Posts Tagged ‘Marine Corps’

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Colonel Justice Marion Chambers

In 1990, the United States Congress designated March 25th of each year as National Medal of Honor Day, which is dedicated to all Medal of Honor recipients.  And during today’s lunchtime bike ride to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), and in observance of today’s designation, I chose to stop and pay my respects at the grave of a Medal of Honor recipient named Justice M. Chambers.

Justice Marion “Jumping Joe” Chambers was born at Huntington, West Virginia, February 2, 1908.  He grew up and went to school there, completing three years at Marshall College before leaving Huntington for D.C.   He then attended George Washington University and National University, where he obtained his law degree.

In 1930, following the completion of two years enlistment in the Naval Reserve, Chambers joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a private.  He was commissioned two years later, and continued his studies toward promotion.  He was a major, attending summer camp, when Washington’s 5th Battalion was called up in 1940 to aid in the war effort.

He served with honor and distinction until a fateful day almost five years later when, on February 19, 1945, Chambers commanded the 3rd Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, in the Iwo Jima landing.  His sector was beneath high ground from which heavy enemy fire raked the whole landing beach. Capture of the high ground was considered essential to the success of the operations. It is an established fact that had it not been done, it would have constituted a most serious threat to subsequent operations.

The 3rd Battalion lost more than half its officers and nearly one-half its enlisted strength on D-Day.  But, according to the citation that would accompany his medal, it was by “fearless disregard for his own life” and leading his depleted battalion “by example rather than command” that Chambers won the key heights and anchored the right flank of the Marines’ position.

On the fourth day, directing the Marines’ first rocket barrage and exposed to the enemy’s main line of resistance, Chambers and his men fell under enemy machine-gun fire.  Chambers was hit, and his wounds were so serious that he was medically retired.  And because he had been specially commended for performance of duty in combat, he was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Chambers had been recommended for the award on April 7, 1945, following his evacuation, seriously wounded, from Iwo Jima.  However, he initially received the Navy Cross for his actions.  But upon re-examination of the original recommendation with additional evidence, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor a few years later.  Presentation of the Medal of Honor was made at the White House by President Harry S. Truman on November 1, 1950.  (Later that same day, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman across the street at Blair House. )

Chambers retired from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve January 1, 1946. After his retirement, he served as staff advisor for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Chambers was appointed in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to the post of deputy director of the Office of Emergency Planning, where he served with distinction until his retirement. He died on July 29, 1982.

The citation accompanying Chambers’ Medal of Honor reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 3d Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 to 22 February 1945. Under a furious barrage of enemy machinegun and small-arms fire from the commanding cliffs on the right, Colonedl Chambers (then Lt. Col.) landed immediately after the initial assault waves of his battalion on D-day to find the momentum of the assault threatened by heavy casualties from withering Japanese artillery, mortar rocket, machinegun, and rifle fire. Exposed to relentless hostile fire, he coolly reorganized his battle-weary men, inspiring them to heroic efforts by his own valor and leading them in an attack on the critical, impregnable high ground from which the enemy was pouring an increasing volume of fire directly onto troops ashore as well as amphibious craft in succeeding waves. Constantly in the front lines encouraging his men to push forward against the enemy’s savage resistance, Colonel Chambers led the 8-hour battle to carry the flanking ridge top and reduce the enemy’s fields of aimed fire, thus protecting the vital foothold gained. In constant defiance of hostile fire while reconnoitering the entire regimental combat team zone of action, he maintained contact with adjacent units and forwarded vital information to the regimental commander. His zealous fighting spirit undiminished despite terrific casualties and the loss of most of his key officers, he again reorganized his troops for renewed attack against the enemy’s main line of resistance and was directing the fire of the rocket platoon when he fell, critically wounded. Evacuated under heavy Japanese fire, Colonel Chambers, by forceful leadership, courage, and fortitude in the face of staggering odds, was directly instrumental in insuring the success of subsequent operations of the 5th Amphibious Corps on Iwo Jima, thereby sustaining and enhancing the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

Note:  In addition to the Medal of Honor, Silver Star Medal and Legion of Merit with Combat “V,” Col Chambers’ decorations and medals include the Purple Heart Medal with two gold stars, Presidential Unit Citation with three bronze stars, Organized Marine Corps Reserve Medal with two stars, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver star (denoting five campaigns), and the World War II Victory Medal.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps

The National Museum of the Marine Corps

For this Independence Day bike ride, I chose a destination which is both patriotic and outside of the city, as I tend to prefer on these long, holiday weekends. On this bike ride I stopped by the National Museum of the Marine Corps.  Located just over 30 miles south of D.C., at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway (MAP) in Triangle, Virginia, the museum is situated on a 135-acre site a short distance away from the main entry gate to Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The museum is a cooperative effort between the United States Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. The Foundation manages the museum operation, while the building, which was purchased privately and then donated to the Marine Corps, is under the command of Marine Corps University. The museum opened on November 10, 2006, and replaces both the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum in Quantico, Virginia, which closed in November of 2002, and the Marine Corps Historical Center in The Washington Navy Yard, which closed in July of 2005.

One of the most unique aspects of the 120,000-square-foot museum, which was designed by Curtis W. Fentress of Fentress Architects, is that the design of the building evokes the image of the marines raising the flag over Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima, as famously depicted Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer prize-winning photograph and the iconic Marine Corps War Memorial.

Inside the museum, visitors can see permanent exhibits on World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as a number of collections which include more than 60,000 uniforms, weapons, vehicles, medals, flags, aircraft, works of art and other artifacts that trace the history of the Marine Corps from when it was founded in 1775 to the present.  The museum also includes class rooms, a theater, a gift shop, a bar, a restaurant, and a laser shooting range.

The museum, which draws over a half a million visitors a year and has become one of the top tourist attractions in the state of Virginia, is open every day except Christmas, and is free to the public. But if you are unable to ride a bike to or otherwise go to the museum in person, you can still experience the entire museum virtually from your computer or other streaming device. You can tour the exhibits virtually with high definition panoramas, zoom in on treasured artifacts, watch videos created specifically for the museum, and listen to docents recount Marine Corps history. 

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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National Medal of Honor Day

Today is National Medal of Honor Day. Designated by the United States Congress in 1990, it is observed annually on March 25th, and is dedicated to all recipients of this country’s highest military honor. The Medal of Honor, occasionally referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, is awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty, and is awarded to U.S. military personnel only. Awarded by the President in the name of the U.S. Congress, there are three versions of the medal, one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force.  Members of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.

In recognition of today’s designation, I rode to Arlington National Cemetery on this lunchtime bike ride to visit the gravesite of not only one of the most famous recipients of the Medal of Honor, but also one of the most decorated combat soldiers in American history – U.S. Army First Lieutenant Audie Murphy.

Audie Leon Murphy was born was born on June 20, 1925, the seventh of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy and his wife Josie Bell Killian, a sharecropper family in Kingston, Texas. After his father deserted the family when Murphy was in the fifth grade, he dropped out of school and got a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support the family. He also hunted small game to help feed them, which caused him to become very proficient with a rifle. When Murphy was 16 years old, his mother passed away, and he was forced to watch as his brothers and sisters were doled out to an orphanage or to relatives.

Murphy had always wanted to be in the military, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, he tried to enlist. However, the military turned him down for being underage. Eventually his sister provided an affidavit falsifying when he was born. He applied to the Marine Corps, but was told that at 5’-5” tall he was too short, and underweight as well, weighing in at only 110 pounds.  He was just too small.   However, Murphy was finally accepted by the Army at the end of June in 1942.

Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945. He then led a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. He was only 19 years old at the time. By the time the war came to an end, Murphy had gone on to become America’s most-decorated soldier, earning an unparalleled 28 medals. In fact, he received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as medals for heroism from both France and Belgium. Murphy had been wounded three times during the war, yet, in May 1945, when victory was declared in Europe, he had still not reached his 21st birthday.

Murphy returned to a hero’s welcome in the United States, with parades, banquets, and speeches. He was then persuaded by actor James Cagney to embark on an acting career. Murphy arrived in Hollywood with, by his own account, no talent.  Nevertheless, he went on to make more than 40 films. He also published a novel of his wartime memoirs, entitled To Hell and Back, and went on to portray himself in the 1955 movie version of the book.  Honored in civilian life like he was in the military, Murphy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After eventually retiring from acting, he began a career in private business. But the venture was unsuccessful, and in 1968 he was forced into bankruptcy. A few years later, Murphy died in a private plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia on May 28, 1971, at the age of 46.

Audie Murphy was buried with full military honors in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery, just across Memorial Drive west of the Memorial Amphitheater. A flagstone walkway has been constructed to accommodate the large number of people who stop to pay their respects to this hero. At the end of a row of graves, his tomb is marked by a simple, white, government-issue tombstone, which lists only a few of his many military decorations.  Also, the headstones of Medal of Honor recipients buried at Arlington National are normally decorated in gold leaf.  But at Murphy’s request, his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier.  The stone is considered by some to be the same as he was considered by the Marine Corps, too small.

Arlington National Cemetery is also the final resting place of 407 other Medal of Honor recipients, which includes the Medals of Honor awarded to the World War I Unknown, World War II Unknown, Korean War Unknown and Vietnam War Unknown buried at The Tomb of the Unknowns. The Vietnam War unknown was disinterred in 1998 and identified as Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie, but the medal remains at Arlington National. The last Medal of Honor recipient to be buried at Arlington National was Army Lieutenant Colonel Don C. Faith, who died during the Korean War. His remains were not recovered until 2012, and he was interred at the cemetery April 17, 2013.

So on this National Medal of Honor Day, take a moment to think about the 3,497 military members who have received the award.  And if you run into any of the 78 recipients of the award who are currently alive, be sure to thank them.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

On this ride Julius and I went to one of D.C.’s “major” memorials, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Located in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, just south of The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall (MAP), the memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean military forces surprised the South Korean army, and the small U.S. force stationed in the country, and quickly headed toward the capital city of Seoul. The U.S. responded by pushing a resolution through the United Nations Security Council calling for military assistance to South Korea. The Soviet Union was not present to veto the action as it was boycotting the Security Council at the time. With this resolution in hand, President Harry Truman rapidly dispatched U.S. land, air, and sea forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.” The U.S. intervention turned the tide, and U.S. and South Korean forces marched into North Korea. This action, however, prompted the massive intervention of communist Chinese forces in late 1950. The war in Korea subsequently bogged down into a bloody stalemate. On July 27, 1953, the U.S. and North Korea signed a cease-fire that ended the conflict. The cease-fire agreement also resulted in the continued division of North and South Korea at just about the same geographical point as before the conflict.

The Korean War was the first “hot” war of the Cold War. Korea was the first “limited war,” one in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. For the U.S. government, such an approach was the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching finite American resources too thinly around the globe. It proved to be a frustrating experience for the American people, who were used to the kind of total victory that had been achieved in World War II. The public found the concept of limited war difficult to understand or support and the Korean War never really gained popular support.

The war was one of the most hard-fought in American history. During its relatively short duration, 54,246 Americans died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action or lost or buried at sea. An additional 103,284 Americans were wounded during the conflict.  An estimated 2.5 million civilians were also killed or wounded.

The main portion of the memorial honoring these men and women is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues, which represent an ethnic cross section of America. Each statue is larger than life-size, measuring between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall, and weighing nearly half a ton. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea.

The main reflection wall along the south side of the triangle is 164 feet long, 8 inches thick; and made from more than 100 tons of highly polished “Academy Black” granite. More than 2,500 photographic, archival images depicting soldiers, equipment and people involved in the war are sandblasted onto the wall. When the statues are reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. To the north of the statues is a path, forming another side of the triangle. Alongside the path, forming the second side of the triangle is the United Nations Wall, a low wall listing the 22 members of the United Nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean War effort.  The third side of the triangle, facing towards The Lincoln Memorial, is open.

The memorial’s circle contains the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool 30 feet in diameter lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees with benches. The trees are shaped to create a barrel effect, which allows the sun to reflect on the pool. Inscriptions list the numbers killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war, and a nearby plaque is inscribed: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Additionally, next to the information about the American soldiers is information about the United Nations troops.

The meaning of the memorial is perhaps most captured by a message embedded in one of its granite walls, which bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free.”

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