Sunday, March 29, 2009

By Way of Introduction

Whenever I meet new people I like to tell them the story of how I met my buddy Roger's wife Wanda.

There are a number of reasons for this. Mostly, it's a stinkin' funny story. But it also gets a few things about me out there which saves time as well as lets people know that I'm not hung up on a lot of things.

At the time Roger and I were stationed together with 3rd Recon Battalion in Okinawa. Roger and I had struck up a friendship that we still maintain today. As a matter of fact, he and I are in the picture above with fixed bayonets.

One day, during martial arts training, Roger and I were trading hip throws when he suggested that we all go out to dinner that night so he could introduce me to Wanda. She and I both grew up in Hawaii so he was sure we would hit it off.

Since Wanda had heard there was a local boy around she was naturally excited to meet someone from home. The usual battery of questions ensued. Since we had the islands in common these questions went something like this:

"Do your parents still live in Hawaii?" Wanda asked animatedly.

"No, not anymore."

Her enthusiasm as yet undiminished, she pressed on, "Oh, what does your father do now?"

"Well he passed away a few years ago so he's not doing a whole lot." This was true. It's not something that keeps me up at night. He had led a good, adventurous life with no regrets. Works for me.

"Oh Michael! I'm so sorry to hear that." Wanda turned in the passenger seat
in the front of the van and gave me a sympathetic look. At the time I was not yet America's 1stSgt, so this was forgivable.

Unbowed, Wanda immediately brightened up moving on to a subject less depressing as death.

"So where does your mother live then?"

"She has Alzheimer's and lives in a nursing home in California." This was also true. Alzheimer's sucks and wishing death on someone is less cruel than wishing them this disease. But once again, it was a fact of my life and not something I spent a lot of time bemoaning.

"Oh my gosh! Michael that's so sad. I'm sorry." Wanda was no quitter though. Gamely she moved on to better and brighter topics.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?" She beamed hopefully.

It is a well known fact by friends of mine that I am an only child. Some would even venture that this fact alone could explain any number of things about my character. People closer to me would say those friends don't have much of an imagination. Me? I have plenty of imagination.

"My brother was killed last year in a drunk driving accident." Sighing, I slumped my shoulders in artificial melancholy.

"OH MY GOD MICHAEL, I AM SOOOOOOOOOO SORRY!"

At that point poor Wanda was truly grieving on my behalf. She also felt utterly sick that she had dredged up what were no doubt feelings of great loss from the inky black mire of my broken heart.

Roger, who knew my true sibling status, valiantly tried to keep the the van in between the lines on the road as he endured what can only be described as a grand mal seizure attempting to stifle his laughter.

Dispirited and sorrowful, Wanda caught her husband's full body spasms on the edge of her field of vision. Realization crept into her eyes as she turned to face my crooked smile.

"YOU ARE SUCH A JERK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Wanda totally digs me.

Picture credits

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From the desk of America's First Sergeant,

"...generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas so that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security." from General John A.Lejeune's Marine Corps Birthday message.
If we do one thing right in the Marine Corps, it is maintaining a sense of our own history, traditions, and culture. This just may be the real reason why we are successful at what we do.
Last month at the end of our Mojave Viper training we got meet some Marines and Sailors who've grown somewhat gray since their 3/3 days back in the late 1960s. The "Geezer Platoon" as they dubbed themselves consisted of a dozen or so vets representing ranks from PFC all the way to Captain.

During our Warrior's Night dinner Marines of both generations mingled and swapped stories about Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. No historical record can verify the truth of these tales, and nobody cares either. The experience for our young Marines seeing live and in color where they come from was invaluable. From day one young Marines are inundated with their Corps' history and accounts of famous battles fought with valor by Marines that have gone before, but to reach out and touch that history was something entirely different for all of us.

For me the experience was particularly special. The night before the dinner, the battalion SgtMaj and I had the privilege of spending the evening with four of the "Geezer Platoon" ringleaders including Skip Wray, Ron Consalvo, Dan Ryan, and the infamous Doc Hoppy, Vietnam era Corpsman and the life force behind ThirdMarines.net.

It was a family reunion. Bad jokes, one liners, no $#!& stories, and no one's mother was off limits. You would have thought they were still with the battalion. Probably because they still are.

Doc showed us their website and the HUGE database they operate. By way of demonstration Doc Hoppy typed my last name in a search function and a list of Burkes flashed up on the screen. Looking closely at one of the names I blurted, "Hey! That's my dad's name!"

1stSgt Robert W. Burke and Capt Bill McAdam H&S Co,3/3, Vietnam 1968-69.

My father had been in the Corps for 33 years and had passed away in 1998. Further research on the Geezer database confirmed my dad had been the Company 1stSgt for Lima, Kilo, and H&S, some of the same companies I had been 1stSgt of. Very Cool. Generations collide. Judge Bill McAdam and 1stSgt Michael S. Burke H&S Co 3/3, Mojave Viper Training, 2009

The next day I met Judge Bill McAdam, who had been Company Commander of H&S in Vietnam. My father had been his 1stSgt and was just full of tales about his 1stSgt Burke. My Battalion Commander kept insisting that the Judge was describing his 1stSgt. What a surreal experience.

Before dinner we held a battalion formation. After awards and promotions we recognized the 3/3 Vets with what we call a plank owner's certificate. Usually we present one of these to our Marines and Sailors that are detaching or leaving the service. On the certificate it reads that the individual leaving the unit "...has joined the ranks of men who have served and sacrificed on the beaches of the South Pacific, in the jungles of Vietnam, the mountains of Afghanistan, and the sands of Kuwait and Iraq. The citizens of our Republic live in safety and freedom because you answered the call to duty and stood vigilantly at the gates. Whatever your future holds, whether a civilian or a Marine, you will forever be a member of the Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment...America's Battalion. Fortes Fortuna Juvat." Fortune favors the brave.

Judge McAdam spoke to the Battalion thanking us for allowing the "Geezer Platoon" to visit and participate in Warrior's Night. He spoke briefly about what an honor it was to be with us, the memories it stirred, and the legacy that we are all a part of, then...

"You're part of the finest fighting force in the world." he said as his voice steadily grew louder. "And though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you should fear no evil. Because you're the meanest mother#%&@*$ in the valley!"

The roar of thirteen hundred Marines thundered into the heavens and all the pagan gods of war wet their pants.

Later Judge McAdam would put his arm around my shoulders and ask with a smile, "Any of that sound familiar?"

My father must have talked about being the "meanest mutha' in the valley" all my young life. It was about as close to a bible study you would ever get out of my old man. To hear his words coming from someone else nearly blew me out of my saddle. I remember thinking to myself, "My dad told him that. Wow."

Warrior's Night carried on with Officers and Staff Non- Commissioned Officers serving portions of steak and chow so gargantuan that the plates sagged under the strain. Marines young and old feasted together and you might have had a hard time telling them all apart except for the grey.

There is a saying that the more things change the more they stay the same. Oddly enough, despite the advancement in technology and changes in tactics, techniques, and procedures, the Marines of the 1960's are pretty much the same kind of guys as the Marines of 2009. One of our elder brethren even remarked, "They're just like we are!"

After dinner Doc Hoppy patted me on the back.

"You're part of the Geezer Platoon now." He raised his eyebrows in emphasis. "Don't forget, and keep in touch."

I would consider it an honor to be counted among such company. It was Marines like we had the privilege to meet on Warrior's Night that laid the foundation on which we solidly stand today. It is their good name we have inherited and carry with us as we prepare to deploy.

Our 13th Commandant said it like this;
"This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who served as "Soldiers of the Sea" since the founding of the Corps."

Wherever Marines go our rich tradition and heritage are lampposts which guide our way. In April of this year 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines will deploy to Iraq and will make more of an impact on events there than talking heads back home can ever hope to. Just as they have done for over 233 years, your Marines and Sailors will perform valiantly. They will take care of each other. They will make history. They are worthy successors of their ancestry.

With history in mind I decided to begin this blog as a way of offering a few good stories about things I may or may not of seen during my career (and as a way of keeping a few good people off my back about putting my thoughts into words).

So here you will find tales of high adventure about a few good men past and present. The ones that stand ready to do violence on your behalf.

Welcome to the camp of the Praetorians.

Semper
Fidelis,

1stSgt Michael S. Burke
Headhunting & Skullduggery Company
America's Battalion
The Meanest Muthas In The Valley