6 June 2000

The Making Of A Marine NCO

Anthony F. Milavic

Major, United States Marine Corps, (Retired)

In 1957, Colonel H. P. Crowe, USMC assumed command of Marine Barracks, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia. The physical structures of the command consisted of two barracks buildings--one for Guard Company and one for Sea School--and several minor buildings that included quarters for the officers assigned to the Barracks. These were conveniently arranged abreast and facing a row of civilian houses some one hundred yards away across the Barracks' street, a narrow parade field, a chain-link fence, a sidewalk, and a civilian street. The Barracks Marines’ activities regularly drew spectators standing on the sidewalk peering through the fence or the area residents watching from chairs and swings on their porches facing the Barracks.

One popular event was Colors performed every morning and evening. The flagpole and a ship’s bell were located in front of the Guard Company's barracks on the edge of the parade field. Five minutes before Colors, the Color Guard, bugler, and, if the time was appropriate, the bell ringer would march out to the flagpole and take their positions. One minute before Colors, the Sergeant of the Guard, would alert everyone by shouting out the time observed on a clock in the Guard Office that had been synchronized with the U. S. Naval Observatory that morning. On his command of, “COLORS!” the bell began ringing, the bugler began playing, and the flag began to move. If everything began at the same time and finished appropriately, the civilian spectators clapped and cheered and the Color Guard breathed a sigh of relief. 

Sunday mornings, Colonel Crowe had the habit of watching the flag raising with his family from a position in front of Officer's Quarters. These days and on other holidays, the 10’X19’ Post Flag would be replaced with the 20’X38’ Garrison Flag. This would also require a larger Color Guard. First, the Garrison Flag folded in the traditional "cocked-hat" shape was so large the Color Sergeant needed a man on either side to help carry it otherwise the corners would droop dangerously close to the ground and Marines are taught: “Do not let the American flag touch the ground!” Also, three additional halyard pullers were added because the two usual pullers--the Color Sergeant's flankers--were now helping to carry the flag and once the flag cleared the Flag Holders’ grasp, its weight required four or more to pull it up the pole-- remember, it was 20’X38’. 

One summer Sunday morning in 1957, the Color Guard, spectators and Colonel Crowe were all in place as the Sergeant of the Guard began his countdown: “ONE MINUTE! THIRTY SECONDS! FIFTEEN SECONDS! TEN! NINE! EIGHT! SEVEN! SIX! FIVE! FOUR! THREE! TWO! ONE! COLORS!”  The flag started up the pole as the bell rang and the bugle blared: Everything was on cue. When the flag cleared the hands of the Color Sergeant, he and his two flankers joined in pulling on the halyards. As the National Ensign passed the midpoint on its journey skyward, the wind straightened it out perpendicular to the pole. The six Marines pulled harder, now fighting the wind as well as the weight of the flag. Just as the flag neared or arrived at the top of the 65-foot plus pole, no one is really sure which, the top pulley broke freeing the flag from its upward journey and causing the halyard pullers to fall to the ground. The Color Guard sprawled on the ground and stared up at 760 square feet of Stars-'n'-Bars sailing along with their chevrons toward their commanding officer: for everyone in view, the world momentarily stopped. Suddenly, one member of the Color Guard leaped to his feet and sprinted toward the descending flag. He arrived at the street seconds before the flag and dove under it, sliding along the pavement as the National Ensign settled over him. He was instantly covered in red, white, and blue. 

Colonel Crowe walked over and began lifting up the flag trying to find the Marine. As he uncovered him, he said, “Outstanding job, Corporal!” 

Looking up from the street, the Marine answered, “Thank you, Sir; but, I'm a PFC.” 

“Not anymore,” the Colonel corrected.

Semper Initiative,

Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)

MILINET NOTE: Between WWI & WWII, Colonel Crowe saw service in Nicaragua during over 14 years as an enlisted Marine. In 1934, he was appointed a Gunnery Warrant Officer and served as a commissioned officer at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Inchon, and the Chosin Reservoir. For his actions on Guadalcanal and Tarawa, he was awarded the Silver Star and Navy Cross Medals respectively.