"We happy few," men at war
By Ed Marek, editor
Many people have written about the special bonds that tie men and women at war together. Bill Coffey, a retired Army officer, has assembled a marvelous presentation that tries to convey what those bonds really mean, matching photography with quotations from those who have tried to describe that bond. Having just returned from work in Kuwait, Bill comments, "Once again, I witnessed the power and inspiration of this thing which is referred to by many names, titles, nouns and adjectives." This is Bill Coffey's presentation. You'll not leave it dry-eyed.
Edited by Ed Marek
October 20, 2008, republished January 21, 2016
Nothing tougher, nothing more honorable.
On the 2007 anniversary of the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor, I presented work done by William T. "Bill" Coffey , Jr., a retired Army major, who had compiled a suite of quotes about the American war ﬁghter and matched those with photos to tell a story about the American ﬁghting man. It was entitled, "The American warrior, manning a post of honor, with heart, strength, resolve."
Bill, a senior space operations analyst with the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command, has just returned from work in Kuwait. He has said, "Once again, I witnessed the power and inspiration of this thing which is referred to by many names, titles, nouns and adjectives" --- to wit, the camaraderie and closeness between men and women in the military.
This is Bill's presentation and I am once again proud to convey it to you. Proud Americans will not leave this presentation dry-eyed.
We happy few. “Shall ne’er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” William Shakespeare's King Henry V, Act 4, Scene III
Men ﬁght for their friends whom they will not let down. “Generals and politicians and others full of their own importance make speeches but nothing happens until Tommy Atkins turns his face to the enemy, puts his riﬂe at high port and advances to his front ... No man ﬁghts for King and country, not for the glory of his regiment nor its ﬂag. He ﬁghts for his friends, he ﬁghts because his friends are expecting him to and he ﬁghts because he is unwilling to let them down. Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Britain's top soldier in WW2.
The real heroes. “The real heroes were my good buddies who died during the battles.” Marine Corporal Ira Hayes (one of ﬁve Marines and a Navy Corpsman who raised Old Glory atop Mt Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Feb. 1945)
We are in the ass-kicking business. “I like Marines, because being a Marine is serious business. We’re not a social club or a fraternal organization and we don’t pretend to be one. We’re a brotherhood of 'Warriors' – nothing more, nothing less, pure and simple. We are in the ass-kicking business, and unfortunately, these days business is good.” Colonel James M. Lowe, Commander, Marine Corps Base Quantico
At times like this, you ask "Why?" "To save your world you asked this man to die; Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?" Wystan H. Auden, Epitaph for an unknown soldier.
Doing nothing is not an option. "The only way for evil men to triumph is for good men to do nothing," said Lt. Col. Michael Hudson, MAG-39 executive ofﬁcer, quoting Edmund Burke. "These Marines were here because for them doing nothing was not an option."
Nothing tougher, nothing more honorable. “Going to a memorial is the toughest thing you are going to do when you get home. It is also the most honorable. It is our time to talk about not only how the Soldier lived, but how he touched our lives and be able to express ourselves while letting him know that as we live we will never forget the ultimate sacriﬁce that they gave to us so we can continue to live as a free nation.” Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Johndrow, 1st Cavalry Division, Iraq.
We owe them victory. “We are here to honor the memory and service of seven men, seven of our brothers in arms ... why do we have to lose such good men? Part of the answer is only good men like these volunteer to serve and defend their country ... For those who want to support us by getting us out of Iraq as soon as possible, without a victory, I have but one comment. You’re too late. We have sacriﬁced too much and all we ask of you is the necessary time to ﬁnish the job ... So I ask you ‘Wolfpack’ to make this promise with me. They will not have died for nothing. We owe them a victory. We owe them a win. We owe them our own lives if necessary. If the enemy comes out to ﬁght he will be met with a disciplined lethal ferocity he has never before endured. If he plays the sly game of intimidating, beheading and torturing the innocent people of Iraq when he thinks we’re not looking, he will be met with a cunning, a sophistication and a relentlessness that will lead to his utter defeat. This is my promise to you as your commander and from all of us to our honored dead.” Lt. Col. Rod Coffey, Commander, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, The "Wolfpack”, Diyala Province, Iraq, January 22, 2008.
The American and Iraqi ﬂags ﬂy at half-staff in honor of Cpl. Nelson and Lance Cpl. Opicka, USMC on April 17, 2008. A memorial service remembering these fallen brothers was held on Camp Habbaniyah, Friday, April 18, 2008. The orange color of the sky is a result of a strong dust storm currently hitting Camp Habbaniya, Iraq.
“We are Marines. Many people don't understand what we do as Marines or they really don’t want to know. Many people are just thankful that we are out there. The force between them and evil. They are quick to chastise us or point out the rare occasions when we drift, however, they beg for us to go stand between them and fear. In the very recent past, we have lost two Marines from our unit, the ﬁrst of this deployment, many of the last few deployments. They are warriors, school teachers and sons. They wanted to make a difference and they did. Now that we have grieved and held a memorial, we put our helmets back on, push outside the wire and continue to keep the wolf at bay. Why you ask? Because we are Marines.” Major Gary Bourland 18 Apr 2008:
He would not let his Marines down. “If there's a trip one way, he said, Into battle grim for me, Don't let them say when I am dead: He died to save democracy; Nor let them say: He fought to free Enslaved nations, white or brown; Just print these simple words for me: He would not let his Marines down.”
Memorial service, set up by the Marines of the 2nd Bn, 24th Marines for one of their fallen comrades, LCpl Daniel Wyatt, from Fox Company 2/24 Marines. Quote from a letter by Mark A. Smith, Lt Col, USMC, commander, 2-24 Marines, Mahmudiyah, Iraq
As if an Angel from God has fallen from heaven. "My command security element and myself personally recovered Daniel's body and escorted him back to the forward operating base, and then onto the helicopter for the beginning of his ﬁnal ride home. I cannot even begin to express to you the soul touching sight of combat hardened Marines, encrusted with weeks of sweat and dust, who have daily been engaged in combat, coming to complete and utter solemnity and respect in the handling of the body of one of their own. It puts on display a level of brotherly love you just cannot see anywhere else ... I am an under-educated gun toter from Indiana who is just lucky there is an organization like the USMC where a half-wit like myself with some rudimentary combat skills can succeed. But I do know heroes! I am surrounded by over a thousand of them. And I am not the least bit ashamed to tell you I have wept like a baby for Daniel Wyatt. Because when one of these heroes falls, it is as if an Angel of God himself has fallen from heaven!
For one another. “American soldiers in battle don't ﬁght for what some president says on T.V., they don't ﬁght for mom, apple pie, the American ﬂag...they ﬁght for one another.” Lt. Col. Hal Moore
The truth of battle is too holy to speak save to your brother. "When a warrior ﬁghts not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life's preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime. This is why the true warrior cannot speak of battle save to his brothers who have been there with him. This truth is too holy, too sacred for words. I myself would not presume to give it speech, save here now, with you." From the book, Gates of Fire
The highest human exhibition of love. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The highest human exhibition of love that earth has ever seen was this. Christ was about to exhibit this highest type of human love by dying for his friends.” John, 15:13,14
For your freedom. "Only two deﬁning forces have died for you. Jesus, for your sins and American Troops, for your freedom."
All we can do is remember. “It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives – the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to everything for our country, for us. Remarks by President Ronald Reagan, Veterans Day National Ceremony, November 11, 1985.
The closest I have been to Christmas in a long time. "They came in single ﬁle, about 50 of them. Silent ambassadors, to tell us who they were. They moved at a slow pace, passing us for over 20 minutes. Some walked, while others pushed their wheel- chairs as best they could. Some were helped along on crutches by their wives or sweethearts. They were escorted front and rear by U.S. Marines in dress blue uniform. I have never seen prouder Marines. The Amputee Ward from Walter Reed Army Medical Center visited the Pentagon today. Some wore looks of resolution, pride, or dignity. Many had prosthetic devices where limbs used to be. All of them wore looks of surprise. We, the 26,000 employees of the Pentagon, lined both sides of the A ring (the inner ring of the Pentagon) to watch them pass and welcome them with thunderous applause. Half a mile they walked through a gauntlet of grateful fellow citizens two and three deep, who reached out to shake the hands of the remaining good arms, or grasp the remaining ﬁngers of hands that have given ultimate service. They walked through us to the main concourse, where they were met by the Army Band and color guard playing marshal music for them, and where the mall was ﬁlled with additional people who swelled the applause. Many of us just called out loudly, 'Thank You,' because we didn't know what else could be said; thank you for your service to us. The applause never stopped. None of them spoke. They just cried. So did we. It was the closest I have been to Christmas in a long time."
Near presence of a comrade. “I hold it to be one of the simplest truths of war that the one thing which enables an infantry soldier to keep going with his weapon is the near presence of a comrade.“ S.L.A. Marshall, from the book, Men Against Fire.
With men like this, the outcome is never in doubt. "The 1st Bn, 8th Marines got into a serious ﬁght ... They killed 250 (enemy) ... First reports coming in on our side were one Gunnery Sergeant killed and 41 troops wounded ... The next day that ﬁgure zoomed to 1 KIA and 73 wounded. As we asked how that could happen, we learned of the LCpl who came into the battalion aid station weak and with a bloody arm ... The trooper said, 'Doc, I'm not the only guy out there like that ... As the company commanders and ﬁrst sergeants examined their men, they came across the additional casualties and asked them why they didn't turn themselves in to the aid station ... 'Sir, I am the only automatic riﬂeman left in my squad,' or 'Sir, I thought there might be another big ﬁght today,' or just, 'Sir, I didn't want to leave my buddies.' Ladies and gentleman, with troops like those the outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom was never in doubt." Lt. General James Conway, from a speech, October 8, 2004.
Living and working inside of this circle of brotherhood gives one the true sense of safety. “We have funny things that happen. I can remember standing in a land ﬁll in southern Iraq where we began one of our attacks, and watching my guys so tired from lack of sleep .... literally fall on the ground, with their gear on, on top of each other. I then watched "my boys" swat ﬂies for each other, guard each other, share water with each other, offer food for those that did not have any chow, express their disdain for the trash heap that was our home, all the while ready to do battle and if necessary die for each other. I saw with my own eyes the actual creation of the closeness and bond that historians write about in times of war amongst ﬁghting men. I was both laughing and awe-struck at the absurdity of watching this sleeping, swatting, eating, cussing, and loving pile of men who where given to me to care for. I could feel the burden of responsibility for them while at the same time my deep love for each and every one of them. To tell you the truth, living and working inside of this circle of brotherhood gives one the true sense of safety, even in an Iraqi landﬁll littered with trash, feces, dead animals, sewage, mortar ﬁre, machine gun ﬁre, and ﬂies.” 1st Lt John G. Gibson, BN S-1, 1-325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Baghdad, Iraq
The cohesion that matters. “The cohesion that matters on the battleﬁeld is that which is developed at the company, platoon and squad levels.” General Edward C. Meyer
Extraordinary heroism. “Saving the lives of your fellow Airmen is the most extraordinary kind of heroism that I know.” This is a photo of USAF pararescuemen, known as "PJs." General Curtis E. Lemay, Fifth Chief of Staff, United States Air Force
Passion. "We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We have felt -- we still feel -- the passion of life to its top. In our youths our lives were touched by ﬁre." Oliver Wendell Holmes
A special brotherhood. “There exists a special brotherhood among those who stand shoulder to shoulder to look death in the face and defend not only each other, but the principles in which they believe." Author Unknown.
Facing losses in one's own personal way. "Isolated at this far-ﬂung outpost, the men live packed bunk to bunk, they guard one another's backs, they depend on the group to help ward off fear and loneliness. And they face losses in their own searingly personal way. When one man is killed, the rest are asked to go back where he died, to face the same danger, in the name of duty. They do it, they say, for their comrades, for themselves and for a country that expects it of them." Excerpt from, "Death, Duty In Forgotten Corner of War, Remembering Gunny and the Kid, a Hard-Hit Unit Goes Back on Patrol", by Doug Struck, 2004.
For each other. “Then the darkness enveloped the whole American armada. Not a pinpoint of light showed from those hundreds of ships as they surged on through the night toward their destiny, carrying across the ageless and indifferent sea tens of thousands of young men, ﬁghting for … for … well, at least for each other.” Ernie Pyle, from his book, Brave Men, describing the US invasion of Sicily, WWII
A wounded soldier welcomes home his comrades after their one-year deployment to Iraq. Early in the deployment, with this same unit, this soldier was wounded and lost both legs. He was there at the airport to welcome home each and every one of his buddies.
A company of heroes. "Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?" Grandpa said, "No... but I served in a company of heroes."
Band of brothers. “…my ﬁrst wish would be that my Military Family, and the whole Army, should consider themselves as a band of brothers, willing and ready, to die for each other.” George Washington, in a letter to Henry Know, October 21, 1798
Small unit cohesion. “The nature of modern war indicates that small-unit cohesion is the only force capable of causing soldiers to expose themselves consistently to enemy ﬁre in pursuit of an Army’s goals.” Colonel W.D. Henderson
Air Force Para Rescue Jumpers (PJ) Creed, "So that others may live:" "Please Don't stand and Weep, Those men I had to save, Not because of Courage or because I'm Brave, Not because of Orders, or because it was my Dream. I did it for my Brothers, I did it for the Team, So Please Don't weep for me, for all I had to give, I did it for a reason"
Can't let my buddies down. “They say they're scared, and say they won't do this or that, but when it comes time to do it they can't let their buddies down, can't let their friends go outside the wire without them, because they know it isn't right for the team to go into the ballgame at any less than 100 percent.” Army Lieutenant, Iraq
We are 911. “Some people are meant to call 911, and some people are meant to be 911.” 2nd Lt Ilario Pantano, USMC Platoon Leader, Iraq
Trust. “You have a comradeship, a rapport that you’ll ever have again … There’s no competitiveness, no money values. You trust the man on your left and your right with your life.” Captain Audie Murphy, Medal of Honor recipient and most decorated American soldier of WWII
He died ﬁghting for you! “When you lose a friend you have an overpowering desire to go back home and yell in everyone’s ear, ‘This guy was killed ﬁghting for you. Don’t forget him – ever.’ Keep him in your mind when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night. Don’t think of him as a statistic which changes 38,788 casualties to 38,789. Think of him as a guy who wanted to love every bit as much as you do. Don’t let him be just one of ‘Our Brave Boys’ from the old home town, to whom a marble monument is erected in the city part, and a civic-minded lady calls the newspaper ten years later and wants to know why that ‘unsightly stone’ isn’t removed.” Sergeant Bill Mauldin, from his book, Up Front , 1945
He made our world possible. "Dear Mrs. Phelps: You have, I know, already had word from your son's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Hoyt. I know, too, how pitifully inadequate any words are at a time of such immeasurable loss as you must feel; but I feel impelled to write a few lines in any event. Your son was a most courageous soldier, and his actions at Tobaloor Village were in the ﬁnest tradition of the United States Army. I have recommended him for the highest honor our country can bestow; and I am proud to have known him. We shall all be the poorer for his loss. When this vast and most cruel of wars is over and we have established a more generous world than this, perhaps all of us can take some comfort in the thought that he is one of the men who made that world possible. Sincerely, Samuel A. Damon, Maj. Gen., USA," from Anton Myrer's book, Once an Eagle
There is no more to give. "Alone and far removed from earthly care, The noble ruins of men lie buried here. You were strong men, good men endowed with youth and much the will to love. I hear no protest from the mute lips of the dead. They rest; there is no more to give. So long my comrades, Sleep ye where you fell upon the ﬁeld. But tread softly please, March o’er my heart with ease March on and on, But to God alone we kneel." "The Nobel Ruins of Men," by Audie Murphy
Nuf said. “We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, So we may always be free.” President Ronald Reagan