Article Overview:   What's it like on the eve of war?  What's it like to prepare to die?   As a former Marine who landed in Vietnam in 1965 and went on 100 combat operations, I relate to the feelings of Task Force Tarawa, the U.S. Marine unit etching out the rules of death for themselves and their enemies.   Find out how "The Few.  The Proud." prepare to die so others can live.


Friday--March 14, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 548
Task Force Tarawa:  U.S. Marines Preparing To Die

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 14--Unlike most military organizations, the U.S. Marines are trained to die.  They're getting ready for death as the War Clock ticks in Iraq, preparing not only for their own deaths, but the deaths of many of their enemies as well.

Marines part of Task Force Tarawa getting on busses

       Task Force Tarawa comprises 4,000 Marines poised on the border of Kuwait and Iraq, itching to launch their killing machine against the enemy.   Each Marine is a volunteer whose body and mind has been finely tuned and toned to deliver death and to accept it.
  On November 10, 1775 the Continental Congress raised the Marine Corps to life.   Since that day, it has been "first in and last out" in most conflicts.   Unlike most warriors in the American military, dying for the Corps, the Country and one's fellow Marines is the highest honor.
         In a recent New York Times article by Michael Wilson, the reporter describes how the Marines are  instructed to deal with death in many different formats.

November 10, 1775 is the birthday of the United States Marine Corps

  If the Marines bury their enemies, they are advised to insure the body's head faces southwest, toward Mecca, out of respect for Muslim traditions.   Marines have a unique bond with their enemy--they accept they are brave warriors like themselves, and generally give them the respect they would expect.
         Mortality squads are also being formed to haul dead Marines from the scorching battlefield.
         Rotting corpses are a problem in a hot, sweltering desert.   To limit decay, Marines are trained to cover or bury the dead if they cannot be extracted.  They are told to carry their personal items in a Ziploc bag stored in a flap pocket on their legs so it can be quickly cut and removed from their dead body.  Each wears two dog tags, one around his neck and the other in his boot in case body parts are separated.  This provides them two forms of identification.
        Gruesome?  Morbid?  Frightening?

Spartans AKA Marines

         Not to a Marine.
        All Marine training is geared to killing and being killed.   Death becomes second nature to a Marine long before he hits the battlefield.  The purpose: so that when his buddy is blown to bits next to him he doesn't stop or hesitate, but instead charges even more ferociously toward the enemy.

The Battle of Thermopylae - Marines follow the legacy of the Spartans

                                                             Marines follow the legacy of the Spartans, who thousands of years ago turned back enemies outnumbering them by hundreds to one because of their fierce fighting and fearlessness of death.    In the famous battle of Thermopylae, for example, 300 Spartans held back over 14,000 Persian warriors for three days, enough time for their main force to be reinforced.
        The Japanese ninja is also a part of the brotherhood to which Marines cleave when facing death.   Under "the way of the warrior," the ninja is taught that he is already dead, and since he is already "dead," he cannot therefore fear death.  Thus, he becomes mentally invincible, able to surmount his Fear, Intimidation and Complacency of death.  This state of mind converts the negative energy used to protect one's self from harm into precision killing force against any and all enemies.
        Marines tend to think in such "invincible" terms regarding death.
        They aren't suicidal about it, but they are homicidal.   They would far rather stand on a pile of bodies and have their picture taken than be stood upon by the enemy.
         But they're aren't without humanity.

Marines learn from the philosophies of Ninja Warriors to surmount Fear and  not fear death

         Marines may be the professional killers of war, but the retain the power of humanness.
         They respect their enemies rather than demean them.   They "dance like the butterfly and sting like the bee," as Muhammad Ali, America's most precision pugilist chanted before his famous ring battles.  
         When the smoke clears and the bodies are counted, Marines salute their dead.   To a Marine, war is the Olympics of Life and Death, and like the Olympics, one can only achieve the highest results if one pays honor to one's competitors, both prior, during and after the competition.
          That's why they'll bury many of their enemies facing southwest. 
          In Vietnam, I witnessed many horrors of war, as any combat veteran does. I also saw many moments of glory.   The highest were when we gave respect to the enemy.
          One of the most honored enemy I witnessed was a Viet Cong who tied his body to his machine gun.  He laced ropes around his waist to keep his body from being blown away from behind the gun, and also tied his fingers to its triggers.  While his unit retreated, he laid down covering fire. He sacrificed his life for his buddies.  Even though his body was riddled with countless bullets, and parts of him blown entirely away from his torso by hand grenades and mortars, he continued to fire, using his last ounces of life to deliver as much death as possible upon us.
         He was given a solemn but honored salute for his bravery and courage, even though he delivered deadly blows to a number of our fellow Marines.  He was a brother in death, an equal warrior in courage.

In the Boxer Rebellion Marines were termed "devil dogs."

       Marines are the exceptional warriors because they are trained to "expect the unexpected."   They do not presume the enemy will run. They know better than to underestimate him.  That's why they attack as though they were sent from Hell, individual energy magnifying each warrior by ten times.
        In the Boxer Rebellion in China, Marines were termed "devil dogs" because they screamed and barked as they charged, often intimidating the enemy and sending them running thinking banshees from hell were attacking.  "They sounded like dogs from hell," one Chinese warrior said.

The Marines utilize the largest K-9 force used in military operations

    Later, in 1935 Marines started to employ K-9's, and amassed the largest K-9 force used in military operations.   Marines used dogs as sentries and scouts in World War II, adding to their legend as "devil dogs."   A Marines' bark, it is said, is a tenth the power of his bite.
        Today, the Marine devil dogs are barking.   The rallying cry around Task Force Tarawa  is "Get Saddam."   It isn't, "Kill Iraqis."   Marines know the target is unseating Saddam, not killing civilians.   If their actions can intimidate the enemy to surrender, that will be a great victory.  If not, they want everyone to get out of their way as they head to Saddam's lair

Marine devil dogs are barking to "Get Saddam."

         As I perused the article in the Times, I recalled my own preparations for death.   I was glad I chose the Marine Corps because when I went to war the fear of death had been driven out of me in boot camp.   What took its place was my willingness to die for a cause.  I truly believed my death--if it happened--would be to insure the freedom of others.  There is no higher glory than that, despite what war protestors might think.
          It is reported that Mahatma Ghandi once said that an act of violence is better than doing nothing.  While he wasn't promoting violence per se, he was contrasting the worst possible sin--that of Complacency--where one sits and watches or ignores the pain and suffering of the world and is inert to it all.  Ghandi's words are echoed by Winston Churchill who said: "Stand For Something Or Be Nothing!"

Ghandi was not a proponent of Complacency

        In some ways, the U.S. Marines example the extreme of violence in a world of Complacency.  And certainly, they "stand for something."   Each Marine is trained to die for a cause that extends far beyond the benefits of life.   Being willing to die for the freedom of strangers in a foreign land is a high ideal.  It needs to be, for it must robs one of the most primary desires of all human beings--personal survival.
        Extruding the desire to live out of a person is not an easy task.    While many people boast of their willingness to die for others, in the final moments when the bullets are flying or the Beast of Terror roars so loudly it shakes the earth, many flee.   The fear of death overpowers the willingness to die.
        Cowards are born many fold on such days.
        But so are heroes.  Marines are trained to be heroes whether they want to be or not.  They are trained to stand up to the Beast of Terror by screaming and growling, charging him as though they were invincible to his fangs, claws and jaws.   Bravery is a habit for them, not an occurrence.

We are often blinded by the blood and guts of war's horrors

        In war, we are blinded often by the blood and guts of its horrors.  It's hard to see the glory of it all, or to promote and extol its virtues--those small but vital elements where a U.S. Marine digs a hole and buries an enemy facing southwest, in honor to his fallen counterpart's heroism to fight and die for his beliefs.  It's hard sometimes to envision a Marine kneeling in prayer before battle, hoping he won't have to kill anyone but knowing that if he has to, he will kill with precision and thoroughness.
         It's hard to imagine a Marine crying when he comes across the body of a noncombatant, killed in a crossfire, but he does.

It's hard to imagine a Marine crying

          Marines, despite their affinity to deliver death, are human beings, perhaps more sensitive to death and its horrors than any peace protestor could imagine.
         Marines have a history of sacrificing their lives in foreign lands for others.
         A hundred and ninety-nine years ago a small band of Marines, six to be exact, attacked the Barbary Pirates in Tripoli with the aid of local warriors    They demolished the "Terrorists of the Time" with the same alacrity as the present in Task Force Tarawa.    Their mission was to remove the Terrorism of the Sea, and to free Americans held captive by the pirates.   They were willing to die so a fledgling nation, then under command of President Thomas Jefferson, would not be held hostage by pirates.

 Task Force Tarawa is named in honor and respect for the Battle for Tarawa on November 20, 1943.  5,000 Marines died in the raging, bloody battle that took them 76 hours to capture a Japanese airfield on the tiny pacific island in the Tarawa Atoll.

       Today, Task Force Tarawa is poised on a similar mission.  Despite all the protestations against war, I can assure readers the vast majority of Marines about to face death are willing to die for the safety of future generations, not only in America, but in the Middle East and around the globe.    
       There will be many who try and make the  Task Force Tarawa Marines ugly vultures of war, and, as they did me, spit upon them as symbols of American belligerence and violence.
         How wrong such people are.
         Marines are Sentinels of Vigilance.   They fight and die for people's children.   In Iraq, they will die for liberating the people from Saddam Hussein's tyranny.


Marines are Sentinels of Vigilance

        While the opposition to war may scoff at that idea, they do so from their armchairs.   They scoff in the safety of a land that allows diverse opinion and free speech.  They scoff from the safety of homes and television sets and fast-food outlets.
         They know little about fighting for things, for unless one is willing to die for his or her cause, they have offered nothing.
         The Marines are offering their lives.  They are willing to strike blows at the Beast of Terror and remove one more fang from Terrorism's jaw.
         I salute them.  And so do the children of Iraq who will benefit from the freedoms they bring.






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