Semper Fidelis***** Lieutenant Colonel Steve
Richmond, U.S. Marine Corps
I can still see the twin grooves the heels of his jungle boots
made in the mud. Four friends were struggling to carry his body through the rain to the
landing zone in the foothills of the Que Son Mountains. His legs dragged behind the poncho
liner, while his head lolled back over the front edge, slack jawed in that peculiar
open-mouthed way that only death brings. He and the others-those for whom I wrote
condolence letters to families back home-have returned to my thoughts more frequently in
He wasn't a model Marine-certainly by today's standards. He wore braided bracelets and
necklaces of peace beads and his graffiti-decorated helmet proclaimed his involvement with
the black power activism prevalent at the time. I had seen him on more than one occasion
at informal discipline hearings-one in particular comes to mind: He had threatened an MP
at the entrance to the Freedom Hill Post Exchange compound, after that worthy had objected
to the ragged condition of his utilities and flak jacket-without duly regarding his
locked-and-loaded M16 and the two grenades hanging from the flak jacket.
He was almost illiterate, unable to comprehend the entries in
record book. In the rear, he was a real handful-and when time came to return to the bush,
he was always vocal about not wanting to go back out. Going out the last time he had been
"short," only three weeks to go, and had complained bitterly that he should of
had a rear-area job at Landing Zone Baldy for the last little bit of his tour. He probably
personified the problems that most people talk about when they are discussing the
degradation in discipline and morale so prevalent in the Marine Corps, in all of the Armed
Services, at the end of the Vietnam "experience."
Speaking in 1996 at the National Press Club, Secretary of the Navy John Dalton contrasted
the "men he had put up with" as a naval officer during the late 1960s and 1970s
with (1996's) "best military the U. S. has ever had." Echoing that refrain, a
recent well-received book about the combat history of the Marine Corps speaks slightingly
of "reluctant draftees" of the Vietnam era....in 1970, in Vietnam....
That there were significant problems existing in the Marine Corps during
Vietnam is irrefutable. But assuming that the blame for any of those problems falls on
some invidious suspect category of enlisted Marine's is absurd; the combat record of all
Marines during that conflict is NOT a matter in question. More Marines were killed and
wounded in Vietnam than in any other conflict in U. S. History. Whatever their garrison
problems, Marines fought that dirty and bloody action for more than a decade, a sacrifice
that by and large was unwelcome, and certainly unappreciated.
Although the Marine Corps made up about 10% of the forces deployed in Vietnam, one in four
names on that black granite wall In Washington under Mr. Lincoln's gaze belongs to a
Marine. Uncommon Valor persisted as a common tribute.
All of these Veterans deserve a better memory than the one presently in
vogue-and those who may be required to lead the sons and daughters of the
Vietnam generation in future combat would do well to reflect on their experience.
For now, I ask you to remember my Marine. As much as he complained, he went back out when
the time came. The night the North Vietnamese hit us, he was there. When an RPG hit his
hole, he did not cave. When his partner took a round and went down, he stood over him in
the hole and fought it out.
It wasn't a glorious death....but he died a Marine, holding his
position, facing the enemy, rifle in hand. And I don't much care what he had written on
LtCol Richmond, was an infantry officer and later a Naval Aviator. While
on active duty in Vietnam, he led a rifle platoon in the 1st Battalion, 26th
Marines and commanded L Company, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines.