"The Marine", letter to Marines about a Marine

This was written by a POW about another POW, Orson Swindle (who, I am proud
to say, is my husband), to be read at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball last weekend.  I thought some of you might find it "a good read."

Thanks George McKnight.  -- Angie (Swindle)

The Marine

The tiny cell was located deep in the bowels of the Hanoi Hilton. I and two other Air Force POWs sat on the cell's floor in a vain effort to escape the oppressive heat of another Hanoi summer. Half-starved and bored beyond calculation, we lacked the energy to engage in even simple conversation with each other. Just another dull, miserable afternoon in the North Vietnamese prison system, or so I thought.  How wrong I was!!

Guards shouting, and doors being unlocked broke up the strictly enforced silence of our cell block.  The uproar grew closer and closer until it stopped in front of our cell.  The door was flung open with a crash and into our world stumbled one very strange looking human being.  To put it briefly and mildly, he was filthy. From head to toe, he was filthy.  Even by our admittedly low standards of personal hygiene, he was filthy.  We waited until
the guards left the room before welcoming him to our humble abode.

The cell door had no sooner banged shut that he introduced himself to us. "Major Orson Swindle, United States Marine Corps" and then he apologized for his unkempt appearance.  "The camp authorities wanted me to sign my name on a form for soap and a toothbrush. I, of course, refused.  Name, rank, serial number and date of birth. Nothing more and nothing less.  So here I am, still waiting for my first bath in North Vietnam."  I stole a covert glance at my cell mates and cringed.  It was painfully obvious that we were not waiting for our first bath in North Vietnam. Something else was obvious also.  The Marines had landed in the Hanoi Hilton and the performance bar had just been raised.

In the days that followed, Major Swindle pointed out to us exactly how the United States Marine Corps differed from the other branches of the Service. One such illustration made a deep impression on the rest of us.  It seems that Major Swindle led a flight of F-8 fighter-bombers on a close air support mission that accounted for a large number of enemy K.I.A. He was put in for a very significant decoration by the commander on the ground, but Marine Corps headquarters turned down the recommendation with words that went something like this ’Äì "The United States Marine Corps does not consider the accurate delivery of ordinance on the enemy as something above and beyond the call of duty.  It is something we expect of every Marine aviator."  When we tried to commiserate with Orson over the loss of the medal, he stopped us mid-sympathy and said simply, "That's the Marine way of doing things and my way as well. "We thought we detected an inference in Orson's stories about the Marine way of doing things that we Air Force types had been a bit slack in the performance of our duties as POWs. We hastened to assure him that when the time came, we too could do what was expected of us. That time came sooner than any of us expected.

One day a pair of guards came into our cell to inspect it for contraband items.  While they were there, they apparently decided to have a little fun with the senior ranking POW in the cell. They ordered him to bow to them.  He nodded his head.  They shook their heads and ordered him to bow 90 degrees from his waist. He refused.  The guards tried to manhandle him into the 90-degree position.  He resisted strongly, and the guards lost their tempers. They began to beat him unmercifully.  Orson let out a bellow and shouted at
them to stop what they were doing.  We all joined in and literally shouted the guards out of the cell. A brief smile between ourselves and our little victory was over. The guards returned, and they didn't come alone. The pain that I underwent in the hours and days that followed our mini prison riot has faded away, but the pride remains from the day we tried it the Marine way.

So here's to you, "Commissioner" Orson Swindle, Lt.  Col.(Ret.) USMC and thanks for one of my proudest moments. Happy birthday to you and all your fellow Marines who have always and will always do what is expected of them.

Respectfully yours,

 George McKnight, Col.  (Ret.), USAF