I have clear memories of the many fine individuals I worked with during my four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. When I, and others of my seniority-level, finished our (peacetime) military tour and were discharged from the Corps in 1965-66, we scattered to the four winds and embarked on other pursuits. However, we did leave behind others who remained in the Marines by reason of either (1) their still having time remaining on their obligated tour of duty, or (2) their having consciously chosen to make a career of the Marine Corps.
Me, I hopped directly from the Marine Corps into law school. To tackle that demanding course of study I deliberately put on the blinders for three years and ignored anything not directly related to my academic pursuits. Thus did I lose contact with most of my colleagues from the Corps.
As the years passed after that, as my life and my career progressed from graduate schooling to different jobs in a variety of locations, my thoughts would occasionally drift back to the men I knew and worked with in the Marines. But there was, in those days, no feasible way of learning what became of them. And then, some thirty years later, the Internet appeared on the scene. With this amazingly-powerful technology I could now track down many of the men I had known in the Corps.
Of those who had remained in the military (for whatever reason), nearly all served at least one tour of duty in that far-off land of Vietnam. Most of them came back OK, a few came back wounded.
But five of them didn’t come back. I may be years late, but I knew them well, and I’ll dedicate this message to their memory. They are (in alphabetical order):
ARQUERO, Elpidio A. Arquero was born in Hawaii of Filipino parents. He was short in stature, barrel-chested and powerfully aggressive, an ideal Marine. He was a Corporal squad leader in my platoon, and before long I had the pleasure of promoting him to the rank of Sergeant and the position of Platoon Right Guide (3rd in command). He died in action as a Staff Sergeant (E-6) on May 10, 1967, on Hill 110 in the Que Son Valley in Quang Nam province. He was 27 years old. For his extraordinary heroism on the day he died he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
BARBER, Henry E., Jr. Sergeant Barber was from San Marcos, Texas. He was a wiry and superbly-conditioned Marine who was a veteran of the crack Force Reconnaissance Company at Camp Pendleton. When I first arrived at the Fifth Marines I tried out for Force Recon and went through their punishing “JJ“ hell week, but I didn’t make the grade. Several months later I sucked up my gut and volunteered for it again. This time I came out first in the class. When I got back to Battalion HQ Sergeant Barber was the first man to seek me out to shake my hand and congratulate me. That gesture meant a lot, and I didn’t forget it. He died in action as a First Sergeant (E-8) in Quang Tri Province on October 23, 1969. He was 35.
COATES, Sterling K. Sterling Coates was a 1961 graduate of the Naval Academy, a polished and thoroughly professional career officer from Plymouth, Pennsylvania. He and I were second-lieutenant platoon commanders in the same company in the First Marines, our initial stop after completing basic training at Quantico. Sterling and his wife Janet (and their baby son) had me over for dinner one evening while we were at Camp Pendleton. He and I shared a cabin (along with four other lieutenants) aboard the USS Iwo Jima during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He died in action as a Captain in Quang Tri Province on July 22, 1967. He was 29.
MAYES, Richard L. From Sidney, Montana, he joined my platoon as a Private directly from Basic Training, and I soon promoted him to PFC. Our battalion of 1100 men spent 13 months in Okinawa together. When we returned, half of us (including myself) were either discharged from the military or transferred to other duty stations. The other half, mainly those junior in service (including Richard Mayes), were retained in the battalion, and a year later were sent back to the far east, this time directly to Vietnam. Richard Mayes died in action as a Corporal (E-4) in Quang Ngai Province on March 28, 1966. He was 20 years old. His niece wrote a beautiful memorial to him and posted it on the Internet. When I saw it I exchanged correspondence with her, and sent her a group photograph of our platoon.
WHOOLERY, Tracy L. Tracy Whoolery was from Baltimore, Maryland. Tall and erect, he was a natural military leader who loved the Marine Corps and everything about it. He was a Lance Corporal fire-team leader when I took over my first platoon, and I had the honor of promoting him first to full Corporal, and then to Squad Leader. I later transferred him to take over a troubled squad, and he straightened up that outfit promptly and professionally. He went on to spend a successful tour of duty as a Drill Instructor of recruits, one of the most demanding tasks in the Marine Corps. I could easily imagine him eventually becoming a first-rate Sergeant Major. He died in action as a Staff Sergeant (E-6) in Quang Tri Province on November 2, 1967. He was 26. For his bravery in combat he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
To many who may read this message, these may be little more than names printed on a piece of paper, or perhaps engraved on a wall somewhere. But to me they were flesh-and-blood human beings, men with whom I worked and interacted on a daily basis. The passage of time has long since blurred any distinctions based on rank. They weren’t just my colleagues, they were my friends. And they are not forgotten.
Rest in peace, Marines.
Semper Fi –