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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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America Needs More Marine Corps Values


A half a century ago, I spent the longest 13 weeks of my life at an out-of-the-way place called Parris Island, S.C., then and now the home of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

We were strangers who arrived there in the middle of the night and were immediately relieved of all our civilian clothing and possessions — including our hair. Standing there confused, apprehensive and bald, I remember asking myself over and over: What the hell am I doing here?

Then silently appeared in our midst a man in a starched uniform and polished boots brimming with self-confidence and a sense of command. This was the Marine drill instructor, the DI, who did not conceal his disgust with what he saw in us. I can still hear him that we were the sorriest collection of misfits and rejects he or anyone else had ever seen.

What followed was 90 days of splendid misery. Civilian habits, speech and attitude were marched and drilled and driven out of us. The DI was relentlessly democratic. He treated everyone on our platoon, 189, with equal contempt while double-timing us 12 hours a day from mess duty to the rifle range and back. He used his personal term of endearment to remind us, "Maggot, remember, you volunteered to be here."

Somehow after more than three months of no Cokes, no beer, no TV and not even a day off, the DI, by then our Ultimate Authority Figure, reluctantly conceded that just possibly, maybe someday, we might actually be Marines. The combination of joy, relief and pride was unmatched.

I was not a great Marine. I never saw combat. I got a lot more from the Marines than the Marines got from me. But I believe fervently that this nation today needs the values of the Marine Corps as much as the nation needs the Marine Corps.

Of course, honor, courage and commitment are always in short supply. But the Marines teach personal responsibility and accountability by example, that any chain is only as strong as the weakest individual link. As a unit, we are stronger working together than the individual members can separately be.

Marines take care of their own — and they take care of their fellow Marines before themselves. The well-being of the country and of the Corps is more important than our individual well-being.

This may best be stated in the hard-and-fast Marine rule: "Officers eat last." The Marine officer does not eat until after his subordinates for whom he is responsible — the corporals and privates — have been fed. Marines live by the rule that loyalty goes both up and down the chain of command. Would not our country be a more just and human place if the brass of Wall Street and Washington and executive suites believed that "officers eat last"?

The Marine ethic emphasizes responsibility to duty and responsibility to others before self. This is the very opposite of the unbridled individualism that elevates profit and personal comfort to high virtues. The selfish and self-centered CEO or senator who disregards and discards his loyal "troops" would be shunned in the Corps.

Civilian Americans must understand that the greatest civil rights victories have been won by the Marines and the U.S. military, the most successfully integrated sector of our national life. Why? No racial reference and no racial discrimination. The first time I ever slept in the same quarters with African-Americans or Latinos — or took orders from them — was as a private in the Marines Corps.

Yes, America really does need more Marine values and influence.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




26 Comments | Post Comment
Mark - although you and I are most often on different sides of any issue you elect to comment on, on this one, I agree with you. Well said sir.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Charles
Fri Jul 23, 2010 8:50 AM
People respond to expectations. Many of the bravest and best in the Marine Corps were ordinary civilians, but Parris Island (and Quantico) expectations made them better. "I'm a Marine now -- this is how I must conduct myself." But making leaders and heroes through high expectations requires standards and absolutes and commitment to a set of values -- and rejection of other values. It cuts powerfully against the grain in our therapeutic, non-jugdmental society. Like Mark Shields, i loved my time in the corps (not that I was sobbing when they handed me a DD-214) and believe, as he does, that civil society would benefit from its way of thinking. But i don't think we have the stomach for it.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Joe Bagado Nitz
Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:45 PM
The most important element of USMC leadership is personal integrity. Heaven knows we could use more of that in the general population. Remember, there was no time limit on our Oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Semper Fi, Ron Pittenger (Sub-Unit 1, First ANGLICO,USMC RVN, Jun 1967 - December 1968)
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ron Pittenger
Fri Jul 23, 2010 1:02 PM
I had a similar experience in the USAF. I served a year in Vietnam but never saw combat. My time during basic training transformed me from a soft college drop out to a team player. (I later got my degree with the GI Bill.) Serving in Vietnam was the best thing that ever happened to me. The comaraderie, especially with African Americans, who became my best friends, was amazing. It was the first time I ever interacted with men of such diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. I have always felt that every generation of young people, men and women, would benefit from some form of enforced public service, whether it be military or civilian.

I was also thinking while reading your article that whenever Mark retires (I hope not for many many years) that he will take that opportunity to publish a list of best and worst members of Congress, Presidents, Cabinet members, etc that he has encountered in his long career. I know doing that now would be difficult and counter productive to further reporting. But as a last call it would be a great service to America. He could write a column or write a book. Either way revealing the names of those who are the deadbeats and those who are the true warriors in the trenches would be a very valuable contribution.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Jerry McCutcheon
Sat Jul 24, 2010 8:16 AM
Mr. Shields, although you and I disagree about many subjects this is well said. As a former Marine(1969-1973) and as the dad to two sons who are both active duty Marines you are absolutely right on this point.
Comment: #5
Posted by: David
Sat Jul 24, 2010 3:31 PM
The country always has had an internal struggle between individualism and collectivism. I believe that most of the folks who show up for the tea party rallies view the government like you would have viewed an officer who insisted on eating first. All the republicans and a goodly number of the democrats appear to want to eat first.
But the saddest thing is that the working person's worst enemy is his prejudice and bigotry. A clever politician plays to that character flaw and uses it to enrich himself and his rich friends while the poor schmo who voted for him gets an endless screw job.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Lee Elliott
Sat Jul 24, 2010 8:37 PM
i would like to invite you to read my column on The President should apologize to Helen Thomas. Thank you, Paula McKenzie
Comment: #7
Posted by: Paula Mckenzie
Sat Jul 24, 2010 10:09 PM
A great article by Mark.
I just wish he'd understand that the 'olde' Democrat Party no longer exists and the 'new' Secular-Progressive Party exists at the pleasure of a Mr. George SOROS and his instruments: "The Centre for American Progress",, etc., etc...
Comment: #8
Posted by: realtimer
Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:23 AM
You got that right. Semper Fi !!!!
Comment: #9
Posted by: Lou
Sun Jul 25, 2010 9:19 AM
I honor the marines and their leaders. You had me until you started ranting about individualism vs. collectivism.
Yes, those who have responsibility for others need to take it seriously.
But any adult is responsible for HIMSELF. I sure do not want to live in a country where I am parented by someone who feels they are my better (because they have more or have a better job) or where I am parent to someone who is resentful because I made tough choices early on in life and have a little bigger house or some money saved up for my retirement.

So I repeat: we need to each take responsibility for ourselves. Once we've managed to do that, then each can look around for someone who might use a hand up.

All this "evil industrialsist" nonsense is straight out of history. You do remember the people those Marines were fighting against, right? (Not you, personally, and I suspect it'd have made a difference in your rhetoric if you'd had to put YOUR blood on the line for someone who didn't bother to train or fight for himself.) Your bowtie is, I presume, intended to impart a scholarly air, so you MUST remember the bad guys from the pages of history who were as fond as you of saying things like, "From each according to their ability and means to each according to their need?" Yeah, those were the enemies the Marines were training you to fight against.
Comment: #10
Posted by: cookie
Mon Jul 26, 2010 5:53 AM
Oooooooo Rahhhhh. Seldom are truer words spoken. Having spent time in the Corps and U.S. Army it's amazing the difference in the two services. America's "leaders" could sure some better values. Semper Fi!! USMC 1966-1970
Comment: #11
Posted by: John Hoffman
Mon Jul 26, 2010 7:31 AM
Mark, My mother always ate last and as a mother, I always ate last, dressed myself last and was the last to go to bed and the first to be up in the morning. There's another institution that should begin with a capital M and that's Motherhood. We could all stand to learn this same lesson from all the "little" women in our lives. The big difference between the two M's is that one is trying to teach their wards how to live and the other is teaching how to survive in wartime. While I respect the experiences of the men and women who endure and learn in the Paris Island's of the world, it should begin much earlier and much closer to home. Republican and Democrat and all people of every political stripe should take a hard lesson from the majority of the women /mostly mothers of the world . If we did that we wouldn't need the Paris Islands. Keep up the good work. Jeannette
Comment: #12
Posted by: Jeannette Lazarus
Mon Jul 26, 2010 1:25 PM
Great Article-Here's an idea-What if this concept were taught in Public School!!! Oh, I forgot,Teacher's Union. Never Mind.Thanks
Comment: #13
Posted by: Vic
Tue Jul 27, 2010 6:43 AM
Not one thing political about this article unless you want to make it such..........and some of course will want/need to do that. USMC 1978/1984............loved and hated every minute of it.....but taught me a much better way of life that has followed me thru each and everything I have done. If companies and corporations followed the USMC logic, how much better would this country be today? How much is too much??... One huge OOOHHH-RRAAAHHH to Mr. Shields on this tear jerkin' article......I only wish my friends, coworkers and family understood...................Semper Fidelis!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mr. Shields I would frame an autographed copy of this article!!!!!
Comment: #14
Posted by: raymond
Tue Jul 27, 2010 4:45 PM
NOT union................its yer elected officials...............
Comment: #15
Posted by: raymond
Tue Jul 27, 2010 4:49 PM
Having been a Marine at about the same time as Mark his column was particularly poignant. I joined the USMC to avoid being drafted. Any Marine knows what a cruel joke that is. The first morning of bootcamp I could not see anyone I would want to have lunch with much less fight a war with. In thirteen short weeks the USMC converted me from a lone wolf, never a team player to a proud, healthy young man and a team player - no longer a boy - that knew in the deepest part of his soul he would risk his ife to save any of his eighty fellow Marines. And knew without doubt, each and every one of them would do the same for him. Never have I felt such assuredness of commitment again. Thanks USMC for allowing me to be a part of a very special family. My father-in-law was a proud three-star career airforce general but even he could not believe the esprit de corps the Marines produced.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Larry Palmer
Wed Jul 28, 2010 11:38 AM
Mark---We may have crossed paths in the Corps as I was also a 4-year Marine starting at Parris Island in 1960. Three of us dropped out of college to enlist under the "buddy system" and after an all-night train trip from Albany, NY to Yamassee, SC we met face-to-face with that form of human species known as the "D.I." It wasn't long before I realized how important it would be to finish the education I had aborted. I thank the USMC for instilling the motivation and discipline necessary to accomplish that goal and then some. Thanks for a great article and bringing back those memories!
Comment: #17
Posted by: Doug Horstman
Wed Jul 28, 2010 6:04 PM
Mark Shields. We have several commonalities. I to was born in 1937/09/02.
I to was in PLT. 189 on Parris Island June/Sept. 1956. Can't find your
Picture in my plt book. Who were your drill Instructors and what recruit
training area were you in? My senior D.I. was Frank King and I was in the third
training area. I enjoyed your article on Corps Values. Georgia Gov. Zell Miller wrote
a book on Corps Values.
Semper Fidelis Marine
Jacobs E, Lang
P.O. Box 63
Lizella,Ga. 31052-0063
Comment: #18
Posted by: J.E. Lang
Sun Aug 1, 2010 7:01 AM
Comment: #19
Posted by: robert ervin
Sun Aug 1, 2010 7:54 AM
Mark, Please read the following link.
Comment: #20
Posted by: gin arnold
Mon Aug 2, 2010 5:45 PM
good evening mark,
growing up was difficult for a rebellious you girl. (me) my father was in the marines for 12 years, when he left as a staff sargent. i never had given him the respect he deserved until i was out on my own. his lessons are what got me thru. to this day he lyes in peace, and theres' not a day that goes by, that he's not with me.
my daughter is in the marines and is at the end of her tour. she has desided not to re-enlist, but is greatful for all she has received.
your message is well writen and well received. thank you, chris
Comment: #21
Posted by: chris
Tue Aug 3, 2010 4:07 PM
Semper Fi Mr. Shields.
This nation -- from the bottom of its grassroots to the tip of it grass blades -- needs to accept, acquire and live by those Marine Corps values of accepting personal responsibility and accountability. Our nation's civic, business and political leadership, and these days those who make a living commenting upon our nation's leaders and leadership, need to emulate that most basic rule of leadership engrained in the Marine Corps NCOs and officers -- "Officers eat last."
If CEOs had to live with retirement benefits and healthcare packages that were no better than the janitors who cleaned up the mess they leave behind at the end of the day, America would be a much more humane, compassionate and just nation. If corporations demonstrated the same loyalty to industrious and enterprising employees and the platoon sergeant of a rifle company under fire gives to his Marines, ours could not help but be a stronger, more vibrant and self sustaining and self sufficient nation.
Comment: #22
Posted by: CJ Floyd
Wed Aug 4, 2010 5:10 PM
Thank you for your article. The timing could not be more appropriate for me. My son is currently at Parris Island as a Recruit. I am proud of him. So many people lack personal accountability and are dishonest. I am always amazed by the general lack of integrity. I see this in just about every direction I turn. I am thankful my son chose the United States Marine Corp rather than corporate America.
Comment: #23
Posted by: Susan C
Mon Aug 16, 2010 12:33 PM
I was there too. I enlisted in the summer of 1946 and went to boot camp. I"ll never forget how we were rousted off the train and duckealked around the station. The seargent who met us wanted to be sure that we knew that we wern''t Marines yet.
Comment: #24
Posted by: Ray W. Johnson
Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:23 PM
As a Marine who served in Vietnam and as an individual who strives, sometimes unsuccessfully, to live up to Marine Corps and human decency values while not judging others, I feel I must ask Mr. Shields a question... Mr. Shields, why don't your positions as stated on PBS match your rhetoric in this article???
Comment: #25
Posted by: Lou Aceto
Sat Nov 27, 2010 10:08 AM
I too went through that crucible of becoming a marine by going through boot camp at MCRD San Diego. A "California Marine". That was 33 years ago and I too am thinking that the country would be better off if it, and those who are in charge, were imbued with the ethics that come from the Corps. I use these today in my work as a manager. I try to put the "troops" first before my own needs. I stick up for them because they get paid a hell of a lot less than I do, and they do a hell of a lot more of the grunt work. I am glad to see that I am not the only Marine who thinks this way. Semper Fi!
Scott M. Morris
Cpl. '77-'81
Comment: #26
Posted by: Scott M. Morris
Wed Dec 22, 2010 6:41 PM
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