Speaking in 1996 at the National Press Club, Secretary of the Navy John Dalton contrasted the "men he had put up with" as a naval officer during the late 1960s and early 1970s" with [1996's] "best military the U.S. has ever had." Echoing that refrain, a recent well-received book about the combat history of the Marine Corps speaks slightingly of the "reluctant draftees" of the Vietnam era. In 1970, in Vietnam ...
That there were significant problems existing in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War is irrefutable. But assuming that the blame for any of those problems falls on some invidious suspect category of enlisted Marines is absurd; the combat record of all Marines during that conflict is not a matter in question. More Marines were killed and wounded in Vietnam than in any other conflict in U.S. history. Whatever their garrison problems, Marines fought that dirty and bloody action for more than a decade, a sacrifice that by and large was unwelcome, and certainly unappreciated. Although the Marine Corps made up about 10% of the forces deployed in Vietnam, one in four names on that black granite wall in Washington under Mr. Lincoln's gaze belongs to a Marine. Uncommon valor persisted as a common virtue.
All of these veterans deserve a better memory than the one presently in vogue—and those who may be required to lead the sons and daughters of the Vietnam generation in future combat would do well to reflect on their experience.
For now, I ask you to remember my Marine. As much as he complained, he went back out when the time came. The night the North Vietnamese hit us, he was there. When an RPG hit his hole, he did not cave. When his partner took a round and went down, he stood over him in the hole and fought it out. It wasn't an epic battle and it wasn't a glorious death. But he died a Marine, holding his position, facing the enemy, rifle in hand. And I don't much care what he had written on his helmet.
Lieutenant Colonel Richmond , an infantry officer and later a naval aviator, heads Richmond Insurance in West Union, Ohio. While on active duty in Vietnam, he led rifle platoons in the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, and commanded L Company, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines.