One of the Marine Corps’ most revered generals proved his mettle as a warrior poet recently, delivering a speech that summed up the Marine Corps ethos and experience–from bar fights to earth’s orbit. Gen. Jim Mattis, who retired last year from his post as head of U.S. Central Command after a 41-year career, gave this speech at the Marine Corps University Foundation’s 2014 Semper Fidelis Award Dinner on Feb. 22., where he accepted the award.
The speech is just too good to abbreviate, so here’s the whole thing. I’ve put my favorite lines in bold.
Long time since we served together in Brigade, cruised the West Pac
Or since I drank one of your Cokes on the March up to Baghdad.
General Gray, General Conway, General Pace, General Amos, General Paxton –
Marines whose very goodness put ambition out of context.
Sergeant Major Barrett – a Marine’s Marine. Colonel Harvey Barnum who for so many
years – your valor inspired us all to be better men.
Ladies – The wonderful ladies who exemplify grace & courage
Who represent our better angels and what we fight for.
Thank all of you for coming out tonight – A night that celebrates our Corps’ values, its legacy
and its mission.
A special note of appreciation for President of the Marine Corps University Foundation
Gen Tom Draude
Valiant combat leader who brought a Vietnam Vet’s reassurance to us as we filed into
our Desert Storm attack positions
And earned our everlasting respect & affection
We have Ambassadors present,
Whom Marines have stood beside in foreign lands
And members of Congress and staffers,
To whom we owe our survival when short –sighted bureaucratic efforts challenged our existence,
combined, they remind us our Corps carries more than our own hopes forward.
General Conway & General Amos spoke about this Foundation – I’ll add a few words.
Between Commandant’s Reading List and the Marine Corps University Foundation’s enriching
the education of our warrior leaders – I have never been bewildered for long in any fight with our
enemies – I was Armed with Insight. In the worst of surprises we found our training and
education had prepared us well.
I am a very average Marine- at this podium tonight because I repeatedly was at the right place, at
the right time to gain warfighting positions. I recall a Fleet Commander asking if I could bring
Marines from the Mediterranean together with a West Coast Marine Expeditionary Unit and
strike 350 Nautical Miles into Afghanistan. I could, thanks to the Marines who went before me
My immediate response was, “Yes”!
Thanks to our Corps’ legacy of audacity
Thanks to our Marines in 1950 who brought in KC 130 aircraft.
Thanks to our Amphibs, which our Navy-Marine-Corps Team funded.
Thanks to our Marines of the 1960 -1970s who put air refueling probes on Heavy Lift
Thanks to our Marines who brought in Light Armored Vehicles in 1980.
Thanks to our Recruiters who brought in High –Quality Marines.
Thanks to our Commandant who extended boot camp and toughened it.
None of this started with me – most of the thinking was done in Quantico. And for me – so often
in the right place at the right time I have an enormous sense of gratitude for a Corps that gave me
such capability when destiny called on our Corps to fight.
Images flash through my mind– and I speak from my heart: of an Eighth & “I” parade in honor
of John Glenn who remarked that night:
He had been a Marine for 23 years…but not long enough.
That was from a man fought in WWII & Korea and was the first American to orbit the
His wingman in Korea, baseball legend Ted Williams, put it well when asked which was best
team he ever played on. Without hesitation he said, “The U.S. Marine Corps.”
On evenings like this most of us will remember the tragedy of losing comrades
Beautiful Marines whose rambunctious spirits gave us what F. Scott Fitzgerald called
“Riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.”
And we remember them, everyone, who gave their lives so our experiment called America, could
And for us who live today…
We do so with a sense that each day is a bonus and a blessing.
To the Veterans who brought up the current generation of Marines who imbued in us the spirit
“such as Regiments hand down,”
You raised us well for our grim tasks!
During our apprenticeship you coached us and honed our skills with a sense of humor in
a tough school.
And when the time came for us to stand and deliver, we never feared the enemy. We only feared
we might somehow disappoint you.
But with good NCO’s the outcome was never in doubt,
And the NCO’s were superb, Sergeant Major Barrett
And all Marines, regardless of rank,
Stood shoulder –to-shoulder
Stood co-equal in our commitment to mission
Co-equal, from boot private to General
Smiling to one another, even as we entered Fallujah
Knowing the enemy could not stand against the Corps you Veterans honed.
Because every Marine, if he was in a tough spot – whether a bar fight, or tonight in Helmand
our fellow Marines would get to us, or die trying.
So long as our Corps fields such Marines, America has nothing to fear from tyrants, be they
Fascists, Communists or Tyrants with Medieval Ideology. For we serve in a Corps with no
institutional confusion about our purpose:
To fight well!
As we say out West where I grew up, “We ride for the brand”, and hold the line until our
country can again feel its unity.
From our first days at San Diego, Parris Island or Quantico, NCO’s bluntly explained to us that
the Corps would be:
Entirely satisfied if we gave 100%
And entirely dissatisfied if we gave 99%
And those NCOs taught us the great pleasure of doing what others thought impossible.
As General Amos summed it up so well in his Marine Birthday message: “The iron discipline &
combat excellence” of our Marines:
Marines who never let each other down, never let the Corps down, never let our country
Those are the Marines who define our Corps.
A Corps whose old-fashioned values protect a progressive country.
Marines who can do the necessary “rough work”, but without becoming evil by doing so, despite
an enemy who has opened apocalyptically the aperture for who they target, to include even
women and children.
It’s all the more important today that we hold to our precious legacy of ferocious, ethical combat
For in a world awash in change, Americans need to have confidence in the everlasting character
of our Marines
And to those Maniacs, the ones who thought that by hurting us on 9-11 that they could scare us,
we have proven that the descendants of Belleau Wood, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Hue City &
We don’t scare
And we proved it in Fallujah & Ramadi and in the Helmand,
Where foes who had never reasoned their way into their medieval views and could not be
reasoned out – found that American Marines could fight like the dickens,
And for the enemy it proved to be their longest and worst day against us.
Now from a distance I look back on what the Corps taught me:
To think like men of action,
And to act like men of thought!
To live life with intensity,
And a passion for excellence,
Without losing compassion for mistakes made,
by hi-spirited young patriots who looked past hot political rhetoric and joined the Corps – which
taught me to be a “coach” in General LeJeune’s style,
Summoning the best from our troops
The Father to Son, Teacher to Scholar bond bringing out the vicious harmony when
together, we closed on the enemy.
We were taught that the strongest motivation we all have,
Whether an FA-18 pilot or a Huey door gunner
Whether a “cannon cocker” firing a mission or logistics Marine hurrying supplies
The motivation that binds us is our respect for and commitment to a 19 year old Lance Corporal
infantryman upon whose young shoulders our experiment called America ultimately rests….
Now this award can never be mine –
And because we are members of the same tribe,
every one of you knows what I will say next….
For I am grateful & humbled to be singled out with you tonight:
An average Marine who always had good fortune to repeatedly be in the right place at the right
A “limited duty officer” as Commandant of the Marine Corps Jim Jones put it – who only knew
what to do with me when there was a fight.
But this award is truly not made to a man, to an individual,
it is made through me
For my work with those who shouldered Rucksacks,
Work that was carried forward by our Grunts,
And I will hold it in trust for those lads whose unfailing loyalty we celebrate tonight, who chose
to live life fully – more than they wanted longevity. Even when I made mistakes they saved the
And I made plenty –
Like the time I got my Battalion surrounded in open dessert, with
My mortar Platoon spilling out and
Setting up 4 tubes pointing north, and 4 tubes pointing south and, they restored the
Yes, even in a jam of my own making –
The lads’ spirit, skill and good humor carried us through when danger loomed.
So on behalf of such lads
I hold this award in trust –
For the lads who prove Hemingway was right when he said, “There was no one better to have
beside you when the chips were down than a U.S. Marine.”
For to Marines, love of liberty is not an empty phrase… Rather it’s displayed by blood, sweat
and tears for the fallen. I was humbled that our Corps allowed me to serve over four decades,
Yet as Colonel John Glenn – a fighter pilot, astronaut and Senator put it –
It wasn’t long enough –
Semper Fidelis and May God hold our lads close.