State of the NCO Corps June 2013
Well, it’s time to head for the booth in the back in the corner in the dark of my local NCO club, where that blinding flash near the door is just the sun reflecting off some old NCO‘s legs (In hindsight, allowing shorts with the new All-Weather Work Uniform may have had some unforeseen consequences) and sipping a little fizzy drink garnished with an umbrella can get surprisingly little in the way of snarky comments, especially if that drink is in the hands of a 131-G (EOD Specialist) who absent mindedly brought their work to the club with them.
One of the most common questions I get that isn’t able to be answered by pointing out the relevant passage in The Book is: “I want to help out with relief efforts for (insert recent Bad Situation or natural disaster), but I got told the best thing I can do is just send money. Is there anything else I can do?”
The truth is the big, organized efforts are, well … ORGANIZED. They have logistics and distribution plans, and the ability to buy relief supplies beyond their current stockpiles, and get them to the folks who need them - all they need is the funds to do it. As we say around where I live, this ain’t their first rodeo, and they really can probably do a better job if you just send money.
But, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else you can do. If the situation you want to help with is local, odds are they’re not going to turn down another pair of willing hands. If it’s not local, there may be a local office of whatever relief agency you’d like to support that can use a few hours of volunteer support - never hurts to ask. And, if you’re in the same boat as a lot of other folks, where money is in much shorter supply than time and energy, find some way to help raise money. You may not be able to raise much, but, as any horribly bad amateur plumber like me can tell you, a lot of little drops in the bucket end up filling the whole pail up in time. Do your research, find an organization that you feel will make the best use of whatever funds you might be able to raise, and come up with a Plan.
And, please remember: community service need not be something big or labor intensive. You don’t have to support a major cause or a relief effort. Just giving someone who needs it a hand now and then meets the spirit of the SFMC’s involvement in community service.
You may recall that back in March, the SFMC was asked to turn its considerable energy and creativity to a special month long March for the Disabled campaign, participation in which would count towards the annual Commandant’s Campaign for 2013 (to be awarded in 2014). I wish I had some numbers to report to you, but the truth is that, knowing that FORCECOM is up to her … neck … in alligators right now, busier than the proverbial one armed paper hanger, etc, etc, etc, we haven’t had time to go over the appropriate reports together. But, I do know that some units out there have kept up with activities benefiting the disabled even after March was past, and, to be honest, that was what I was hoping for. I hope to have some real data for you very soon, Thanks a thousand times over for your efforts.
Another question that I get asked a fair amount by my fellow NCOs is how they can get their local group more involved in doing things for fun, and my answer is generally “lead by example”. Community service is easy - identify a problem or a cause you want to support, roll up your sleeves, and get to work. “Fun” is a lot more subjective, and you’re going to have to get to know your fellow Marines a little better, and maybe be willing to try something new once in a while to support someone else’s idea of “fun”. And, who knows? You might even have a good time after all! Never forget: a big component of the “retention” part of “recruiting and retention” is that people will keep coming back to a group that they think is fun.
As a kind of peek ahead, the General Staff will shortly be digging into the process of choosing this year’s annual Honor Award winners, and judging by some of the names that have been announced as winners of their brigade’s Valor awards, the field will be even better than last year’s outstanding group. Every year, it seems like the decision on the Honor awards gets tougher and tougher, with so many outstanding Marines being represented by so many well written nominations. But, I’m not complaining - I’m BRAGGING! Bravo Zulu, Marines, each and every one of you for outstanding efforts every year!
As always, the SFMC General Staff needs your input and ideas in order to properly do our jobs. Don’t hesitate to contact the appropriate GS member with your questions, comments and ideas. You can find all the email addresses at the SFMC website, and, of course, we monitor the Corps-l list, and the SFMC Facebook group.
Now it’s time for Top’s History Lesson. I sometimes remark that the hardest thing about being Sergeant Major of the STARFLEET Marines is the feeling of a lot of legendary figures looking over my shoulders - NCOs from the past and present that remind me of the legacy we honor. I’ve talked about a lot of them in this space over the years, but there’s one I’ve been holding back on because I figured that EVERYBODY knew about him. I mean, how could you call yourself a “Marine” and not know about Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone? But, it turns out that a fair number of people know the name, but they don’t know much about the man himself.
Born in 1916, he dropped out of school at the age of 15, and in 1936, he joined the US Army, and was stationed in the Philippines, where he became a champion boxer, and gained the nickname that would follow him the rest of his life: “Manila John”. After his 3 year hitch in the Army was up, he drove truck for a while in Maryland, but … what he really wanted to do was get back to Manila. He decided that the easiest and fastest way to do that was join up again in 1940 … with the Marines. It didn’t work out quite the way he had planned.
After serving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for a while after basic and advanced training, then Sergeant Basilone was transferred back to the Pacific - as part of the forces involved in taking and holding the island of Guadalcanal. In October of 1942, he was in charge of two heavy machinegun sections helping defend Henderson Field when 3,000 enemy soldiers tried to take it back, and there “Manila John” entered Marine legend. In the words of one eyewitness “ Basilone had a machine gun on the go for three days and nights without sleep, rest, or food. He was in a good emplacement, and causing the Japanese lots of trouble, not only firing his machine gun, but also using his pistol.” When his guns ran low on ammunition, he braved enemy fire to keep himself and the two remaining members of his command supplied. The citation for the Medal of Honor he received noted that his actions contributed “in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment.”
Basilone was brought back to the States, to a hero’s welcome. He embarked on a successful War Bonds tour and became a celebrity. The Corps offered him a commission, which he turned down. They offered him an instructor’s position, which he turned down. They offered him pretty much anything he wanted, but what he REALLY wanted was to return to combat. He is quoted as having said “ I ain’t no officer. I ain’t no museum piece and I belong back with my outfit.“ Finally, his request was approved and he was assigned to a new unit, and sent to Camp Pendleton to train with them. There, by lucky chance he made the acquaintance of another Marine NCO : Sergeant Lena Mae Riggi of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. The two were married in July of 1944. Just before he was shipped out, he was promoted to Gunnery Sergeant.
In February of 1945, Basilone was part of the invasion of Iwo Jima. Heavy enemy defensive fire had his Marines pinned down on the beach, and once again, “Manila John” took matters into his own hands. He slipped past the enemy lines despite the heavy fire, and with grenades and satchel charges, he single handedly destroyed the blockhouse that had his men pinned down. His Marines were working their way up the slopes when he came upon a friendly tank that was trapped in a minefield and drawing a LOT of unfriendly attention. Heedless of his own danger, he ground guided the tank to safety near the edge of an airfield, and there, his luck ran out. GSGT John Basilone died as a direct result of enemy fire on February 19,1945. The citation for his Navy Cross (the second highest award for bravery the Marines could issue) noted that “Gunnery Sergeant Basilone, by his intrepid initiative, outstanding skill, and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of the fanatic opposition, contributed materially to the advance of his company during the early critical period of the assault, and his unwavering devotion to duty throughout the bitter conflict was an inspiration to his comrades.” He was the only enlisted Marine in WW2 to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. After the war, his remains were interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Lena Mae Basilone never remarried. She quietly passed away in 1999 after a life of service to various causes and was buried at Riverside National Cemetery. She had been offered the honor of being buried at Arlington, but she refused because “she didn’t want to cause trouble for anyone.”
After his death, John Basilone was honored in many ways, both by the Navy and Marines, and by various civilian groups. In 1949, Lena christened a US Navy destroyer named for him, and the list of various military and civilian facilities, roads, statues, parades, etc goes on and on. In 2005, the US Postal Service issued a set of four stamps honoring US Marine Corps heroes. The four chosen were names that ring through USMC history: Lejeune, Puller, Daly, and Basilone.
And that brings me to a curious postscript. You see, a website that had been created to push the idea of a stamp honoring Basilone didn’t quietly fade away after their job was done. Instead, they worked with the USMC to establish the Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Award for Courage and Commitment in 2004. The award is not only to honor its namesake’s memory but also ”to recognize the actions of today’s Marines who uphold the ultimate attributes of what it means to be a United States Marine.” Only Marine NCOs are eligible for this award, after being nominated by senior NCOs throughout the Corps. The nominations are then presented to the Sergeant Major of the Corps, who recommends a winner from the nominations presented. Beginning in 2007, the award also comes with a scholarship.
By all accounts, John and Lena Basilone had wanted to raise a large family, like the ones they grew up in. In a way, the award bearing John’s name means that dream didn’t die on Iwo Jima. I am sure that BOTH of these Marine NCOs would be happy to know that their legacy lives on, and it is one of “Service before Self” and “Excellence in Everything We Do”.
MGSGT Jerome A. “ Gunny Hawk” Stoddard
Sergeant Major of the Starfleet Marines