It was on a rolling West Virginia farm, where Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams leads a horse, that the Marine commandant’s 2020 birthday video message first starts.
“I am absolutely proud to be a Marine,” Williams said in the video.
The Marine was awarded the Medal of Honor for fighting through a deluge of enemy small arms fire to clear a series of pillboxes on Iwo Jima, Japan, with his flame thrower during World War II.
“I am proud of the fact that I was in the position to do something to preserve my freedom and to hold onto those values that can only be had by free people,” Williams said in the video.
Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said it was Marines like Williams who earned the Marine Corps its reputation as America’s premier fighting force.
The 2020 birthday message video, released on Thursday, features several highly decorated Marines who fought in World War II, Vietnam and Afghanistan. It also focused on the Corps’ ideals and the mettle it takes to be a Marine.
“Long before we wear the uniform, long before the Eagle, Globe and Anchor is etched on our soul, we sense the special appeal that sets Marines apart,” Berger said in the video celebrating the Corps’ 245th birthday.
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“Trust is not given, nor is it easily earned,” Berger said. “Today the trust of the nation is our inheritance ― a trust earned through the selfless valor and determined actions of generations of Marines on the distant shores and misty battlefields of our storied past.”
A second World War II Marine veteran, Dorothy Cole, was also featured in the video.
Cole joined the Corps after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at a time when not many women had the opportunity to serve in the military.
“No matter who you are do some kind of service for your country,” Cold said. “I have always been proud to say I was in the Marine Corps.”
At 107 she is currently the oldest living Marine veteran.
Moving to the Vietnam era the video showed Marine veteran Jim Capers ― a force recon legend who was awarded a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars with a “V” for valor for his time in Vietnam. Capers was the first black Marine to command a Marine reconnaissance company and even earned his way onto a recruiting poster.
“All I wanted was an opportunity … just show me the way and I will get it done,” Capers said.
“I chose special forces, I chose force recon and I did three tours in force recon, I did fairly well,” Capers added.
Capers represents a standard that the nation expects of its Marines, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black said in the video.
“Our nation expects us to be the world’s finest military professionals, to be capable and ready and to represent all that is good about the United States, a nation of diverse heritages united by common values,” Black said.
Vietnam Marine veteran James Stogner said, “There is no tighter unit in the world than the Marine Corps.”
As a young lance corporal, Stogner fought off a North Vietnamese Army ambush using only his Ka-Bar, saving the lives of several in his unit, including Cpl. Eli Fobbs. During the ambush Fobbs was carried away by four NVA soldiers.
Stogner followed his comrade, killed all four soldiers and dragged Fobbs to safety. Nearly 52-years later Stogner was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.
Representing the Marines who have fought in the Middle East for nearly two decades was Gunnery Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, who was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in Afghanistan.
In 2009 Rodriguez-Chavez heard that a nearby patrol was ambushed by a large contingent of enemy fighters. The Marine, along with Dakota Meyer, hopped into their vehicle and rushed to an attempted rescue of their comrades.
Meyer earned was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.
“To be courageous is to do what is right, to adhere to a higher standard of personal conduct, to lead by example and to make tough decisions under stress and pressure,” Black said. “Marines train, Marines fight and Marines win, always.”
Berger said the Marines of today are more than capable of maintaining the respect and trust the Marines of the past earned with their blood.
“On this birthday our nation finds in its Marine Corps men and women who know the meaning of patriotism, valor, duty, strength, discipline and innovation,” Berger said.
“We must be faithful to our country, to our Corps and to each other. This faithfulness must never compromised.”