The real story behind the John Glenn speech to Marines in Afghanistan

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This puppy wandered up to Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, in Afghanistan in January, and later starred in a video about 1/6 that has gone viral on the Web. (Photo by Cpl. Charles Mabry/Marine Corps)

Times were tense before the initial February assault on Marjah, Afghanistan. A narcotics hub and Taliban stronghold, it was expected to be booby-trapped with improvised explosive devices and filled with insurgents waiting for a fight.

Obviously, the Corps took control of Marjah within days. It’s still a dangerous place, but one where Marine officials say they see hope, at least.

Before the assault, Gunnery Sgt. Brian Walgren, the company gunny for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, fired up his troops with a gritty, heartfelt speech.

In many ways, it shows the best of the Corps. Occasionally profane but filled with bravado and pride, it it was delivered to ready 1/6’s Marines for a battle in which not everyone would come home alive.

That speech is captured here if you haven’t seen it, overlayed with some of the positive things 1/6 did during its deployment this spring.

Again, a note for those reading at work: There is some profanity in the video.

If you’re a Marine or follow the Corps closely, you’ve likely already seen this video. It has been viewed nearly a quarter-million times on YouTube, and shared tens of thousands of time on the Web. It features Walgren’s fiery account of retired Col. John Glenn laying into a political opponent, Howard Metzenbaum, during a 1974 race for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio.

Seeking a good way to mark today’s 235th Marine Corps Birthday, I sought out those involved in the video above. It was created by Cpl. Charles Mabry, a Marine who was attached to 1/6 to record history for Combat Camera. Gunny Walgren didn’t know it at the time, but Mabry recorded the speech, and posted it in March against video of a small, white puppy that wandered up to 1/6 Marines in Afghanistan in January.

 Reached for comment last week, Walgren said the speech was “never supposed to be caught on camera.” He acknowledged their may be some benefit to the Corps from the video being seen so many times, but deflected attention to his 1/6 Marines, praising them for their professionalism and bravery.

 “The fact that it’s on YouTube, there’s nothing I can do about that,” he said. “That speech was for them. That was our moment.”

Walgren’s speech about Glenn, a retired pilot, astronaut and eventual U.S. senator, largely stands up as accurate, with a few dramatic embellishments. For one, Metzenbaum did not say that Glenn had “never held a job.” What he said was close, though: He noted that Glenn had ”never had to meet a payroll,” according to media accounts of the debate.

I sought out old media coverage of Glenn’s speech. Here’s a 1992 account by the Columbus Dispatch:

On May 3, 1974, at the City Club debate in Cleveland, Glenn let fly with the following counterattack that left Metzenbaum mumbling:

”Howard, I can’t believe you said that. I served 23 years in the United States Marine Corps. I went through two wars. I flew 149 missions. My plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire on 12 different occasions.

”I ask you to go with me as I went the other day to a veterans’ hospital, and look those men with their mangled bodies in the eye and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.

”You go with me on Memorial Day coming up and you stand in Arlington National Cemetery, where I have more friends than I like to remember, and you watch those waving flags, and you stand there and you think about this nation and you tell me that those people didn’t have a job.

”I tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men – some men – who held a job.”

Food for thought today? Of course. Happy birthday, Marines.

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About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

14 Comments

  1. I love this video. My husband was with 1/6 and did not return home from this deployment. Thank you for sharing what Glenn said, especially about thanking God for some men who held a job. I am proud to say my husband is one of those men and now stands guard at the gates to Heaven. Happy Birthday Marine Corps, Semper Fi.

  2. This video still gives me chills every time I watch it. I am proud to say that my brother, Cpl Mabry, is the Marine who recorder the speech and put it together. I know this video has touched so many hearts and has opened our eyes to what our men go through not only during deployments but in every day life. So very proud of each and every one of our 1/6 Guys!
    Semper Fi,
    The Wife and Sister of 2 amazing 1/6 Marines

  3. My son, a “Marjah Marine”, was there when Gunnery Sgt. Walgren delivered this speech before he and his comrades went in-and his brother, in another remote place in Afghanistan. My tears well up with pride each time I hear it and can only imagine how those Marines must have felt that day as they pushed forward-God Bless Our Marines , each and everyone. A very proud TwoStar Mom. Semper Fidelis.

  4. My son was there when this speech was given. He was definitely motivated alright! He was severely wounded a few months later, but he still remembers this night, and the feeling of standing by his brothers! I am so proud of him, and of all our 1/6 Heros!

  5. My son was a Marine and my brother is a Vietnam vet. My daddy served this country in the Navy during WW II. My nephew serves today in the Army. Loved the speech, and I am so grateful for these young people who keep me safe every minute, every day. Semper Fi !!

  6. I Love the video also. I can’t get enough of trying to be there with you all. Since my son Shawn is over there now. He is in the 1/8. This is Shawn’s 1st deployement (So the same with me) I am SO PROUD of My Son and ALL of YOU. Risking your life for our country. I will never forget holding him Feb 1991. He was an only child. The war had just started. I said to my self, Thank God they no longer draft ONLY child. I now have 4 Son’s. My 3 Step Sons are here, 2 are in college. Shawn was top 20 in his graduating class. He had Football scholorship offers. But, Shawn chose to join the MARINES. GOD BLESS YOU ALL AND AMERICA

  7. GUNNY WALGREN! you are an animal. my first platoon sgt in 3/8, you made me a point man after our first conversation, saying that it would be the perfect job for me on my first combat tour. you are a hero and role model to so many marines, and i am proud to have served under you. please let someone record your speechs; little johnny, john glenn, Christmas story, all of them. let marines around the globe enjoy your priceless gifts. semper fi gunny

  8. I needed to write you that little bit of remark to help say thanks the moment again relating to the pretty secrets you’ve discussed in this case. It’s so tremendously generous of you to allow freely what most of us might have advertised as an e book to help make some dough for their own end, principally now that you might have tried it in the event you wanted. The basics likewise worked as the fantastic way to be aware that most people have a similar dreams the same as my personal own to find out more and more pertaining to this issue. I’m certain there are thousands of more enjoyable moments ahead for individuals that read through your website.

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  10. USMCPooleeSmith on

    Thank you Gunny, this motivates me to want to PT everyday. I’m leaving for Boot Camp soon and I only hope to become a decorated Marine as the ones before me. Thank you once again sir and may God bless the Marine Corps past, present, and future.

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