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The Final Duty Station This forum is presented by Retired GySgt Bill Conroy. It is a listing of those that have received orders for their final duty station. These Marines have given their all. We now give our honor.

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Old 07-31-2005, 10:11 AM
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General Louis H. Wilson Memorial Service and Burial

General Louis H. Wilson Memorial Service and Burial

On a hot (96 degree), hazy, humid (over 90%) July day--a day reminiscent of those we experienced on the rifle range in 1952--we today held a memorial service and laid General Lou Wilson to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It was a wonderful celebration of the life of an extraordinary man.

The memorial service was in the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia--just a few paces from the gate to Arlington National Cemetery.

The chapel is relatively small, probably with room for a few more than 200 people in the pews. It was a standing- room-only crowd, with the aisles on both sides of the chapel full of active-duty Marine officers. (They were polite; we older folk got to sit down!) Moreover, I personally know dozens of people--including some of you--who, knowing that it was to be a crowded chapel and a hot day, chose not to attend. After all, General Wilson's contemporaries are no longer young.

Civilian VIP's that I saw, from my pew near the middle of the chapel, included SecDef Rumsfeld and Senator John Warner of Virginia. Active duty VIP's included four four-star Marines--more four-star generals than the Corps ever had during my active duty years. Our former reunion speakers, Jim Jones and Pete Pace were there, along with CMC Mike Hagee and ACMC Spider Nyland--all resplendent in what we used to call "yachting" uniforms, blue blouses and white trousers. (For those who may now be aware of it, the Marine Corps no longer has the white dress uniforms of our days in the Corps--the blue coat and white trousers is the summer dress uniform now.)

Retired former commandants P. X. Kelley, Al Gray, and Carl Mundy were there. Other living former commandants, Bob Barrow and Chuck Krulak, were kept away by health considerations. Barrow is recovering from a broken hip and Krulak fell off a ladder last week while trimming some trees at his Delaware home--and broke three ribs, among other bones. He is 15 years younger than we are, guys, so stay off those ladders.

I won't try to describe the whole ceremony for you; I am attaching copies of some of the pages of the printed program to give you an idea. The scripture readings were by General Wilson's son-in-law and two of his grandsons. Dr. Benton, who gave a meditation, is a nephew of General Wilson.

The Commandant gave a short, but meaningful, talk emphasizing General Wilson's inspirational leadership. Carl Mundy gave a longer and more personal eulogy. I thought it good enough to get a copy of it, which I will insert at the end of these notes.

At the gravesite there were the usual, deeply-meaningful ceremonies you all know from other military funerals--the mournful playing of the Marines' Hymn as a dirge as the casket is removed from the caisson and brought to the grave, the playing of musical honors and the firing of the 19-gun salute afforded to former Service Chiefs, the firing of three volleys of musketry, the playing of Taps, the ceremonial folding of the flag and its presentation to the next-of-kin.

Afterwards, Mike Hagee invited all of us back to his quarters at 8th and "I" for a reception and the chance to visit with Jane Wilson and family members and friends. Some of your wives will remember the hospitality Silke Hagee showed them at the Ranch House at Camp Pendleton during our 1952 reunion. She remains that same gracious lady, and she laid on a buffet feast for all of us today. Jane Wilson, in turn, still is the gracious lady she was when she lived in those quarters. It was great to have the chance to spend some time with her. Learning that General Wilson's last words, just before he went to sleep for the last time, were "It's time to call the Marines" brought tears to my old eyes, not for the first time today.

It was a sad day, of course. One hates so to see his boyhood heroes grow old and die. It offers some consolation to see that others share my sense of loss--and there was plenty of that in view today. I thought that some of you who could not be here would appreciate knowing that, hence these notes.

Best to all,
D'Wayne Gray

Eulogy in remembrance of Louis Hugh Wilson, Jr. General, United States Marine Corps
26th Commandant of the Corps
given by General Carl Epting Mundy, Jr.
30th Commandant of the Corps
in the Old Chapel
Fort Myer, Virginia
19 July 2005

Three years after I graduated from the Basic School at Quantico, I was ordered back to become an instructor. I reported to the Adjutant, who informed me that the Commanding Officer was absent for a few days, but would return the following week. He advised, further, that it was the colonel's policy to address all newly forming companies of lieutenants on the first day of training, which would occur, coincidentally, on the day of his return, and that I should be there.

At 0700 on the prescribed day, I mustered with a half-dozen instructors and couple of hundred new lieutenants in the outdoor classroom just in front of the headquarters building. Precisely at 0715, the front door opened and a tall, rangy, all-business-looking colonel walked out.

We were called to attention, then put at ease and given our seats. The colonel spoke for probably no more than eight to ten minutes, citing what was to be accomplished and what was expected of the lieutenants in the next six months. He concluded by saying: "While you're here, you'll find many things that are wrong .that are not to your liking ... not the way you would do them - and you'll find yourselves talking about how 'they' ought to change this or that . and how 'they' just don't understand the problem. When you have those thoughts or discussions" he went on, "I want you to remember: I am they!"

He stood looking at us for probably no more than five seconds, which seemed like minutes. Not a head turned; not an eye blinked, and I'm sure two hundred second-lieutenant minds were working in unison to figure out how they could go through twenty-six weeks of training without ever once uttering the word, "they"!

This was my first association with then-Colonel Louis Wilson. Like a few others, the "I am they" assertion became pure "Wilsonian" over the years, and like me, I suspect that many here this morning have heard it on more than one occasion. It contained a little humor, but it also characterized the man as the leader he was: "I am 'they'; I'm in command; I'm responsible; I give the orders."

Even beyond his years in the Corps, these characteristics continued. His good friend, Bill Schreyer -- Chairman of the Board of Merrill-Lynch when General Wilson served, after retirement, as a Director of that company - tells the story of a board meeting at which a particularly difficult issue was being deliberated. After considerable discussion, during which a number of thoughts and ideas emerged, but without definitive resolution of the issue, Director Wilson said, "Mr. Chairman, if Moses had been a member of this Board, instead of "The Ten Commandments", we would have wound up with "The Ten Suggestions!"

Louis Hugh Wilson, Jr., was born and grew up in Brandon, Mississippi. His father died when he was five, and those family members who knew him then characterized him - even as a small boy - as exhibiting a clear feeling of responsibility for his mother and sister. He worked at a variety of jobs throughout his school years to help with their support.

After graduation from high school, he enrolled at nearby Millsaps College, majored in economics, ran track, played football and joined the "Pikes" - Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. In the summer after his freshman year, he and a buddy took a job laying asphalt over the dirt and gravel roads of Mississippi, and while working one day, a car passed, carrying an attractive local high school graduate named Jane Clark. "I sure would like to get to know that girl", Louis remarked to his buddy. "No chance, Lou, she's taken", his friend answered.

Wrong answer! Within a short time, Lou and Jane were dating, and by the time she followed him a year or so later to Millsaps, they were courting. When he graduated in 1941 and went off to officer candidate training in the Marines, and then into the war in the Pacific, they "had an understanding", and she waited. They became 'Captain and Mrs. Wilson' three years later, when he returned from hospitalization after the battle for Guam.

Captain Wilson got a bride, but the Corps got one of its most gracious future First Ladies - one beloved by all who have had the privilege of knowing her - but none more-so than the Wilson aides-de-camp over the years to whom she became known as "President of the Aides' Protective Society" with an occasional early morning call just after the General departed quarters for the office, wishing them - in her soft, Southern manner - "a wonderful day - even though it may not start that way!"

Throughout their career, and to the present, Jane has been an inspiring role-model to all of us in both the good, and the hard times. Indeed, a legion of Marines are glad that Lou's friend on the hot asphalt road in Mississippi in 1938 was wrong when he predicted: "No chance, Lou."

Captain Wilson's action on Guam was the beginning of the many highlights in his career. I was privileged to be on the island with him in 1994 for the 50th Anniversary of it's liberation, and while there, walked the battleground on Fonte Hill with him where he remembered and described every move as he assembled and maneuvered the remnants of his company and those of the other companies of his battalion to secure the heights. Only then . having been wounded three times . did he allow treatment of his wounds and medical evacuation.

The following day, I hosted a sad ceremony at Asan Point - near the beach where, fifty-years earlier, he had landed. Because of mandated personnel reductions in the Corps - the 9th Marines - the regiment in which he had served on Guam - was being deactivated. As its proud battle color was furled, General Wilson placed the casement over it.

There is, however, a humorous sequel to this event. Enroute back from Guam, we stopped in Hawaii to attend the change of command of Marine Forces, Pacific. The day allowed time for a round of golf before the ceremonies that evening. As General Wilson and I were having breakfast before teeing-off, a retired Marine - red baseball cap and all - came over to our table to warmly greet the General. Turned out they had been in the 9th Marines together, and the conversation turned quickly to something like this: "Lou, who's this new Commandant that's doing away with the 9th Marines? What does he think he's doing? You need to get hold of him and straighten him out!"

The breakfast could have undoubtedly been more entertaining for those around us had he done so, but without introducing me, General Wilson graciously responded that he knew it was a tough decision, but that were he still Commandant, he probably would have had to make the same one. He wished his retired friend a good game, and sat back down to breakfast with a wink and big grin for me. I was grateful to have "They" on my team that morning!

Throughout the decades of service that marked his career, Louis Wilson established the reputation of a firm, but fair leader who was devoted to the welfare and readiness of Marines and would lay his career on the line for them; who asked straight questions and expected no "off the record" answers or hidden agendas; and who, while he could show understanding, did not easily suffer fools.

During his tenure as Commanding General of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, as North Vietnamese forces closed in, the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon was ordered, using ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet and embarked Marines from Okinawa, including then-Colonel Al Gray's 4th Marines. As the day wore far longer than had been planned due to the panicky influx of hundreds more evacuees than the Embassy had planned for, the operation continued through the night and into the wee hours of the following morning.

About three a.m., word came into the command center in Hawaii that the Seventh Fleet Commander had signaled that the helicopter crews which had been flying since early that day had reached their administrative maximum allowed flying hours and that he intended to suspend flight operations to allow crew rest, even though a hundred or more Marines still remained in the besieged Embassy.

Although he was not in the direct chain of command for the operation, an infuriated General Wilson immediately sent back a message stating that under no circumstances would such an order be given, that Marine helicopters would continue to fly so long as Marines remained in Saigon, and that if the Seventh Fleet Commander issued such an order, he, Wilson, would personally prefer court martial charges against him. The order was never issued, the helicopter crews kept flying, and the remaining Marines were evacuated.

A year later found the Secretary of Defense looking for a new Commandant, and 'Wilson' was a name high on the list. While many important people are involved in the naming of any new Commandant, there are a couple who merit special note in this case.

The Wilsons had become very happy in Hawaii, and nearing the point at which his career might come to an end, he had been extended a lucrative job offer; Janet was a senior in high school; and Jane had found a 'Dream House' on the slopes overlooking Waialae Golf Course and the blue Pacific. As the likelihood of his being nominated to become Commandant took shape, the Wilsons sat down for a family conference to discuss the choices. After a brief discussion, Janet brought a decisive end to their deliberations when she said, "Dad, you've talked for a long time about all the things that are wrong in the Marine Corps. This is your chance to fix them." He thought for a moment, and then responded, "O.K., we'll do it."

And so, perhaps history should record that it was Miss Janet Wilson who, as much as anyone, brought us the 26th Commandant!

But there was another player who should not go without note. When the selection was made, Secretary of Defense Jim Schlesinger directed an assistant to "Get General Wilson in Hawaii on the phone".

Moments later, the assistant reported, "Sir, he's on the line". Schlesinger picked up the phone and said, "Lou, I'm delighted to inform you that the President has selected you to be the next Commandant of the Marine Corps."

There was a pause, and the voice at the other end of the line responded, "Sir, I'm deeply honored by your call. I've always had great admiration for the Marines, but do you really think I'm qualified to become Commandant?" Schlesinger's assistant had dialed the Commander of Pacific Air Forces in Hawaii - also a Lieutenant General named Lou Wilson!

A few minutes later, when the right Wilson was reached, Schlesinger repeated the same congratulatory message, but ended by saying: "However, Lou, you should know that my first call turned me down!" So perhaps - in the spirit of jointness -- we also owe the U.S. Air Force a debt of gratitude!

Lou Wilson became Commandant at a time when the Corps needed him.

Fewer than 50% of those who filled our ranks were high school graduates. Illegal drug use was rampant. Lingering Vietnam era recruiting had brought a fair number of criminals into the Corps. Riots and gang intimidation were common. His comment when he assumed command set the stage for his attack on these problems: "I call on all Marines to get in step, and do so smartly!"

His tenure as Commandant would be marked by firm initiatives to "get the Corps in step" again. Overweight Marines, "high-water" trousers, shaggy haircuts, and moustaches became early points of focus. The word went out: "If I see a fat Marine, he's in trouble - and so is his commanding officer!" More than a few commanders got early morning calls from the Commandant that began: "Who's minding the store down there?

Seems like you might be looking for a different line of work!" Prompt administrative discharges from the Corps for "those who can't, or don't want to measure up to our standards" were authorized. The Air-Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms came into being to cause Marines to prepare for the next war, instead of the last one - and it might be recalled that the "next big one" after Vietnam was in the desert sands of Kuwait, and the Combined Arms Exercises at Twentynine Palms were the training grounds.

The Wilson years, and those that followed would re-hone the Marine Corps into what it remains today - the finest military organization in the history of the world.

But if Fonte Hill on Guam, and the Medal of Honor was the early signature of Lou Wilson, it may be that his enduring mark on the Corps -- and our entire joint military establishment -- is that which he achieved in his final "Hill" battle near the end of his tenure as Commandant.

A quarter-century earlier, after a period of intense debate as to the role of the Marine Corps in the national defense establishment, the National Security Act had made the Commandant of the Marine Corps a "part time" member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff only when matters of Marine Corps interest were at issue. This denigration of the Corps to second-class citizenship had long been an insult and irritation. Within the organization of the Joint Chiefs, a policy existed that when the Chairman was absent from Washington, the next ranking Chief would assume authority as "Acting Chairman".

In early 1978, the Chairman and all other chiefs of service, except General Wilson were absent from Washington. A memorandum from the Director of the Joint Staff indicated that in the absence of the Chairman, and the Chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army was appointed "Acting Chairman". An irritated inquiry from the Marine Corps gained a response from the Director that "the Commandant cannot be appointed Acting Chairman because he is only a part time member of the Joint Chiefs."

Like when Miss Jane Clark drove by four decades earlier - already with a "steady" and "no chance" -- or when the Seventh Fleet Commander was about to suspend flight operations: Wrong Answer!

General Wilson quietly and without fanfare, took the issue to Capitol Hill, and when the 1979 Defense Authorization Bill came out, it contained a provision that made the Commandant of the Marine Corps a full-fledged member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Indeed, the legacy achieved by its 26th Commandant for the Corps sits before us today. Without Lou Wilson's personal perseverance and victory, it is not likely that General Pete Pace, the Chairman Designate, or General Jim Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, or General Jim Cartwright, the Commander, U. S. Strategic Command, would be in their positions today. Lou Wilson elevated his Corps from a bureaucratic, second-class category to co-equal status with every other branch of the armed services . and his country -- and the profession of those who bear arms in its defense - will be forever the beneficiaries.

And so, as we assemble today to bid farewell to one of the true giants of our Corps and our Nation, let us do so with gratitude that America produces men the likes of Louis Wilson - and that "They" choose to become Marines.

Semper Fidelis!
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