This is a website about Marine Recon. It is also a website about all service people and the qualities that are experienced and learned while in military service.
There is perhaps no quality more highly honored than selflessness. Almost all military decorations are awards for selflessness. We combat veterans have witnessed acts of selflessness on a constant basis.
Almost all people, military or not, have heard the stories. Jumping on a live enemy hand grenade to save the lives of those around him. Laying suppressing fire while exposing himself to heavy enemy fire so that his teammates could escape. Running out under withering enemy fire to aid a severely wounded teammate.
Today we are going to hear about selflessness from Floyd Nagler, who served with 3rd Recon Battalion in the Vietnam war. This interview was conducted by me in May of 2022. The full interview will be coming out shortly.
Almost all Vietnam vets stood in the shadow of WWII. Floyd is no exception. So many Nam vets had fathers or uncles who fought or died fighting in the Pacific or on the European fronts. Those soldiers and Marines cast a long shadow, but it was not only those combat veterans who were caught up in the vast sweep of history occurring between 1935 and 1945.
Floyd’s mother was a survivor of the Holocaust. Her life was saved by allied troops liberating the camp she was in, as the war was winding down. Like many Holocaust survivors she was transported to the United States, taken into a camp where she and others were nursed back to health, and taught both English and job skills.
Floyd’s father was a conscientious objector who had volunteered for many causes during the war and was a volunteer in the same camp as Floyd’s mother. Here is a short clip of Floyd talking about his experience of selflessness in combat, and of how that experience both guided and strengthened his life after combat.
“The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of each team member to go a little further, endure a little longer, and look a little closer to see how he or she can add to the effort.” Duane France
I had caught an early morning CH-46 at Danang Airfield. It was a gorgeous June morning, clear, sunny, hot but not boiling. Perhaps it was the proximity to the ocean and the fact that I had spent the last two days at China Beach eating hamburgers, drinking beer and listening to salty-assed Marines lamenting about returning to their units in the bush and how much time they had left on this rotation, and I was loving it.
When I did speak, partake in the conversation, it occurred only because I was asked something by one if these old heads. Most often it was “How the Hell did you get an in-country R&R, when your ass has only been here for 2minutes, man? Who do you know?”
I don’t remember, but the ‘46 may have put down for quick second in Phu Bai Combat Base and then immediately continued unto its, and my destination, Dong Ha Combat Base.
When I got off the chopper, I saw my Team sitting about 50 yards away, on the tarmac, fully geared up and painted. I rushed over to them and came face to face with the answer to the China Beach question. Herman P. Vallalpando, Staff Sergeant, Team Leader, Team 4-2, 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company…and for everyone in the know, The Man...
I asked excitedly what was happening and where were we going, and he told me that a Huey Gunship had been shot down Northeast of Con Thien, and the Pilots had managed to get out and away before NVA soldiers got them. They were rescued by a ‘46 Crew and returned to Dong Ha.
4-2 had been assigned to lead a patrol that was to be accompanied by Engineers from the 3rd Engineer Bn to locate the downed craft and set up a defensive perimeter, so the Engineers could determine the downed aircraft’s fate. It was loaded with mini-guns, ammunition and rockets. Things we definitely did not want the NVA to get their hands on.
As I was looking around making eye contact with my Teammates and acknowledging them with smiles and head nods, I heard the rest of what SSgt Val was saying. “You aren’t going. We are going, and you’re going back to the hootch and taking it easy. See, we even have a Dog and Dog Handler to be in the Point element.”
I was trying to keep my response somewhat under my breath, but my straightened posture and lack of smile probably gave it away. My demeanor stated there was no way I wasn’t going, and no way a Dog was taking my place, as the eyes, ears, nose and Point of 4-2…but audibly I eased in respectfully with, “it will only take a few minutes to hitch a ride to the Company area” (my gear had been cleaned, tested and made ready to go, before I left for China Beach). From the sound of what “WE” were expecting to get into, I didn’t need to get any c-rations/chow, because the intent was to get in, make an assessment, and either call in a CH-53 with a sky-hook crane to lift it out if it were serviceable, or blow it in-place if it wasn’t.
I distinctly heard him say again, this time with a softer tone, “You’re not going.” Before he even cleared the “ing” in going, I again said “I’ll be right back.” He responded “listen you just got off a much-deserved R&R, you’ve been working hard and doing good things, that’s why I sent you! You don’t have to go.”
I started backing away scanning the area for a ride to the Company Area, and what I did wasn’t intended to be disrespectful, I loved SSgt Vallalpando. Looking him straight in the eyes for a quick moment, I softly affirmed “All I know is, I’m Going.”
When the lead chopper dropped down into the LZ, I was first off as usual. We deplaned, formed a defensive perimeter, and inhaled hot near-overwhelming JP4 fumes from the departing chopper. After a brief moment of cleaner, hot, near-stifling air, the second ‘46 came in and the 18 or so Engineers deplaned into the center of the perimeter, with A LOT of gear.
Due to the fact that the Huey had been down for several hours, there was no doubt that everyone in the 324-B Division NVA, anyone in the DMZ, or anyone near Con Thien, knew of the downed Huey and probably it’s whereabouts. Our insertion “airshow” pin-pointed it for the world, as did all of these guys in the LZ. It was unbelievable in the “snoop and poop” mindset of my day.
Val gave the word for me to move out, down from the LZ/knoll we were on, into a depression and then to work my way as quickly as I could to the top of a little tree covered knoll that was facing us, less than 100 meters away. He told me to check it out and then send our M79 gunner and the dog Team back so then they all could move forward to some shade and cover.
As I rounded up the Dog Team and my teammate Dennis Christie, I looked back again in disbelief at all the people, gear and ordinance, I was glad to get going, off that bald knoll, that had some elephant grass but not much else in the way of cover. The grass got taller and thicker as we, the Point element (the Dog and Handler ahead of me) worked our way down into the ravine.
When we got to the bottom of the ravine, the heat and the thick-heavy grass had overcome the dog and he was lying on his side in the hot sun panting very hard. We couldn’t stop moving exposed as we were, so I asked the Handler to watch his dog closely, which Dog Handlers always did, and to whistle lightly if and when the dog alerted, and then I pushed on past them and started breaking brush up the hill. Sweaty, cut up by the grass and super hot, I finally made it to the top.
Just as I slowly entered the tree line, and as I scanned the area in front of me, I heard this melodious sound, and I thought it was some exotic bird. Fortunately I had my trusty M-14 at the ready, because that melodious sound was emitted by an advancing NVA soldier, and what he was saying was “Marine!”
I opened fire, he went down, and the treeline exploded, lit up, every tree branch splintering around my head. Falling forward to the ground and into a small depression, I was still firing, because to my immediate right there was another soldier, and I could then hear shouting of other voices on both my right and left forward, where the two dead soldiers now lay. Their team was moving on-line, and was trying to get to the crest of the hill in an attempt to flank us and catch us out in the open.
A lot of things happened quickly. I was out of my pack and harness in an attempt to really hug the ground. I pulled my grenades off the straps and placed them on the ground in front of me. As I emptied a magazine into the treeline, I replaced it and put another in front of me so I could get to it quickly. I could hear the Point element of my Team behind me scurrying back up to the LZ, and I knew that’s what they had to do. I suppressed the urge to call out, because I didn’t feel I wanted to yell out to them at that minute, with the enemy closing in on my position.
The NVA continued to try and crest the hill, and I continued firing, which was an indication to SSgt Val and the Team that I was still alive. Things got very quiet around me, and the smell of blood and guts mixed with the heat was sobering. The truth was I thought I was not going to make it. I thought when they, the NVA, realized that the treeline would be their only hope for some protection before artillery and gunships arrived and started really decimating them, they would have to make an all-out assault on my position. They knew from the amount and sound of the gunfire that a single Marine was all that stood in their way.
I didn’t feel scared or frightened, just fatalistic. While checking my gear in preparation for the inevitable assault, I was at peace, and then my mind drifted for a bit. I was a preschooler, in the play yard at Morris High School directly across the street from where we first lived on Jackson Avenue, riding my first bike. The training wheels were off, it was hot…summer perhaps… I was laughing, happy and having a great time, riding fearlessly on my white two-wheeler as fast as I could, and when my mind’s eye zoomed out to a wider shot, I was laughing along with my father, who ran beside me.
Hang with me, I’m going to introduce a sidebar. The main take away for me and my life, going forward from that 10-minute episode, that was by then the afternoon of Saturday, 3 June 1967. My father and mother had separated when I was in the 8th grade, after a year of tension and feuding. I loved my father dearly, but was glad to see him go. I was extremely hurt, disappointed, and angry with him. My life changed, I started “acting like a man”, and that caused problems with me and my mother. I insisted I needed to get a job, and behaved differently. I did these things because he was our protector, and when he left, we were vulnerable, and all kinds of things began to happen.
Declaring that you are, and acting like you are, doesn’t make you a man. Needless to say there were unpleasant consequences and growing pains... Long story short, I never really forgave him. I visited him when my mother insisted when I was younger, but by high school the only time I went to see him was when I was expelled at 16 for truancy, and went to the Brooklyn construction yard where he was Foreman, to ask for a job. It didn’t go well. He told me in no uncertain terms that I had to return to school, period. I needed to get my academic act together and graduate. I felt I needed that job, I was already walking a thin line between what I knew and had been taught was right and wrong, and I wasn’t in the mood for his response.
I argued that he had hired one of our cousins who worked alongside of him, “and now you’re telling me you won’t give me a job?” I was so incensed that I really didn’t hear and certainly didn’t internalize what he said to me. “Fred came up here with a family, from Georgia, where he didn’t have a future and had no hope of doing better. That’s not your case, that’s why I’ve worked out here all these years, so you’d never have to.” Showing respect because he is my father, I took the hour-long “D” Train ride back to the Bronx, vowing I’d never ask him for anything else in life.
Back to the DMZ, I was going to die and wasn’t afraid, then I was thrilled at first and then saddened by my vision. Deep down inside I’ve always loved my father, he was always my main man. I was happy we had a chance to revisit spiritually, but I was saddened and then ashamed of the way I had treated him all those years. With love in my heart and the joy of admitted truth coursing through my body, I heard my teammate Wilbur Case calling out to me from the bottom of the hill. I yelled back “Case, Case” and shortly after Case, the Dog Handler and the Machine Gunner came crashing, breathlessly into the treeline.
Immediately the Machine Gunner got sick and started throwing up from a combination of heat, humidity, running up that hill, and the putrid smells of mangled bodies. He was weakened and exhausted. Case and the Handler helped him back down and then up hill to the LZ. I gathered my gear, and his Machine Gun, and turned back into the treeline to see if I could see my father again. I didn’t so I about-faced and headed down the hill. Alive and Forever Changed.
By Jim Kuiken
In December 1972, my life took a dramatic turn. The Vietnam War was winding down and was a constant drumbeat on the news. After I saw the picture of “someone” sitting in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, I quit college, and joined the Marine Corps in January 1973. After Boot Camp, I went straight to ITS (Infantry Training School), to train as an M-60 Machinegunner. ITS not only trained you in your new occupational specialty, but it honed the lessons from Boot Camp, and really focused you on the motivation, spirit and ethos of a Combat Marine “Grunt”…the very tip of the “pointy spear” of the Marine Corps.
I noticed that each of my instructors (who were all Combat veterans) were wearing a silver bracelet, which turned out to be an “MIA / POW” bracelet. Each bracelet had the name and basic information about an individual servicemember who had either gone missing in action (almost all were from the Vietnam War, still ongoing at that time), or who was confirmed to be a Prisoner of War.
Since the instructors were all wearing them, almost everyone there wanted to wear them as well, to commemorate those who had gone before us…building the legacy of “Our Corps”. Not coincidentally, there was a vendor just off base who sold them, so on my first weekend liberty, I headed straight to Oceanside (CA), and asked him if he had anyone from Idaho (my home State). He did, and that’s how I ended up wearing the MIA/POW bracelet for Capt. Curtis R. Bohlscheid…from Idaho, who was a helicopter pilot shot down June 11, 1967 in South Vietnam, Quang Tri province, just northwest of Dong Ha. It was an incredibly humbling experience, knowing that this man had paid the price of his own life in service to our Country. I felt honored to be able to keep his name alive, and thought about him (and his family, still in Idaho) a lot over the years.
It wasn’t until 1975, when I returned from overseas and finally joined First Reconnaissance Battalion (I had been wanting to join Recon since my recruiter had told me about them - one of the very reasons I joined), that I really did some more in-depth research on Capt. Bohlscheid, and truly understood what his story was… It was so much more devastating than I had known, and deeply affected the Recon community as well. I have been wearing his bracelet ever since, not just for him, but also for the 10 other men that died with him that day. I’ve lost other friends and teammates along the way in my 30 years, and each of them is deeply felt and missed on this day – Memorial Day. While these 11 men are only a tiny fraction of all those who have given their lives in service to our Country, they are the ones that I choose to represent them all.
Here is why I wear this. See their faces. SAY THEIR NAMES. And in doing so, Remember, and Honor all those who have given their lives for you.
"To read their story, click on https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/4588/CURTIS-R-BOHLSCHEID/ and scroll down to the 4th entry under Remembrances Section titled "The Final Mission of CAPT Curtis R. Bohlscheid”. Click on "Read More"
Click on any of the photographs below to get more information about each of these Marines.
This is my FIRST attempt at writing a blog.
I remember the FIRST Marine I ever saw/knew. His Name was Douglas Caldero, a Korean War Veteran, and a long-distance truck driver who came home to the Bronx, and on those occasions could be seen walking King, his big German Shepard, twice a day.
They were a sight to my young eyes. Mr. Douglas, that’s what I’d learned to call him, was well over six foot three, always in his Marine Corps Utility Jacket, never with a smile, and in a constant tug of war with King as they pulled each other up the sidewalk.
Everyone who regarded Mr. Douglas showed their respect for him. Neither he nor they ever seemed to utter a word; it was just that look, a nod of the head, as he and King passed.
One day I saw my favorite person in the world, my father, speaking to Mr. Douglas. It caught my attention mainly because of the visuals. Dad, five foot one, was looking up at him in genuine conversation and they were smiling. King was at Mr. Douglas’ side, at peace. And from that day onward, whenever I saw Mr. Douglas and King, he spoke, used my name, and asked how I was doing. And for some reason that really struck my 3rd grade fascination, and immortalized the Marine Corps. However, I’ve always wondered what Mr. Douglas did and saw in Korea. What was his story?
Needless to say, I became a Marine, graduating from Parris Island in the spring of 1966 as one of the top in my class; as Squad Leader, Platoon Guide and Meritorious PFC out of Boot Camp.
Afterwards, at Camp Geiger near the conclusion of ITR, I was in the PX and in walked the FIRST Force Reconnaissance Marine I’d ever seen. Everyone hears them at Geiger, all day and half the night, shouting their Esprit de Corps at the top of their lungs, as they train and run around acting crazy. But I’d never been close enough to really see them. All of a sudden, the doors opened into this very small space, where my endowed ego was occupying a significant amount of it, and in walked PFC Eddie Beaston, buffed, handsome and wearing the biggest, brightest, gold jump wings I’d ever seen. The air was immediately sucked out of the place, and it became very quiet. “So that’s a Recon Marine, up front and center, wow…” I breathed.
Then a few months later, I was reporting to a new Duty Station at Camp Pendleton California, after leaving my FIRST Duty Station at Eighth and I, the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington D.C. I’m the FIRST to arrive, very early in the formation of this new unit, 3rd MP Bn. I report to Cpl Gilbert Weissbock, a former Recon Marine, who has the idea of making a small group of us “Scouts”. We train as “Aggressors” and go to Escape and Evasion Training, then we’re deployed as the erstwhile “Viet Cong” for the Staging Bn exercises. Marines coming out of Basic and going straight to Viet Nam as replacements, who only had two weeks of training called “staging”, chased us all day over Pendleton’s hills and dales, and we returned the favor by raiding them all night as they tried to rest and recover.
This lasted a couple of glorious months, then the 3rd MP Bn became fully formed and we had to come back and adjust, which for some if us was very difficult. I was getting into a lot of trouble with all the regimentation, and our Sgt. Major approached one day and said, “Moragne, you think you’re a tough guy, don’t You… (not a question). I replied with a smile and immature honesty, “Yes Sir Sgt Major Flowers, I am a tough guy”… His response was, “My former FIRST Sgt, First Sgt Burke, is over at Camp Del Mar with 3rd Force Recon Company, and they’re looking for tough guys. Do you think you can make it?” Well it was onto Recondo School at 5th Force, to qualify and train, then onto 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, where my life changed immediately. And for the FIRST time I knew it, was profoundly grateful, and have been vastly rewarded ever since.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit. We left Camp Del Mar on April 22nd, 1967, by truck to MCAS El Toro and on to two C130’s. FIRST stop was Point Magu, CA less than 50 miles away to gas up. I would later learn that our payload and personnel on board the aircraft would have been too much to lift off on El Toro’s short airfield. We then flew onto Kaneohe Bay, where we overnighted. Then onto Wake Island and the same, then onto Guam, and arrived April 25th in Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam.
I remember FIRST deplaning and mustering near the aircraft, as we waited to board smaller aircraft to fly us into Phu Bai airport. There were Marines and other servicemen on the ground in various states of what seemed exhaustion or boredom. They were awaiting transport home or at least out of there. Suddenly, there was an energy surging through these men as we passed. The surge was a result or consequence of our appearance. We had deplaned wide-eyed, ready to take care of business, in starched state-side utilities, and shiny Corcoran Boots toting “grease guns”… and in retrospect I got it, I can’t suppress the laughter even after all these years. But we were serious as all get out. From there we flew to Phu Bai, where my fondest memory was the color, muted gold and beige terminal building, brilliantly illuminated, backlit by the sun and highlighted by intensely green mountains in the distance behind.
I remember my FIRST Vietnamese food from a stand there was PHO, and after the long flight, it was more than delicious. We were finally trucked away and onto Phu Bai, the base, our FIRST home, and reunion with our Company’s FIRST Detachment.
MORE TO COME…
By Lou Kern
I flew to the Twin Cities on the 6th of May, got things in order on the 7th and started interviewing Vietnam Marine Recon veterans on the 8th. I was able to get 6 in depth interviews in the next 3 days. David “Doc” Hilgendorph, Bob Lake, Floyd Ruggles, Floyd Nagler, Tom Boland and David Thompson. I am also a Marine Vietnam Recon veteran and just being able to say that fills me with pride and a sense of completion. We all saw heavy combat…almost beyond imagination.
Our missions were both unique and extremely dangerous. Human beings bond deeply under those circumstances, and that bond never wavers. I studied their faces as they talked. Doing these interviews in video format (rather than just audio) will allow thousands if not millions of other people to also hear their stories and get a deep sense of who these men are as human beings. This is a deep look into humanity itself. At least that is how I perceive it and that is also the part of these men's stories they want to tell....not just the war stories but the deeply human stories. That is what connects combat veterans back into the general population. That is what allows these stories of selflessness, determination and resiliency to become part of the national dialogue.
That is what we fought for, to be part of something much larger than ourselves. We proved something to ourselves in mortal combat. No doubt. That can never be taken away from us. And we also deeply yearn to feel understood and appreciated by those who never will have any understanding of how terrifying and difficult actual combat is.
Here is just one example. Tom Boland's 8 man Recon team found themselves surrounded by hundreds of NVA soldiers near the DMZ in I Corps. Without some type of support they would have been wiped out within minutes. They had only one chance for survival and that was to call in heavy artillery very close to their own position. Hundreds of rounds of heavy artillery landed all around them. This is not some questionable war story. This is documented from the actual records of the artillery units. The team did get out alive the next morning, heavily concussed from all the explosions. It seems odd today but in 1969 there was no concussion protocol. We were expected to take what ever the enemy dealt out and to keep on fighting.
Here is Tom telling the story.
By Lou Kern
3rd Force Recon
By Jim Kuiken
In the Marine Reconnaissance community, Sacrifice and Loss are inevitable. As the old adage goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” And in this line of work, Recon Marines are asked to venture and risk much, on behalf of our Country, the Corps, and our brotherhood.
Unlike most U.S. Special Operations forces, little is heard about Recon and Force Recon Marines, because the mission that these Marines perform is fundamentally different from most others. Reconnaissance Marines are tasked with exactly what the name says…reconnaissance. And that requires that they perform their primary mission of gathering information and intelligence, sometimes deep behind enemy lines, without detection. There’s a basic concept in Recon, that not only do they conduct covert activities, but that if anyone spots them, or ever even knows they were there, the mission has been compromised. It’s like “We were never there…”
However, combat and covert activities are never pristine. As all military forces (especially Special Operations forces) know, combat is messy, and extremely dangerous. These risks are taken freely, but come with a very steep price – up to and including personal injury (physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual), and loss of life.
Sometimes these losses happen on the battlefield, and many times, up to decades later, in the oncology department fighting the effects of toxic exposures from Agent Orange, Burn Pits, and other toxins, and to the effects of giving in to the despair and weight of the demons they sometimes bring home from their combat experiences and losses.
All are losses directly connected to their willingness to serve, to take on the risk of becoming a Recon or Force Recon Marine.
So, Losses…these are many, felt by teammates, the larger military community, grateful citizens, and especially, the families of those lost.
And Sacrifices…these are made by the Marines as they choose this life, and in those moments of danger, when they willingly put themselves in harms way to support or protect their brothers and teammates on the battlefield. Unfortunately, many times at extreme risk to their own life – which frequently result in injury or death. And the sacrifice of their families, left behind.
And it is our responsibility to Honor those sacrifices, by the families, by those Reconnaissance Marines, who suffer the effects of their service, or who have paid the ultimate price while protecting our freedoms, and their own teammates. “No greater love…”
“Courage knows no gender. Courage knows no race. Courage comes from within, from a deeply ingrained sense of duty, from service to something bigger than just yourself... from love.”
To date, at least 540 Recon Marines (from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and numerous other areas around the world – some to never be known…) have paid the ultimate price, with their life. Their Loss, and their Sacrifice.
You can remember and Honor them here, on this virtual Wall of Honor.
And remember, "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."
To the “Silent Professionals” of Marine Reconnaissance, I sincerely “Thank you for your Service.”
In The Beginning
In late 1972 I left college, and walked into the recruiting office in Boise, Idaho, past the Coast Guard office (which wasn’t even open yet…), around the corner, and down the long hall. There was an Army recruiter, a Navy recruiter, and an Air Force recruiter who were standing in a gaggle about half-way down the hall, chatting and having their morning coffee. They had perked up when I came around the corner, but after a few seconds (as I was walking toward them), they went back to chatting among themselves, and parted as I walked past, my eyes focused on the sign over the door at the end of the hallway that said “United States Marines”. They knew, and didn’t even bother to try to intercept me.
I turned the corner into the office, and a rough-looking Marine with a lot of stripes and a bunch of ribbons stood up, as I said “I want to be a Marine.” With a smile, he waved me to a seat, and we talked for a few minutes…and he asked what I’d like to do in the Marine Corps. I didn’t really know, so he asked me what I liked to do for fun. After we talked for a minute or two about swimming, wrestling, cross-country track, martial arts, etc., he asked me if I’d like to jump out of airplanes, SCUBA dive, and be on the front lines with some of the toughest Marines in the Corps, and he had me hooked. “Top” (Master Sergeant) Brown said “no problem,” and said I’d even get a bonus for signing up! With a “Grunt guarantee” contract (right at the end of the Vietnam war…). All I would have to do is after I graduated Boot Camp and Infantry Training School (ITS), was watch for the Marines who would come to our final days of ITS, asking for volunteers for Recon. I couldn’t wait…
Of course, that never happened. No one came by to ask for volunteers, in fact, because of my test scores, I got orders for Sea School after ITS, and ended up getting stationed on a big grey ship (Sub-Tender) in a small Marine Detachment, with a whole bunch of sailors in Guam for two years. To make a long story short, I spent my time overseas, and when I returned to Camp Pendleton, I was assigned to an Infantry Company (as admin…because I could type), and promptly got into a bunch of trouble… After standing tall in front of my Company Commander (and the First Sergeant) a few times, I finally got my wish. He said I was too much for his company, but since I’d been bugging him (and anyone else in authority who I could get access to) to go to Recon (which was right down the road), he let me know I’d gotten my wish, and would be reporting there the next week…and good riddance.
The rest is history! I’d found my home, and once I’d jumped through the required hurdles to be accepted (which were designed to weed out all but the most determined, or crazy…see more about that here) I was in, and never looked back. Recon and Force Recon are very specialized units in the Marine Corps, and only those with an intense internal drive and “never quit” attitude even apply to join – but if you do, it will be a life-altering experience. A brotherhood unlike any other.
The Back Story of FORCE
When I talk about my current projects, whether it is my book, Generals and Grunts, or the documentary, FORCE reconnaissance/swift-silent-deadly, I am asked, “Cindy, Why the Marines?”, “You didn’t serve, so why the military as a focus?”, or “Why Force Reconnaissance?” Well, my love and deep respect for our Armed Forces began as a child, and my interest in the United States Marine Corps came to be in high school, with my primary focus on the Corps happening in 2012. The following is the evolution of my need to bring the ethos of the Devil Dogs to the general population:
I have the honor of being from a family of more than fifteen Veterans – eight sailors, five Marines, three soldiers, two airmen, and two National Guardsmen. My grandfather, Manual T. Gonzales served with the 39th Battalion of the Seabees in World War II, all my uncles (eight in total) also served, as well as my oldest brother Mark and several cousins, so my deep respect for our Armed Forces runs deep in my blood. The call to duty, to serve our Nation, and to protect our rights to live freely is not something to dismiss or spit at; the men and women, who freely choose, to be in the military, deserve our utmost respect and time to know who and what they do for man and country – that is the most basic reason for my focus on featuring our military.
In the Fall of 1979, during my Senior Year at Edinburg High School, we were told that, once again we would be taking the ASVAB - Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. We took the test as sophomores, and I proudly scored 86 on the exam, so I saw no need to take it again. When I realized it was a military test I wanted to know if I or any of us needed to retest as Seniors. By coincidence a young Marine, who was in his Dress Blue Delta uniform – Khaki short-sleeved blouse and blue trousers with a red Blood stripe, was standing at attention in the main hall, so I walked up to him, and asked, “Sir, do you know if I have to take the ASVAB test again? I took it as a sophomore and did well.”
He gave me a sideways glance and a smirky smile, and said, “No ma’am, once is all we need to know your abilities.” I proceeded to tell my fellow seniors, and we decided to take the afternoon off! Why do I remember that moment in time? Well, the rebellious act is a fun memory, but that is not why that moment stayed with me – no, it was the vision of that Marine.
The Marine stood tall for hours. He did not flinch from his “attention” stance. He did not disrespect a young female asking a question. His uniform was crisp and stunningly memorable. That Marine took pride in his very being, the uniform, and the knowledge that he was a Marine. The image of that young man on that warm fall day still stays with me after forty plus years.
Years passed and I went on my merry way – college, marriage, kids, divorce, careers in corporate America, government, politics, and many other “get me through” jobs. In January of 2012, I was asked to meet with a U.S. Congressional candidate running in the Texas 15th District to discuss his campaign. The candidate was (Ret.) USMC Sergeant Major James (Jim) Kuiken.
At the time, I did not know what a Sgt. Major was or did, but after my initial research on him, I was fully aware that this Marine was very dedicated to serving an ethos and his Nation.
Initially, after our first meeting, Jim began to explain the meaning behind being a Marine in the United States Marine Corps and the rank of Sgt. Major. The ethos and dedication of those serving in the Corps was, and is, a fascinating study in human nature. His lessons reminded me of our forefathers and mothers who fought in our war for freedom during the American Revolution and on the shores of the Pacific Islands during World War II. But the final piece of the puzzle, the final Why, happened during our campaign stops at the Heart of Texas Marine’s breakfast where I met Gunnery Sergeant Blaine Scott.
As I stood at the breakfast buffet, I turned to see a man standing tall and steady, and looking around for a familiar face. His face was completely scarred with burns, as were his hands and arms – what I could see of them. I immediately knew he was a Marine and his wounds were combat acquired. I walked up to him and asked if he was there for the breakfast and would like to sit with the Sgt. Major and our team. He said yes, and so began my journey into bringing the ethos of the Corps to the general population.
The following month at the breakfast, Blaine joined us again. He asked Jim if he could come speak to the wounded Marines at Fort Sam (Joint Base San Antonio). As Jim’s Campaign Manager, I stepped into the conversation to ask Blaine, “When and at what time would the meeting be?”
“Ma’am, we meet each Thursday at zero 6:30 for tacos and discussion” responded Blaine.
I looked at him like he was crazy, and replied, “6:30! Are you crazy, our district is an hour away! I’d have to get up at 4 just to be ready in time.”
The table got quiet, the Sgt. Major said nothing, as Blaine turned to look at me, paused, and then with a straight face replied “Quit your whining, and suck it up…. ma’am.”
Needless to say, the entire table, myself included, had a good long belly laugh. We attended the next week, arriving on Marine time, which meant we were thirty-minutes early.
After a few days of laughing at myself, it sunk in…we complain so easily at being inconvenienced by small things and at having our daily scheduled interrupted, so much so that we forget to see the reality of our freedom. What do I mean by that?
Well, our continued freedom depends on the strength of the members of our armed forces to keep peace, and war off our land. Visualize the men and women in combat – some lying on the desert floor with a thin poncho liner eating MREs, or bending down by a river to scoop up a handful of water in the middle of a hot humid jungle, or still others trying to keep warm in sub-freezing weather as the enemy pounds their camp…these folks would love to attend a breakfast in an air conditioned building eating warm tacos and drinking coffee, or having a hot shower, but they chose to serve each of us and we have to decide if we can honor that decision, by choosing to honor their service. I have chosen to do that by writing about the United Marine Corps’ ethos, and producing a documentary (the first of five) on the Corps…the first one being about Force Reconnaissance’s ethos and training.
Why Force Reconnaissance? Jim is a member of Force Reconnaissance, so I had learned a little about their particular job and what it entails. I learned more after attending my first Force Recon Association Reunion in September of 2019 at Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune during Hurricane Dorian. The Base officially shut down because of the impending storm, but that did not stop the “Never Quit” Recon Marines. I gained so much knowledge on their dedication to the Corps, to each other, and to being a Force Recon Marine at the gathering – they do not see themselves as better than any other Marine. In fact, they will proudly tell you, “Ma’am, I’m just a Marine tasked with keeping other Marines safe.” It is their humility and love of the Marine to left or right of them that drew me to study and learn more about their ethos of Never Quit, and their training as Silent Professionals that live by the motto of Swift – Silent – Deadly.
My hope is that I inspire the general population to think long and hard about applying the ethos of these men as a way to walk their own paths, but even more so, I want to honor those that fight as Devil Dogs for your and my freedom.
Enjoy the FORCE trailer, and please support the making of this documentary with a financial donation!
Best always, Cindy A. Gonzalez