Occasionally people ask us “why did you become a Marine?” Often I asked myself that question but I never really knew why. I considered no other service and I was under no immediate pressure to join the PLC in 1965 or to accept my commission on graduation in 1967. I could have gone on to graduate school in zoology and Med school which were my goals in life at the time. A few years ago when I rediscovered Tom Lea’s famous painting “The Price of Freedom” the answer came to me so clearly at last. I became a Marine because of that picture. Now I keep it handy to show to anyone who asks me why I was a Marine. They, usually civilians ask that question, they raise their eyebrows with the next question, “why would that make you want to be a Marine?” When I joined the Marine Corps I knew as well as I could without actually being in combat what I was getting into. I knew it from combat art, photography, reading, and a few rare –too rare — talks with actual Marines who had been there. It was not for glory, girls, or the uniform. It was so that those that I love would not have to experience this. As Travis Manion said shortly before his death, If not me, who?

I discovered “war” at age 4 when I became obsessed with a three volume set of combat photographs from WWII. I made little clay tanks, airplanes and ships based on the pictures I saw there. I recall at age 6 asking mother to read the captions to me. One I recall the words she read the words “a Nip goes to a Barbeque” (a burning Jap staggering out of a cave.) I wore those books out over the years as my primary reference for what ever war games I wanted to construct in clay. At about age 12 I got for Christmas a 3 volume cocktail size book of the great combat art of WWI and II. I spent many hours over the years of my youth and into my college years when home for the summer, getting ideas for my clay art.

To me I think this thing “combat art” is very important. It is not “art for art’s sake. It is not art for profit. To me art is a tool for a very primitive function – story telling. and, this leads me to our mission, telling the story of Alpha Company, and the story of the Corps! Our mission is something that we were probably born with – to be Marines. The profit wrote: And the Good Lord said “Let there be fish, and the Marines rose up from the sea” as I did. Seriously, a certain type of man becomes a Maine. We have all accomplished part of our mission. We became Marines, we fought our battles, we are in our last years, we can take off our packs. But no, we are still Marines, and we still have a mission. We are the guardians of the memory of those who we served with, as Tom Lea was for that Marine on Peliliu in “The Price”. Everyone of us knows some precious details about the death or serious wounding of comrades. We all have a duty, a moral responsibility to carry that story to the survivors. If we know the Marine by name, we should at least post a bit of what we know to a permanent archival source such as the virtual wall maintained for the Vietnam Wall.

We are drawn to this reunion as part of that mission.

Mark Byrd


Our Mark Byrd has become the unofficial sculptor for the Corps. He and his wife, Jenelle, have produced wonderful combat images in bronze and other media. His words at left give an indication of the depth of commitment that goes into his works. Tom Lea’s inspirational painting he refers to is shown below. Mark is an inspiration to many. His works are now throughout the Corps. Visit with him at the reunion and on his web page: MarkByrd.com

"The Price", 1944, Tom Lea

“The Price”, 1944, Tom Lea