By |Published On: November 11th, 2022|Categories: MFTF Training Series|

Editor’s Note: This piece is written by a friend of Wes Gray and has nothing to do with finance but does present some insights into what is important to the leadership of Alpha Architect and why we support the March for the Fallen event. Happy Veteran’s Day.

From the Halls of Montezuma, where Marines stormed the Chapultepec Castle in the fall of 1847 during the Mexican American War, they may have first been exposed to Día de Los Muertos, “The Day of the Dead,” a celebration originating thousands of years ago from the Aztec Culture where fallen loved ones are honored with the concept that you die twice. Once when you take your final breath, and then again, the last time someone says your name.

This summer, The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia unveiled a memorial, honoring lieutenants killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The memorial consists of a larger-than-life statue flanked by two black granite walls. The left wall lists all the names of the twenty-eight lieutenants killed in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the right wall lists all the names of the nine lieutenants killed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.

The sculpture at the centerpiece of the memorial represents a generation of young men who served after the attacks of September 11, 2001. For these men, the stakes of war were never theoretical. They knew they would be going into harm’s way. They knew the risks. They volunteered to serve.

The statue of a Marine Lieutenant on a combat patrol kneels with his rifle at the low ready. The dynamic pose looks as if the bronze could come to life. The kneeling stance signifies not only impending movement but also a life’s potential.

Towering larger than life, the fighting load on the sculpture makes the lieutenant look imposingly big. A nine-millimeter pistol mounted on his chest rig sits above magazine pouches filled with extra 5.56-millimeter ammo. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will notice the smaller subtleties in the details. The Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) spoon is tucked in the top molle strap. The lieutenant chose to wear one knee pad on his dominant knee. The fingers cut off the gloves to feel the dexterity of the trigger.

Marine veterans will have a sense of what’s not visible on the statue as well. Tucked away in the lieutenant’s field uniform pocket is a can of dip. Under the man’s cammies, he has at least three tattoos. It’s a safe bet he also is carrying at least one good luck charm. Most likely a St. Christopher Medallion, a revered Zippo lighter, or an inspiring poem.

The flak jacket, weapons, ammo, and other gear add up to a significant burden in addition to the even heavier weight of responsibility the lieutenant carries.

The warrior’s location is fitting, between the brick barracks and classrooms of The Basic School. In the distance are the Oak and Maple woods of Quantico where all of the fallen lieutenants, etched on the granite walls, would have dug foxholes and learned to carry the weight.

The thirty-seven lieutenants’ average age when they were killed was twenty-five years old. Reading the obituaries of all thirty-seven lieutenants, it’s humbling to learn each man’s unique story but also revealing to see they all share striking similarities and attributes.

“First to fight for right and freedom and to keep our honor clean,” is a powerful stanza in the Marines’ Hymn. These aren’t just words but an essence that the men on the wall personified, like First Lieutenant Therrel Childers, a Citadel graduate and prior-enlisted Marine, who was the first American Causality in Operation Iraqi Freedom, killed in action on March 21, 2003.

Childers’s dad, who served as a Navy Seabee, took his son to visit the U.S. Embassy in Iran when Childers was five. The dress blue uniform that inspired his son to serve would be the same uniform that would break his heart. His dad said when Childers saw the Marines in their dress blues guarding the embassy, his five-year-old son knew at that moment his goal in life was to claim the title of United States Marine.

All of these men wanted to be Marine leaders. This is not something you can fake, mail-in or just go through the motions. To become a Marine Officer requires going through Quantico, the crossroads of the Marine Corps and the home of Officer Candidate School and The Basic School. The marshy area that the Algonquin-speaking tribes in the region called the long creek sits in the shadow of Washington D.C. and the Pentagon, forty miles south of Arlington National Cemetery.

Right of passage. Earned, never given. These phrases are brought to life during the struggles of training in Quantico. Crawling through the Quigley, humping to the rifle range, patrolling through field exercises. The lieutenants memorialized in the granite, surely repeated the joke that at Officer Candidate School, they shoot you, but at The Basic School, they stab you and let you bleed out slowly over six months.

They would have made fun of the pilots who wore goggles during night land navigation but secretly worried themselves about getting an eye popped out scrambling through the forest of Quantico in the dark of the night. At OCS and TBS they would have become aficionados of rifle cleaning supplies and acquired a strange familiar affinity for the smell of the oil that cleans, lubes, and protects their weapon. They also would have heard a guest speaker, most likely an older general officer, share the story of Marine Occupational Specialties getting announced during the Vietnam Era and that it wasn’t uncommon for those assigned to the infantry designation of 0302 to reply, “Oh Three, Oh Shit!”

They all would have overcome some degree of shin splints, blistered feet, and mild to severe heat exhaustion, and along the way, learned leaders eat last. The training would shape their minds and bodies to carry the weight of leading Marines in combat.

Looking north beyond the bronze statue across the grass mall, three of the brick barracks are named after three of the lieutenants whose names are etched on the granite wall honoring Operation Iraqi Freedom; Pokorney, McGlothlin, and Manion. These three men were posthumously awarded the third-highest military decoration for valor in combat. The entrance to the three halls is adorned with the names of the Silver Star recipients, and next to the entrance of each barracks, a black granite individual monument describes the acts of gallantry each man displayed.

Pokorney Hall honors First Lieutenant Frederick E Pokorney, an artillery officer from Tonopah, Nevada, a small mining town about 220 miles southeast of Reno. During the battle of An Nasiriyah, Iraq, Pokorney exposed himself to heavy enemy gunfire to coordinate fire support to repel an enemy attack. During the attack, a volley of enemy bullets and enemy rocket-propelled grenades hit behind his position, mortally wounding him on March 23, 2003.

Pokorney had been estranged from his birth parents going through school. As a teen, he worked as a waiter, dishwasher, and cook during high school to provide for himself. For a time, he lived with his high school basketball coach, Tim Mutch, a Marine veteran. During this time, they often talked about military service and how the Marines would physically and mentally challenge someone to be their best. Standing just over six foot six, Pokorney was an imposing figure who led his high school basketball team to be runner-up in the Nevada State Championship his senior year. Mutch’s talks of service deeply affected Pokorney, who enlisted in the Marines. Pokorney was accepted into the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP) and attended Oregon State University. Pokorney is survived by his wife and daughter, Taylor, who was 2.5 years old at the time of his death. He was the first Marine killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried in Arlington. Including Pokorney, thirteen of the thirty-seven lieutenants honored on the Quantico memorial are buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

McGlothlin Hall honors First Lieutenant Donald R. McGlothlin, an infantry officer from Lebanon, Virginia, who carried his favorite poem tucked away in his cammies on patrol. During Operation Steel Curtain in New Ubaydi, Iraq, McGlothlin fought through an insurgent stronghold to secure one of his Marine Squads. During the evacuation of his wounded Marines, McGlothlin shielded his Marines from an enemy grenade blast and again engaged the enemy in a fierce small arms fire fight, until he was mortally wounded on November 16, 2005. McGlothlin graduated from William and Mary in 2001 with honors in chemistry and was on a full academic scholarship pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford University. His graduate work was interrupted when, inspired by September 11, 2001, he joined the Marine Corps.

McGlothlin’s father attended the memorial service in Quantico. He proudly shared that his son had been the honor graduate of his Basic School class and that he had visited Quantico a decade earlier in 2012 for the dedication ceremony of the hall being named in his son’s honor. He said his son had been livid about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and furious that someone had attacked American citizens on our soil. His dad said McGlothlin excelled at anything he set as a goal. Among his son’s many honors, McGlothlin had been valedictorian of his high school class.

The poem McGlothlin carried when he was killed in Iraq was called “Don’t Quit” by Edgar Guest. In his high school valedictorian speech, McGlothlin quoted the poem. The last line reads: 

Success is failure turned inside out – the silver tint of the clouds of doubt, and when you never can tell how close you are, it may be near when it seems afar; so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit – it’s when things seem worst, you must not quit.

Another Gold Star father attending the memorial event was Tom Manion from Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He served 30 years in the Marine Corps, 11 on active duty and 19 in the reserves before retiring as a Colonel the year his son was killed. At the event, he was overheard saying,” Let’s go look at Travis’s house,” as he walked over to the Manion Hall barracks that honors his son, First Lieutenant Travis Manion.

During an insurgent ambush in Al Anbar Province, Manion led a counterattack against enemy forces. He was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded comrades and died on April 29, 2007. Manion was born November 19, 1980, in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, while his father was on active duty. A gifted athlete Manion attended the Naval Academy, where he wrestled and excelled academically. At the Naval Academy, Manion shared a room with Brendan Looney, who became a decorated Navy Seal. The roommates, athletes, and warriors bonded over intense training and created an unbreakable brotherly connection.

Between his first deployment in 2005 and his second deployment, Manion attended a Philadelphia Eagles game. His brother-in-law joked that he would trip Manion so that he’d break his leg and not have to redeploy to Iraq. Manion turned to him and said, “If not me, then who?” The quote embodies Manion’s life of service, and his legacy lives on with a foundation named in his honor that supports military families, assists wounded veterans, and provides various scholarships.

In 2010, three years after Manion was killed in Iraq, Looney was killed in Afghanistan and reunited with his fallen classmate. The two Naval Academy roommates and dear friends are buried next to each other, side by side, in Arlington National Cemetery.

Of the thirty-seven fallen Marine Lieutenants whose names are etched in granite on the memorial, five attended the Naval Academy; Travis Manion, James Blecksmith, Michael LiCalzi, Ronald Winchester, and Brandon Barrett.

Seventy-five miles northeast of Quantico in Annapolis, Manion, and Looney and the other Academy grads would have gone through plebe year and endured the trials of the hallowed institution. At the Academy like Quantico, they would have embraced gallows humor with acronyms like IHTFP (I Hate this F’in Place) or phrases such as, “The only place in the world where they take away the basic rights of man and give them back to you one by one as privileges.”

At the Academy, the midshipmen probably read, The Nightingale’s Song, by Robert Timberg, a Marine Officer, Vietnam Veteran and Academy graduate which quotes the sentiments above and profiles Academy grads that served in the Navy and Marine Corps.

Two 1958 Academy classmates featured in Timberg’s book are Chuck Larson and John McCain. A four-star admiral, Larson served as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command and also served twice as Superintendent of the Naval Academy. A Naval Aviator, John McCain was shot down in Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war. Upon his release, McCain went on to serve a long career as a U.S. Senator for Arizona and run for President in 2008.  

After graduating from the Academy, Larson and McCain embodied a life of service marked by distinction and an unwavering commitment to the United States. Larson died in 2014 at the age of 77, seven years after Manion was killed in Iraq in the spring of 2007. McCain died in 2018 at 81, seven years after Looney was killed in Afghanistan in the fall of 2010. Coincidentally Larson and McCain– who had lived to old age and contributed a life of service– had the same wish as their younger Academy alumni, Manion and Looney who had died in combat zones in their youth. Honoring their wishes, the two classmates of ’58 and dear friends are buried next to each other, side by side, in Annapolis at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery. Senator McCain’s obituary highlights that at his funeral, Admiral Larson’s widow Sarah remarked, “Chuck has his wingman back now.”

Like the men profiled in a Nightingale’s Song, Pokorney, McGlothlin, Manion and the other fallen Marine Lieutenants each shared an unassailable certainty that they believed in America. Many were prior-enlisted, many were gifted athletes, and many were legacies. The statue that represents them in Quantico, perpetually frozen in youth, symbolizes the collective future experiences that were deprived beyond that of these young officers’ ages. These men had they not died on the battlefield, would have certainly gone on to make outsized contributions in service to the United States.

Fourteen of the thirty-seven fallen lieutenants were married when they were killed. Their life’s lost potential is not only their own but the positive impact they would have made in the lives of their friends, families and children. Five of the lieutenants memorialized on the wall were fathers. One was an expecting father originally from Reno, Nevada.

Second Lieutenant James Cathey’s wife was five months pregnant when he was killed by a roadside improvised explosive device north of Fallujah near Al Karmah, Iraq on August 21, 2005. In his obituary, Cathey’s mom said since the fourth grade he knew he wanted to be a Marine. Like Pokorney, Cathey was a mustang, a prior enlisted Marine.

The mustang officers bring experience and perspective from their years of serving in the enlisted ranks. They are pacesetters and standard bearers for the other future officers as they learn the responsibility of being an officer. Twelve of the thirty-seven fallen lieutenants were prior enlisted, having gone through boot camp at Marine Corps Recruits Depot in Paris Island or San Diego.

Cathey finished school early by two months, missing his high school graduation so that he could ship off to boot camp. He excelled as a Marine and led his squad to win the Marine Corps’ elite Super Squad competition. He was selected for the MECEP officer program. He attended the University of Colorado, graduating with honors and two degrees in three years, eager to return to the fleet and lead Marines as an infantry officer.

One of Cathey’s final field training exercises for infantry officer course (IOC) took place in Bridgeport, California, at the Mountain Warfare Training Center. After the cold weather training in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, designed to train the Marines to fight in the snow of far-off Northern lands, the lieutenants were granted a twenty-four-hour liberty period an hour and a half away in Reno, Nevada. Cathey charismatically gave a safety brief following the five-paragraph order format covering orientation, situation, mission, execution, admin and logistics and command and signal. Roaring laughter could be heard during the lively brief that included a sand table map of bars, clubs and other questionable establishments in his hometown of Reno where Cathey outlined places where to go and places where the lieutenants probably should not go. Inevitably many of the young men, headed to war, went to the places “not to go” and the aftermath resulted in future IOC classes being banned from taking liberty in Reno.

The night before Cathey’s burial, his wife Katherine refused to leave his flag-draped casket. Her son was born on December 22, 2005, and she named him after his father, James Jefferey Cathey, Jr.

A year and half after Cathey’s death, another Marine from Reno died not too far from where Cathey was killed outside of Fallujah. First Lieutenant Nathan M. Krissoff, a counterintelligence officer, was killed in action while conducting combat operations south of Fallujah on December 9, 2006. Krissoff was known as the ultimate scholar-athlete in high school, where he excelled in water polo and swimming. A natural leader, Krissoff served as student body president. He attended Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he captained the men’s water polo and swim teams. After September 11, 2001, a sense of civic duty inspired him to join the Marines. While deployed to Iraq, Krissoff’s younger brother went through Officer Candidates School in Quantico. Nathan wrote him a letter after a Marine in his unit was killed. It read,

“Never forget that all the trials and training you and the other candidates go through is not about you. America’s sons and daughters will be entrusted to your care. You owe them competence, discipline, courage, judgment…”

He signed off the letter, “Earn it. Semper Fidelis, Nate.”

Days after Nathan was killed his brother Austin accepted a commission as a Marine Officer. After his son’s death, Nathan’s dad, Bill Krissoff, a successful orthopedic surgeon, personally received an age waiver from President George W. Bush to join the Navy at the age of 62. The Navy Surgeon and Gold Star father served a seven-month tour to Afghanistan, where he was the primary surgeon on two hundred and twenty-five trauma surgeries.

Nathan Krissoff inspired his father to serve. More commonly, a parent’s or grandparent’s service in the Marines is a key motivation for them to become a Marine and carry on their family’s legacy of military service. Found in the obituaries as key factors for why these men chose to serve are numerous stories of Marine veterans’ family members sharing Esprit de corps long after they left active duty. Traditions include singing the Marine’s Hymn on November 10 and breaking out a mameluke sword at special occasions to cut a wedding or birthday cake. Of the thirty-seven fallen lieutenants, the majority had some family connection to the military, and more than a third had a father or grandfather who had served in the Marines.

First Lieutenant Matthew Lynch of Jericho, New York, an infantry officer with Second Battalion, Fifth Marines was inspired by his father’s service as a Marine. Lynch was killed on his third tour to Iraq near Ramadi on October 25, 2004. Lynch’s father Bill had served in the Marines in the 1960’s as well as his older brother Tim who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lynch was an extraordinary athlete shattering every individual swim record on his high school’s all-time leader board and earning the distinction as a standout baseball catcher. Lynch then attended Duke University, where he was a two-sport athlete as a swimmer and baseball player. After Duke, the Blue Devil’s father asked him, “What next?” to which Lynch responded, “Dad, the Marine Corps, of course.”

During both of his son’s combined five deployments, Bill Lynch feared seeing Marines in dress blue uniforms come to his door. As a First Lieutenant in 1966, Bill was assigned to the Marine Corps District Headquarters in Garden City, New York, and one of his duties was casualty calls. In his duty as a casualty officer, he had seen a mother’s heartbreak delivering the news that her son had been killed in action. Nearly forty years later, Bill and his wife Angela would have their hearts broken. When the Marines in dress blues walked up to the Lynch’s house, Bill said, “In an instant, I knew our Matt was gone.”

Reading about Lynch, Cathey and Krissoff, and the other fallen Marine Lieutenants, it’s clear this self-selecting group comprised a special type of person. The thirty-seven fallen lieutenants whose names are etched in the black granite brought their own individual style to leadership. These were evident before they joined the Marines and sharpened during their training and service. 

At the memorial unveiling, one man in his early seventies slowly walks along the Operation Enduring Freedom wall honoring the lieutenants killed in Afghanistan. He then continues along the Operation Iraqi Freedom wall honoring the lieutenants killed in Iraq, pausing to look at the map of Iraq etched in granite as if he knows every inch of the country like he’s fought there. From a distance, it appears he’s slowly reading every name. His posture stands out from the rest of the observers in that he looks as if he knows the story of not only every person listed on the walls but the grief felt by every Gold Star family.

At the summer unveiling ceremony, there are thirteen gold star families in attendance whose sons, brothers, and fathers’ names are etched in the granite. One of the Gold Star fathers in attendance is General John Kelly. After slowly walking both walls, Kelly returns to the Afghanistan wall and stands for a long period looking at a single name. The General’s face, shown in the reflective nature of the polished black granite, is broken up by his son’s name engraved on the wall.

Kelly’s 29-year-old son, First Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, an infantry officer with 3rd Battalion Fifth Marines was killed in action when he stepped on a landmine while leading a platoon of Marines on a patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan. First Lieutenant Kelly was on his third combat tour. After graduating from Florida State University, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. On his first tour as a Private First Class, Kelly was involved in Operation Phantom Fury, the bloody second assault in Fallujah in November of 2004. After a second combat tour to Iraq, Kelly volunteered for more service to become an officer.

On the memorial wall small specks of white and silver mica in the black granite give it a shine and sparkle that reveal the different individual unique fragments that together form the interlocking elements of granite, creating an indomitable mass. After serving more than four decades in the Marine Corps General Kelly embodies the vast array of special interlocking relationships between Marines that bound together across space and time to make the Marine Corps the Marine Corps.

The morning his son was killed, General Kelly awoke see a Marine at his doorstep. The notifying casualty officer was someone General Kelly had shared a brotherly connection with for four decades. Upon seeing his dear friend, General Joseph Dunford, Jr. in dress blues, General Kelly knew instantly that his son had been killed in action. His wife Karen was still asleep. “I then did the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life,” Kelly said. “I walked upstairs, woke Karen to the news, and broke her heart.”

General Kelly’s oldest son John, then a Captain in the Marines who had served multiple tours in combat, escorted his younger brother’s body from Dover Air Force Base to Arlington where First Lieutenant Robert Kelly would ultimately join the twelve other fallen lieutenants from Iraq and Afghanistan who were buried at the national cemetery.

At the summer unveiling of the monument, General Kelly reconnected with another Gold Star father he had been blessed by misfortune to connect with nearly two decades earlier. The Gold Star father, John Phelps, sculpted of the bronze statue centerpiece of the Quantico memorial. 

Eighteen years earlier, General Kelly had written to a Marine Officer who had escorted the body John Phelps’s son, from Dover Air Force Base to his final resting place. On April 9, 2004, Kelley was serving as assistant commander of First Marine Division when his convoy was ambushed outside of Ramadi, Iraq. In the attack, one of the Marines providing convoy security, Private First-Class Chance Phelps was killed in action a few weeks shy of his twentieth birthday.

Chance’s body was escorted home by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl. Shortly after Strobl filed his official trip report, he received an email from General Kelly. In the note, Kelly wrote, “…having done the kind of duty you report about, I know the emotions and pride. I was with the Marine you escorted, nearly right next to him, when he was killed… Thanks for taking care of our Marine.”

Strobl documented his trip in an essay called “Taking Chance,” which was later made into a movie by the same name. While delivering Chance’s remains to Dubois, Wyoming, and attending the funeral, Strobl met Chance’s father, John Phelps. Phelps would first meet General Kelly at a memorial honoring his son, Chance. This summer in Quantico, they met again, this time at the memorial honoring Kelly’s son.

Phelps served in the Navy during Vietnam then returned to Wyoming where he worked as a guide hunting elk and big horn sheep, but his real passion was as an artist. For nearly three decades, Phelps’s artwork focused solely on the Great American West, featuring terrain, mountain men, and cowboys that looked like stills pulled from a John Wayne film. 

About a year after Chance was killed, Phelps was approached by a nonprofit, Hope for Warriors, that commissioned Phelps to create a sculpture depicting a harrowing moment in Fallujah where First Sergeant Bradley Kasal was being rescued from the “Hell House,” by Lance Corporals, Chris Marques and Dane Shaffer during Operation Phantom Fury in 2004.

The fall of that year two Marine Regimental Combat Teams (RCT), RCT One and RCT Seven took part in the operation moving from North to South through Fallujah in the most intense urban battle of the war. As mentioned above, Robert Kelly fought in the battle as a Private First Class and survived to go on and become an officer but was killed in Afghanistan six years later. Two lieutenants memorialized on the Operation Iraqi Freedom wall in Quantico were killed in Fallujah as part of Operation Phantom Fury in the days leading up to the “Hell House.”

First Lieutenant Dan Malcom, an infantry officer from Brinson, Georgia, was serving in the same battalion as Kelly at the time, First Battalion, Eighth Marines. He was killed in action during the operation on November 10, 2004. Malcom, a Citadel graduate, is also buried at Arlington.

The next day on November 11, 2004, Second Lieutenant James Blecksmith of San Marino, California, was killed. Blecksmith, an infantry officer with Third Battalion, Fifth Marines and had played football at the Naval Academy. His father, Edward, had served in the Marines in Vietnam.

Two days after Blecksmith was killed, on November 13, 2004, a combat photographer, Lucian Read, captured the iconic photo with the bloodied First Sergeant’s arms draped over the two young Marines. In a fight for life, the picture highlights how Marines never lose their nerve. In Kasal’s right hand, he’s holding his nine-millimeter pistol. In his left hand, he’s holding a Ka-bar fighting knife.

 It took Phelps four years to sculpt “No Man Left Behind” a bronze statue version depicting the three Marines from the “Hell House.” In 2009, two copies of the striking ten-foot-tall bronze monuments were dedicated. One in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and the other at Camp Pendleton, California. A smaller maquette version of the statue is also featured in the board room at the National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico Virginia.

The Marine Corps Museum recommended Phelps as the sculptor for the Quantico statue representing a generation of fallen Marine Lieutenants. The likeness of the lieutenant sculpted in bronze was a real lieutenant named Shaun Blue.

Blue was killed during combat in Al Anbar province, Iraq on April 16, 2007. An infantry officer, First Lieutenant Shaun Blue of Munster, Indiana was inspired to join the Marines by his grandfather Cecil Blue who had served in the Marines during World War Two. In high school Blue cluttered his family’s garage with twenty-five broken wheelchairs that he fixed up for his local community charity. A National Merit Scholar and exceptional student-athlete Blue wrestled and ran track and cross country before attending University of Southern California on an NROTC scholarship.

In the Marines, Blue impacted his men and fellow officers. In officer training, Blue established himself as one of the most talented officers, scoring a 300 on the Physical Fitness Test, excelling academically, and also earning the reputation as a tough field Marine. Blue always focused first on helping his peers before striving for individual accolades. When it was cold, dark, and wet, he’d volunteer for the last watch, carry the extra weight and offer up his last cigarette or dip of Copenhagen. In return, Blue earned the respect of everyone he served with. He embodied the unconditional hand of fellowship that gives without expecting anything in return.

Blue’s platoon sergeant, Robert Bell said, “He was a great man; there’s not a single day that goes by I don’t think about Blue.” A member of Blue’s infantry officer course class named his son after Blue, and another set up an endowment in his name.

In late 2021 the Marine Corps Association and Foundation and The Basic School established an excellence award called; the First Lieutenant Shaun Blue award. The first award was given out in the summer of 2022. Each year, one lieutenant from The Basic School that has shown an exemplary embodiment of the Values of the Marine Corps: Honor, Courage, and Commitment will be awarded a “Heisman Size” Trophy in the likeness of First Lieutenant Shaun Blue. The recipient is selected by their peer lieutenants as “who they would most like to go to combat with,” which cuts to the heart of the Marine fighting spirit.

When the original proposal for the trophy and statue was being considered, it came across the desk of General George Smith. He was serving as Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations at the Pentagon. After hearing about Blue and the award, Smith, who had served as The Basic School Commander from 2007-2010, said there’s only one place for this, The Basic School in Quantico.

Smith’s email with intent ultimately found its way to the incoming commander at The Basic School, Colonel Joel Schmidt, who had previously commanded Second Battalion, Second Marines, the same unit Cathey had served in. Schmidt wasted no time championing the memorial. The Secretary eventually approved the tribute honoring all Marine Lieutenants killed in OIF and OEF of the Navy.

During the three years John Phelps was working on the sculpture, he went dark for a few months and couldn’t be reached. When finally contacted, John apologized for being off the grid. He said, “I’m sorry I had been diagnosed with cancer and was going through treatments.” Asked if he wanted to hand off his sculpture in progress to someone else, John adamantly refused, “I’m going to finish the sculpture.”

John’s health improved and he finished the sculpture. Before the final bronze was cast, Phelps hosted a group of Marine vets at the foundry in Wyoming to see the full-size model of Blue. The final detail shined through in a way that could have only been accomplished by the sculpting hands of a Gold Star father.

Befitting for a group started in a tavern, the group toasted Blue with a bottle of scotch. Everyone in attendance signed the bottle after they took their shot. When it got to Phelps, he shared that when he started sculpting the statue, he had never heard of Blue. He paid tribute saying, “After working on the sculpture, I feel like I know him.” After his salute, Phelps took the final shot and signed the bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label.

The night before the unveiling in Quantico. John would first meet Shaun’s father, Jim Blue. The two men attended a small dinner with a few other gold star families at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington D.C. across from the White House. After the dinner, a larger group that included many Marines and veterans who had served with the fallen lieutenants met for a drink at the hotel bar downstairs called “Off the Record.”

One attendee, a businessman whose stepdad served in the Marines in World War II, offered to buy the entire bar a round of old fashions to toast the memory of the fallen Marines. When the bartender registered what was being asked, he snapped to, quickly making the drinks for the round recognizing the seriousness of the task.

The Marines called the crowded bar of civilians to a hushed silence in a way only Marines can, and a loud toast was made to the Marine Lieutenants killed in action. The toast continued with the names of the fallen being called out. A raucous clanking of the glasses followed the toasts, interrupted by a bugle call.

Unbeknownst to the Marines, the bartender had arranged for one of the staff to play Taps. When the universal somber melody was heard from the bugle, the Marines and Veterans snapped to attention. Shortly after, the entire bar was standing in a similar pose. The bar fell utterly silent after the final note of Taps had been played. Everyone shared a sanctified moment in the bar. To the Marines, this was the familiar feeling of Esprit de corps.

The next day the Esprit de corps continued. After the memorial unveiling, a reception was held at “The Hawk.” The Marine bar is named after First Lieutenant William D. Hawkins, who served with Second Battalion, Second Marines, and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously after he was killed in action during the battle of Tawara in World War Two. 

The Gold Star families in attendance were the guests of honor in The Hawk. The initial wave of statements offering sympathy for their loss was followed by universal gratitude for their sacrifice, and most importantly, the room was filled with the stories and memories being shared by those that had served with their fallen Marines.

After The Hawk, a sizable detachment of Marines, vets, Gold Star family members, and friends retreated off base to the Globe & Laurel. The group took up shop in the lot behind the pub for professional Marines and went to work on numerous rounds of beers, Semper Fi platters, and cigars.

As the sun set, the original proprietor and founder of the pub, Major Rick Spooner, made an appearance. He was making regular rounds and peeked out of the cigar room to see the back lot full of people. Upon learning there were several Gold Star families in attendance, Major Spooner sat down and proceeded to hold court.

The 96-year-old World War Two veteran held the audience in a trance as he took it upon himself to share an oral anthology of the Marine Corps. After asking about the Marines and what units they served in, Spooner acutely shared several stories connecting Marines fighting from the streets of Fallujah to the jungles of Guadalcanal, from the poppy fields of Sangin to the forests of Belleau Wood. Spooner’s self-assigned mission that night was to impart to the Gold Star families that their sons were a part of the Marine Corps’ storied legacy.

One story Spooner shared was that of Henry Hulbert, who, at the time of his death, was serving as a first lieutenant. As a private in 1899, Hulbert received the Medal of Honor in the Second Samoa War in the Pacific about 3,500 miles southeast of where Spooner would later serve in World War Two during the Battle of Saipan.

In World War Two, Spooner’s superiors, many of who had served in World War I, were still sharing stories about Hulbert. In March of 1917, Hulbert was commissioned as a warrant officer and became the first Marine Gunner. A few months later, in June of 1917, Hulbert fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood. Hulbert stayed fighting across France and, in July of 1917, was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Battle of Château-Thierry. In October 1917, Hulbert was killed in action in France at Blanc Mont Ridge. At the time of his death, his promotion to captain had been approved by the Secretary of the Navy.

Over a hundred years ago, Hulbert and the Marines that fought on the Western Front in France exhibited ferocity in combat that would be ingrained into the Corps collective consciousness. Famous quotes from the fighting like, “Retreat, hell, we just got here!” by Captain Lloyd Williams, and “C’mon you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever?” by Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daley, are known by every Marine. On the French battlefront, Hulbert, Williams, and Daley and their Marines may have first heard the French term for the “Spirit of the body” that embodied a fighting unit’s morale known in French as “Esprit de corps.”

Spooner then told how that Esprit de corps connected the Marines of Belleau Wood to the TBS Commander Joel Schmidt. Decades ago, after Schmidt completed The Basic School as a lieutenant, he was held up from starting Infantry Officer Course due to a blown-out ACL. He didn’t want to be attached to Mike Company, so the enterprising Schmidt volunteered to do some research for the IOC staff on Gunner Hulbert as IOC was starting their Gunner IOC program that year. In this capacity, Schmidt was told to head over to Globe and Laurel and hear from Spooner about the legendary Marine. Spooner recapped Hulbert’s service and also his legacy. In 1919 two years after his death, a U.S. Navy destroyer was named in Hulbert’s honor. The USS Hulbert was moored at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. When the Japanese attacked, the USS Hulbert was the first ship to return fire. After making it through World War II the USS Hulbert was decommissioned in the fall of 1945.

Schmidt’s charter was to research Hulbert at the National Archives and see if anything was compelling that could be woven into the new Gunner’s course curriculum. Spooner challenged Schmidt to go one step further and see if he could find the Bell from the USS Hulbert and reclaim it for the Marine Corps.

The Naval History and Heritage Command were surprised to hear from a Marine Lieutenant requesting the Bell for the USS Hulbert. They quickly said no to Schmidt’s request to give the Bell to the Marine Corps. Dismayed but not defeated, Schmidt reported to Spooner the bittersweet news he had found Hulbert’s Bell, but he was told it was to be kept at a dark warehouse at the historic Washington Navy Yard. “Hulbert’s Bell survived a Japanese Torpedo attack at Pearl Harbor,” said Spooner, “I’ll be damned if some administrative bureaucracy will keep this from seeing the light of day.”

The two men joined forces to reassess how they might wrangle the Bell into Marine’s possession and ensure it didn’t remain locked away, never to be seen again. To the Naval History and Heritage Command’s surprise, a week later, they received a call from a congressman asking that the Bell not be given to the Marine Corps but be loaned to Marine Corps and held at The Basic School. The congressman had been contacted by Harvey Barnum, who had received the Medal of Honor while serving as a Marine First Lieutenant in Vietnam, through Major Spooner.

Though the Naval History and Heritage Command still “owns” the USS Hulbert Bell, today it hangs in the chow hall at The Basic School, next to The Hawk, “on loan to the Marine Corps.”

As Spooner spoke about Hulbert and the other Marines from the Corps, he puffed on his cigar. As the cigar smoke became thicker and thicker, one thing became ever clearer. The words Spooner was using, and the stories he was telling, were the same attributes that the men on the Quantico memorial possessed. The Marines of the past were men cut from the same cloth as James Cathey, Nathan Krissoff, and Robert Kelly, they were all part of the same legacy. The special interlocking connection that passed from generation to generation, from fathers to sons, from brothers to brothers, and from one Marine to another was the foundation of the Esprit de corps.

Major Spooner’s fighting spirit and dedication to honor the memory of Hulbert left an impression on Schmidt. When envisioning the memorial’s location to honor the fallen Marine Lieutenants, Schmidt sketched out his intention to ensure the memorial would have the same impact as Hulbert’s Bell that is seen every day at The Basic School chow hall. These fallen Marines would be remembered. This summer, that intention was brought to life.

The intent of placing the memorial in a central location just in front of The Hawk at The Basic School is so that the young officers will walk by the memorial daily as it sits in between the barracks, the chow hall, and the classrooms and be reminded of the great sacrifices those that have gone before them have paid and the importance of preparing in training for their great responsibility to carry the weight. Their stories will be told. Their sacrifices are remembered. Their names will be said.

In many years to come, the memorial will serve as a place for several promotions, award ceremonies, and small unit professional military education classes honoring the memory of Marine Lieutenants like Pokorney, McGlothlin, and Manion. Their stories will motivate future generations of Marines.


The indomitable mass of granite is the Marine Corps, built by countless interlocking relationships that span every clime and place since 1775. The fragments etched out of the stone of the names show the loss of the thirty-seven lieutenants killed. Their absence does not make the Marine Corps weaker. Their legacy makes it stronger.

Let us return to the Día de Los Muertos concept that a person dies twice. The second time is the last time their name is said. These men died once in combat. They have not yet died again. Like Hulbert’s Bell, in one hundred years and beyond, lieutenants at Quantico will see the names of the men etched into the black granite walls and be inspired by the statue of bronze and Blue.  

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About the Author: Luke Larson

Luke Larson
Luke currently serves as President and has played an integral role in spearheading Axon’s body camera business into the highly profitable, global market-leading platform solution that it is today. He values big thinking and bold moves, which he has helped Axon pursue during his tenure. Prior to joining Axon in June of 2008, Luke served two tours in Iraq as a Marine Corps infantry officer and was awarded the Bronze Star with V for valor. Luke holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona, and an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

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