CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Each year, Marines pay respects to the men and women who have done their part to build up the Corps’ illustrious reputation with events like the Birthday Ball celebration, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and more. The reverence shows Marines are different, as they fiercely honor their history and forbearers.
This year, U.S. Marines and Sailors with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, the ground combat element of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, hosted a ceremony honoring members of their regiment at the Camp Horno Memorial Garden aboard Camp Pendleton, who gave their lives during the Vietnam War. During the ceremony, plaques bearing the names of the 561 fallen were dedicated in their honor. The ceremony served to give a sense of finality to the veterans who have been living the stories from Vietnam since they returned years ago.
In Vietnam, the Marines of 2/1 seldom had time to mourn their lost comrades, according to Brig Gen. (Ret.) Gene Deegan, a former commander of “Foxtrot” Company— which received the heaviest casualties during the era. Deegan explained how once the [medical evacuation] helicopters had come and gone, troops pushed forward and didn’t get to reflect on their losses.
For the veterans, this ceremony served as closure for wounds opened more than 50 years ago in some of the bloodiest fighting Marines have seen since the creation of the Corps. They laughed together, recounting stories of handfuls of good days during rough months. They also cried together, remembering the names and faces of men faithful enough to give everything for the Corps.
“We are here to celebrate the lives of our brothers in arms,” said Paul Mangan, a former 2/1 Marine and President of the Vietnam Veterans of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines Association. “But let us not mourn that such men died, but rejoice that such men lived.”
The men of 2/1 bearing the title “Marine” today want nothing more than to measure up to the hallowed lineage of those before them. Marines like Lt. Col. Jonathan Smith, 2/1’s current battalion commander, whose father was freed from a Combat Base at Khe Sahn, Vietnam during Operation Pegasus in April 1968 by the some of the same men in the crowd before him. Without the action of these men, Smith may not have been born at all, and BLT 2/1 might not have a leader with such a strong connection to the history of their unit.
“This dedication comes at a time when Battalion Landing Team 2/1 prepares to deploy as the ground combat element for the 13th Expeditionary Unit under eerily similar circumstances,” Smith said. “The legacy that you and those that lost their lives developed is ours to maintain. I’m here to assure you that we intend to keep your honor clean.”
The Marines and Sailors are reminded of their legacy daily, according to Smith. Through the Battalion’s moniker “The Professionals”— earned by men for whom war was a profession— their call sign “Gunsmoke,”—earned for always firing on their enemy whenever possible— and the operating concept that gave them the name “Ghost Battalion”— earned by inserting and extracting Marines quickly via helicopter with shocking success.
“This memorial will serve to further educate and connect the Marines and Sailors of 2/1 to its legacy,” said Smith. “These plaques will stand as a timeless reminder to all Professionals who pass that they must measure up in mind, body and spirit every day.”
Though Veterans Day is only one day, the Marines of 2/1 and Marine Corps-wide remember those who paved the way for them. They remember so that they may build a legacy for Marines yet to come to a Corps as faithful as it always has been.