Secretary of Defense Speech

Marine Barracks Evening Parade


Thank you, my comrades.  Thank all of you for being here. Although it’s such a pleasure, I don’t need any thanks for coming out to this beautiful ceremony.

Believe it or not, the first time I saw this parade was in July of 1969, 48 years ago. I was 18 years old and we were sitting down there, down at the far end.  I was an officer candidate at the time.  We were all bussed up here, told to sit down and shut up, which we did.  And its proof because the parade has not changed one iota, as the Marine Corps has over two hundred years of tradition unhampered by progress.

But I say so proudly, because the kind of things that make this America what it is, is not only its power of inspiration, but it’s willingness to defend itself in an awesome manner.

I remember a young corporal got up in front of us before the parade. He had a purple medal on—they were all Vietnam Veterans in those days, with purple hearts; and he told us “for you all,” he said, “the only reason you exist is to fight and to fight well and protect this country.”

He went on to say, “if you can’t do small things perfectly, you can’t do the big things even half way good enough.”  So tonight you’re going to watch people committed to excellence.

And as they march by tonight, look into their eyes and you’ll see this unapologetic pride in who they are and that’s the willingness to go into harm’s way.

Remember, these are all volunteers who looked passed the hot political rhetoric of today and rallied to the flag. Then they volunteered for a second thing, the infantry where we take 85 percent of our casualties and these young men are not naïve.  They’ve seen war on TV their whole life growing up. So it’s with great pride that I return to the Barracks.

I once hosted here, I think it was 12 years ago, this day as a matter of fact—a parade for John Glenn, Col John Glenn.  And I was floored by it. My boss, Rudy DeLeon who is here tonight, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, when I worked for him, had introduced us.

John Glenn and I were standing over in the shadows, after the guests were seated, getting ready to do our thing.  John Glenn was reminiscing about how he had been a Marine for 23 years.  Think about it. He was a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and in Korea, an ace. The first American to orbit the earth. A Senator. And he said, you know 23 years wasn't nearly long enough.

I recalled his wing man in Korea was baseball legend Ted Williams.  Ted Williams was once asked by Sports Illustrated, years after he retired, which team that he had been with was the best team ever.  He said, “oh that easy, the U.S. Marine Corp.”  That’s from Ted Williams.

And I bring that up because it shows the continuity of what’s passed on from one Marine to another.

So it’s not a night for long speeches.  I’m honored to be here Commandant, Colonel. Thank you for having me here.  Let’s have a great evening together and remind ourselves how fortunate we are to be in this country.

And Pam Hester out in the audience, a reporter with the guts to go into Fallujah with the Marines, thank you, wherever you’re at Pam.

Let’s have a great evening and Happy Fourth of July.