March 31, 2020

Final thoughts about editing Spearhead News and serving as FifthMarDiv Association secretary

It’s been my honor to edit Spearhead News for the Fifth Marine Division Association since 2008 and to serve as secretary since 2014. Bert Clayton, who had served as editor for many years, offered me the editor’s position after he had already resigned to concentrate on the establishment of the $125,000 “BAR ON THE BEACH” statue in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park on the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Triangle (near Quantico), Va. 
         He had been able to report that he was resigning as editor, although most of his column was about the BAR project, which he was locked in on. All he said, quite simply, about resigning as he outlined the project and proposed an ad hoc committee to get the job done was, “Add to that your Spearhead editor, resigning 31 December 2007, but willing to carry on as secretary of the committee as long as I’m needed.”  
         I wanted to say a bit more about my exit from the roles. 
         Since I had not been informed about my status for continuing the two positions when the Fall/Winter 2019-20 Spearhead issue that I’d promised to edit was due to be published, I was unable to write my farewell column for publication. So, I’m taking this opportunity to let FMDA members and others know that I have been replaced as editor and secretary. 
         Expressing the full extent of my thoughts about having had the opportunity to serve the Association for the past 12 years would take a book. To get to know so many of the Iwo Jima veterans who fought and survived that horrific battle and the Vietnam veterans who carried on the tradition of their predecessors in their own intense battles in the reactivated Fifth Marine Division during the harrowing days of the Vietnam War, to meet their families and to be able to share their stories through their writing, my writing, the letters, emails and phone calls I’ve received, and the personal meetings at reunions and travels has been an incredible experience. 
         You can read what I’ll continue to write about Iwo Jima and Vietnam veterans and other issues I find worthwhile by going to my blog and subscribing at No obligations. It’s free.
         I served with several World War II veterans during my own time in the Marine Corps and respected their service, but from the time I attended the first FMDA reunion in Raleigh, N.C., and started editing Spearhead later, I got to truly appreciate and know many Iwo Jima veterans as I had the A/1/28 Marine Iwo veteran in my hometown—a neighbor and family friend who saw the flag flying on Mount Suribachi as he was being hoisted up the side of the hospital ship on D+4 after he’d been wounded on D+3. 
         Then there were subsequent reunions in Washington, D.C.; Houston, Texas; Biloxi, Miss.; Branson, Mo.; Reno, Nev.; San Diego, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; San Antonio, Texas; Kailua/Kona, Hawaii, on the Big Island where the Fifth Marine Division trained; Champaign, Ill., which my wife Vanessa and I were privileged to host; and New Orleans, La. I attended them all and always had a special time honoring and remembering the service of the veterans and those who hadn’t made it back. And I’m looking forward to the 2020 FMDA reunion scheduled for October this year in Dallas, Texas. 
         At every reunion, I was honored to meet many of the Iwo Jima veterans and their families and develop lasting friendships with them, as well as the Vietnam veterans we’ve worked hard to recruit and make feel welcome. And through the years, I’ve received many phone calls, letters and emails—which is probably why my inbox is always crammed full. All of those letters, articles and photos enabled my wife and me to publish Spearheads that helped to keep the veterans and their families close.
         The downside and saddest part of those relationships was all the Final Muster letters, emails and calls that I received on a regular and an increasing basis. 
         I’ve met many other Marines and Marine veterans through the years, but none of them have had more of an impact on me as a human being or treated me any better than the veterans of the FMDA. I could fill this entire page with names and examples, but if I tried to do that, I’d invariably leave out somebody’s name and regret it. They’ll forgive me if I mention one Marine, though, although he’s not an Iwo Jima veteran and was only in Vietnam for a brief time before the war escalated. No matter.
         John Butler is a Marine through and through.
         I was fortunate to meet him on the 2005 60th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima Military Historical Tours trip to the island where the Americans and the Japanese meet annually in peace for the “Reunion of Honor.” From then on, he’s been the rock that’s always there with historical information about the Marine Corps battles in the Pacific War, particularly on Iwo Jima, but about Vietnam, too. He wrote several articles and provided photos for Spearhead and made recommendations for others. 
         As Association president for five years, John provided true leadership and, more than anyone, helped “perpetuate the name and glory and spirit of the Fifth Marine Division, and (to) preserve the friendships formed while serving with the Fifth Marine Division,” as stated in the preamble of the constitution of the Association. I am grateful for his unconditional friendship and his wholehearted support.
         John is the eldest son of LtCol John Butler, CO of the First Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, who was killed in action on Iwo Jima on 5 March 1945 when John was only 5 years old. John had an older sister and two younger brothers, one of whom was on the trip. I met the other brother later, a great family who was raised by their mother and their grandmother and step-grandfather on the Caloosahatchee River just north of Fort Myers, Fla.  
         John has written many stories about those years and will also tell you some of them whenever he has a chance. Great storyteller. And, as I’ve said, he’s quite well versed on the history of the Marine Corps action during the war in the Pacific and in Vietnam. I learned much from him. But some of the stories John tells about growing up have stuck with me through the years. 
         Doc Holmes, his step-grandfather filled the paternal role that made the Butler boys into the men they became. One of my favorite sayings John has shared with me that Poppa, as they called him, had told them early on that rings so true in today’s world was, “There is what you know and what I know, and then there is the truth.” 
         John Butler, the other Butlers and all the Iwo Jima and Vietnam veterans and their families offered me something I can’t begin to thank you for. I hope I’ve been able to repay you somewhat with my service. It’s an honor I never asked for, it’s one I never expected, but one for which I have the greatest appreciation. You can see all of the Spearheads I edited from Spring 2008 until the Fall/Winter 2019-20 in the archives of the Tales Press website at You’ll find some of John’s works in there. And you’ll find many of the memories of those who fought and survived one of the most iconic battles in the history of warfare.
         Spearhead provided a way for me to help share and preserve the stories of these incredible, brave, selfless Marines so that others will know more about what they did and who they were for years to come.
         Semper Fidelis.