolling and how to respond to an ambush. As if it were yesterday, I remember the instructor telling us that if ambushed, "we should immediately turn on-line towards the ambush and assault through it!" I listened attentively; after all, this sergeant was a Viet-Nam vet. When allowed to ask questions, I inquired about this process, noting that if ambushed, shouldn't we "hit the ground", determine the direction of the ambush, and then respond? I noted that we might die the other way.

I can still see this guy in my mind; he got angry, turned bright red and said; "You're expendable Marine, you're gonna die anyway!" I was stunned and remember mumbling; "I'm not expendable, I've got a family and people that love me!"

There are moments in all of our lives that are indelibly etched into our consciousness, and this was one for me.

A few short years later I was stationed in Rota, Spain and learning to walk patrol with a seasoned Gunnery Sergeant, that had seen many "kids" as he called us, not return from Viet-Nam and there were plenty more that he brought back home.

His desire was to ensure that we knew how to properly perform so that our chances of coming home alive were greater. As he and I walked the trail together, others of our unit were lying in wait to ambush us on the trail. At once, I thought that I heard something and as I turned to ask "Gunny" if he'd heard anything, he wasn't there! He'd already hit the ground and was low-crawling! Safe to say, I was glad it was a training exercise, because that was the ambush and while I was still standing there, "Gunny" had responded the way he and his "kids" responded in Nam.

Later as we were critiqued I asked "Gunny" regarding what I'd learned at "ITS" and he shared with me what worked to keep him and his Marine's alive!

This runs through my mind every Memorial Day as we celebrate our fallen men and women. I recognize that none of them were or are expendable and that their lives counted. They mattered, and they still do!

As we celebrate today, let's remember that the freedom which we're enjoying isn't really free; it's been paid for by those that responded to our Nation's call.

To my dad, uncle, grandfather and family friends that served before me, thank you!!! To those that served with me, thanks for having my back! To those serving now and those yet to serve, a heartfelt thank you!

To Henry Porter, who came back from Viet-Nam and told me the truth regarding what to really expect prior to heading off to Boot Camp, I'm forever grateful. Rest in Peace my friend.

 

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