Veterans share Corps’ history

SPECIAL REPORT National Museum of the Marine Corps

Never has the saying “once a Marine, always a Marine” been more apparent than at Friday’s dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, which brought retired and active duty Leathernecks together to share in the Corps’ 231-year history.

“We need to hear that [history] and see that from them,” said Warrant Officer Gerard Givens of Marine Corps System Command, as he took a brief pause from showing off the Corps’ latest war fighting equipment to yesterday’s Marines. “When you hear it first hand from the folks that were there, it validates everything that we’ve been taught.”

A joint venture between the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and the Marine Corps, the museum sits on a 135-acre tract adjacent to Quantico Marine Corps base. The 118,000-square-foot building houses exhibits chronicling the Marines’ story from World War II, through Korea, Vietnam and the present-day global war on terror.

“We have a high standard to maintain and its great to have a place to remember our history,” said Lt. Tina Terry, who is assigned to Delta Company, The Basic School, at Quantico.

Frank Real Jr. and his grandnephew, Aaron, brought a real-life perspective on history with them to the ceremony. Their family can trace its Marine Corps story back five generations to the Banana Wars of the early 20th century. Frank Real of Salt Lake City, Utah, served during the Korean War and fought his way out of the “Frozen Chosin,” while Aaron Real of Charlotte, N.C., was on duty during the first Gulf War.

Frank explained that on Nov. 27, 1950, thousands of Chinese troops swarmed over the frozen Yalu River, on the border of North Korea and China, cutting off Marines in the Chosin Reservoir area. Over the next 10 days, the Marines, with air support from both the Navy and Marine Air Wings, fought their way to the port city of Hungnman and safety.

“When we got to the sea, there was 10,000 North Koreans there who said, ‘We don’t want anything more to do with communism. We want to go to South Korea,’ ” recalled Frank Real, who said the Navy sent a couple of ships to evacuate those who wanted to flee to freedom. “They went through hell to get out of North Korea.”

Frank Real donated 13 pages of sketches depicting the Chosin campaign that were drawn by a friend to the National Archives. He believes the Corps’ new museum will inspire future Marines.

“I think it’s really, really important for the generations to come,” he said.

Aaron Real said there was little doubt as he was growing up that he would join the Corps and there are a couple of other Reals who will follow in his footsteps to keep the family tradition of service alive.

“I’m just following all my uncles,” he said with a laugh.

World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient Richard Yavenue was among the hundreds of World War II veterans who attended the dedication. The Thornton, Ill., resident joined the Corps as an 18-year- old high school graduate in 1943. He went to boot camp in San Diego and then to Camp Pendleton for further training.

“We went into combat right from there and never got a leave,” he said. Yavenue was among the Marines who hit Saipan’s beaches in 1944.

“We fought for days and days,” he said. “Afterward, we were pretty tired and wanted to rest.” It was during one of those rest periods that Yavenue and his comrades received a personal thank you from their commanding officer, Gen. Merritt A. Edson.

“He patted us all on the back,” said Yavenue. “It made us all feel about 10 feet tall.”

Shortly after being congratulated, Yavenue was wounded.

“I was proud to be Marine,” he said, adding that the museum is a tribute to the Marine Corps.

Iwo Jima survivor Hurb Thompson of Bradenton, Fla., struggled to find the words to describe what the museum means to him.

“I can’t explain it,” he said as he glanced at the building’s soaring 210-foot spire that recalls the famous flag raising on Iwo Jima. “It’s just like when we dedicated the World War II memorial.”

Thompson served in the Corps from 1943 to 1946 and spent 17 days on the Pacific island, which is the site of the Corps’ heaviest causalities.

“The Japanese had the island heavily fortified,” he said with a slight smile.

A strong supporter of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, Thompson added, “I just believe in the Marine Corps. I’m always patriotic. Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

That was a theme echoed by master of ceremonies Jim Lehrer. The PBS newsman received his Marine Corps training at Quantico 51 years ago.