MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- As "Taps" sounded, Marines serving with 5th Marine Regiment saluted in honor of their fallen brothers during the regiment's Operation Enduring Freedom Memorial Dedication ceremony here, June 6.
More than a hundred Marines, veterans and Gold Star Mothers gathered at the San Mateo Memorial Garden to join the regiment in honoring the dedication ceremony as the monumental memorial was unveiled.
The names of the Marines and sailors who fought and died serving with a 5th Marines battalion or under Regimental Combat Team 5 in Afghanistan are etched into the 7-ton, granite memorial.
“The monument represents our brothers who are no longer with us,” said Sgt. Maj. Al Ruiz, the sergeant major of 5th Marines. “ It gives all our Marines a chance to remember our fallen Marines.”
The 7-foot tall, 8-foot, 4-inch wide memorial was created in Barre, Vt., and traveled to Camp Pendleton in a 10-day journey where it was escorted every mile of the trip by Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle club that strongly supports service members by welcoming them home from deployments.
The Marines who served with RCT-5 returned from a yearlong deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan, in August 2012. As U.S. forces continue to transition out of Afghanistan, Marines devote more time to reflect on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during combat operations.
“This memorial is very personal to me,” said Cpl. William Sutton, a team leader serving with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. The Chicago native served with the battalion when 25 Marines and sailors were killed in action from September 2010 to April 2011 in Sangin district. “Knowing that my brothers will never be forgotten gives me a great deal of relief.”
Many Marines who were a part of the formation at the dedication ceremony were new to the regiment, nonetheless, honored the Marines who reinforced the legacy of the Fighting Fifth.
“The new Marines are going to see all their forefathers; all of their brothers that put everything aside and gave up everything for their nation every time they walk past this monument,” Sutton said. “This memorial shows that no matter what happens, our brotherhood will still be strong.”
He said 5th Marines already embraces a large amount of pride in the legacy they have earned that dates back to 1917, during the battle of Belleau Wood when they crushed the German advance to Paris.
“From winning the battle of Belleau Wood, to the holding of Guadalcanal, to its recent actions in Afghanistan, 5th Marines has always proven themselves as an elite fighting force,” said Gen. John Kelly, the commanding general for United States Southern Command.
First Lt. Robert Kelly, one of Gen. Kelly’s sons, is etched into the memorial. He too served with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, and died during combat operations in Sangin Nov. 9, 2010.
After the ceremony, Marines and family members of the fallen approached the wall to lay flowers, take photos and some even pencil-rubbed the names of their loved ones onto a piece of paper.
Etched into the bottom of the memorial stone are the words, “FALLEN BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN.”
“Once you join the Fighting Fifth, you become a family. No matter what happens, you will never forget your brothers that went downrange with you,” Sutton said. “They will never be forgotten.”