Sent: 2/14/2016 6:16:55 P.M. Mountain Standard Time
Subj: Socks for Heroes Weekly Update
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I would like to wish everybody a Happy Valentine’s day.
We’ve had a setback this week. Due to a change in ownership of the venue that we were going to have our fundraiser at, we will have to cancel our March 4th event. While the new owners have expressed a willingness to work with us, some of the components that are necessary for a successful shoot are not currently in place, so after a bit of agonizing on our part, we have determined that we have run out of runway. For those of you who signed up to shoot, or took sponsorships, I will be contacting you individually to provide you with options. This means our next fundraiser will not be until our May 28th “Shoot your Socks Off” Trap shooting event.
And while it’s not the best news we’ve had in a while, we’ve got some time before we begin major shipping again, so we will work to make up the shortfall.
But for the first time in a long time, I am a little nervous. For most of us, we experience fear based on one of two things; not getting what we want, or losing what we have. For those who serve, there is a fear that no one speaks about, death or mutilation, but from the Marines that we have spoken to, there is a greater fear, that of letting his buddies down when it counts.
In his book, Gates of Fire, Stephen Pressfield tells a story about a Spartan Commander who during a discussion talks about how each thing has its own opposite, and then asks the question, “What is the opposite of fear? What is the thing that will cause a man to face certain death willingly, against all instinct?”
The answer that he comes up with is love.
Not Love as a feeling but love as an action. Love comes in many forms, love of family, love of friends, or love of Country. It is that love that causes someone to face death willingly. It is love that compels them to look for every possible means of delivering on a promise, of overcoming adversity, for protecting those they stand alongside or those in their care.
Through our association with the Marines, we have witnessed many examples of this. But none more than during a small ceremony that we were honored to attend on Friday. The retirement of our friend, Colonel Willy Buhl.
If each person who Willy Buhl affected in a positive way had been at the retirement ceremony, it would have to have been held in Petco Park, but instead it was in a small pergola behind the headquarters of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. It was presided over by Willy’s first Company Commander in the Marine Corps, who told him squarely after he had expressed wanting a small ceremony to “go over the side quietly” that the ceremony was about him, not for him and to get back in line! You’ve got to love Marines.
There were still over 100 people in attendance. Many in civilian clothing, but you could tell who were the Marines. Many people from past commands, old friends from Officer Training School, many of the people he had touched, all there with a common purpose, to let him know how much they cared for him.
For us, it was too small a ceremony for such a large figure, not physically, but a man whose care for his Marines, both known and unknown are beyond counting As the ceremony began, his former CO observed that everyone has their own “Willy Buhl” experience.
This is ours.
We met Willy Buhl when Donald was killed in 2009. While the detachment responsible for delivering the news to us was there that morning, Colonel Buhl was there that night. Colonel Buhl at the time was the Commander of the 5thMarine Regiment, whose Donald’s Battalion was part of. Donald was one of 5,000 Marines that he was responsible for, and Colonel Buhl didn’t have to do anything, but nonetheless, he was at our dinner table with his Sergeant Major expressing his condolences with tears in his eyes at our loss.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the reason for Willy’s care? Because our son was a Marine, one of his Marines and he would not pass on what he considered a blessed duty to comfort his loved ones.
And it’s not like he hadn’t any practice. We were to find out later that Willy Buhl was the Commander of the “Thundering Third” or 3rd Battalion 1st Marines, which led the assault on Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury. And the Marines under his command took losses, but at the same time they displayed heroism that is still celebrated in one of the defining battles of the Corps in the Global War on Terror.
This was the battle where 1stSgt Bradley Kasal, who while trying to extract wounded Marines, would find himself facing down a number of insurgents in what was later to be called “The Hell House”. 1st Sgt Kasal would be wounded by 7 enemy bullets and over 200 grenade fragments incurred while protecting another wounded Marine. The picture of him being brought out of the house is viewed as one of the iconic photos of the Battle of Fallujah. For his actions he was awarded the Navy Cross.
And while he would never speak of it, we have heard many stories about Willy’s own part in the fight. Leading from the front, Willy and his Sergeant Major at one point provided suppressing fire to enable Marines to evacuate other wounded Marines. We know may Marines who served with Willy during that time, all of whom say that they would follow him back into hell without hesitation.
It would seem contradictory to some that a Combat Commander would have such a concern about his Marines, but it was something that our friend had a long history of doing. One evening, we found out during dinner with a General officer who was Willy’s commander at the time, each evening, rather than resting, he would take the dangerous road to Baghdad to check on the condition of his wounded Marines. The General told me that he had expressed his concern about Willy’s safety and suggested that he quit doing it. I asked him what happened, he laughed and said “he ignored me.”
Willy also displayed that level of commitment to his Marines when he was given the Command of the Wounded Warrior Regiment. For two years, he worked to make sure that those who had given so much for our Nation were cared for and treated with the respect and honor that they had earned. It was something that he was well familiar with. During his time as Commander of the 5th Marines, he would often be found at the Wounded Warrior Care facilities at Bethesda and San Diego, checking on the 5thMarines wounded in the fights in Sangin, raising their spirits and letting them know that their sacrifice was acknowledged and appreciated.
Willy has also shown a high level of care and commitment to the families of the fallen of those that served under his command, ours none the least. It was Willy who enabled our son to have a scholarship endowed in his name with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, and who put his name forward for the Barracks that bears his name in Camp San Mateo today. There are many other families of fallen Marines who have felt his kindness, all of whom are grateful for his friendship. He is a regular at the Gold Star Family Conference in San Francisco every year and his friendship is greatly appreciated.
During the ceremony, 1st Sergeant Kasal, a favored contender for the next Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps called him the greatest Commander he had ever served under. What is more, his legacy continues. Three of the Marines who served under him at 5th Marines now command Regiments as well, all are renowned for their brilliance as combat Commanders and their care for their Marines.
As I see it, there is no greater example of love as an action than Willy Buhl. And while we believe that the Marine Corps and our Nation are at a loss for his retirement, he has given much over his 34 years of service and deserves the time that he will spend with his family. And while this chapter of his life closes, we wait with anticipation to see what great things will come forward in the next.
So while today, while most celebrate the concept of ‘love as a feeling” we honor those who stand forward and demonstrate their love as an action by making sure that they do what is necessary to protect our Nation.
Are we afraid of letting the kids forward down? You bet! But with examples like Willy Buhl to draw from, we’ll keep pushing forward regardless of the setbacks knowing that victory is not far from reach.
Thanks for joining us in our position in this fight!
In memory of our son, LCPL Donald Hogan
Posthumously awarded the Navy Cross
KIA 8/26/2009 Nawa, Afghanistan
We honor his memory by caring for his Marine Brothers wherever they serve in harm’s way
Get Me In The Fight!!!