On Memorial Day Monday, I was flying back to JFK from a West Coast trip and was looking forward to finishing up a book I’d been reading. The Author, Ron Winter, is a member of the USMC Combat Helicopter Association, of which I have been the webmaster since around 1997. Ron sent me the book a while back and it was added to my stack of books I wanted to read. “Masters of the Art: A Fighting Marine’s Memoir of Vietnam” was well worth the wait and anticipation.
Ron opens the book with his detailed stories of Marine Corps Boot Camp at Parris Island, S.C. and Sgt. Starbuck, one on his drill instructors who would change Ron’s life forever. Now anyone who has ever been to Marine Corps boot camp and survived would be taken back as they read the various stories of training, Marine Corps Style!
Ron’s talent for writing is realized immediately. His descriptions of the bases, ships, and squadrons he was assigned to simply bring the book to life! From MCAS New River to Quang Tri and Marble Mountain, Ron recalls the challenges, the motivations, and the fun of it all. His recollections as an avionics technician and of flying as a gunner in the CH-46 with HMM-161 make it seem like it was last month’s SITREP you were reading.
The title “Masters of the Art” refers to survival. Survival in war by those fighting in it and also those affected by it; working and sacrificing to survive life’s hardships.
Now remember, I’m reading this on Memorial Day and my mind was already flooded with thoughts of our heroes who never made it home from our country’s battles. As I read my way through the final pages, I’m pretty sure somebody on that plane had to wonder why I looked like I just walked out of the gas chamber (if you know what I mean). The way Ron ended his story was so moving, I literally was shaking.
I’d like to share this part of the book with you. The war for Ron was well over and Ron was attending the dedication of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (The Wall) in D.C.
“… just before the dedication speeches commenced, as a military band started playing the various services’ anthems. They played “Anchors Away” for the navy and got a nice round of applause. They played the songs for the air force, the coast guard, and the army, and each time, another nice round of applause.
I quietly told my companion, “Watch what happens when they play “The Marine Hymn.”
“What do you mean?” she asked
“Just watch”, I repeated.
The last strains of “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” were just dying away, and the accompanying applause was dying out, with just a pause, the band struck up “The Marine Hymn.”
And from out of the hundred-thousand-plus crowd gathered before the memorial, a roar erupted that was sustained throughout the course of the Hymn. She looked at me with a perplexed look on her face and asked “How did you know?”
I had a feeling of pride in me that was so powerful it threatened to burst my chest, and I was afraid to answer her because I didn’t want to show how much it meant to me. But I did manage to say, “They’re Marines.”
As I turned to the final page of Ron’s book, he wrote “I tell my children that for a brief time in my life, I walked with heroes and giants, was privileged to be included in their company, and to be called “Marine,” using the highest definition of the word.”
Ron has written a very powerful, honest, and moving book and I highly recommend all who read this to consider adding it to your own reading lists.
Gen. (ret.) Al Gray, former Commandant, USMC, said that “Masters of the Art” was superb! I agree!
Well done Marine!