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Schwartz found fulfillment in Marines

Staff writer

A 30-year Marine Corps career might not have happened at all if Dick Schwartz of Marion wasn’t looking for a challenge.

At 22, an odd set of circumstances had Schwartz in the Coast Guard, Army, and Marine Corps simultaneously.

Ultimately, the Marine Corps won and he spent 30 years with them, rising to the rank of colonel before his retirement in 1989.

Schwartz was a student and member of the Coast Guard Reserve at Ottawa University. As his graduation date approached in 1958, he got a letter telling him he had been drafted by the Army.

“Coast Guard was not a big challenge, and I wanted something tougher,” Schwartz said.

On a visit to University of Kansas, he happened to meet a Marine Corps recruiter. Schwartz talked to the recruiter about his wish to be a Marine.

When Schwartz said he’d already been drafted for the Army, the recruiter assured him that was no problem and told him to go ahead and sign on the line.

He went to officer candidate school at Quantico, Virginia, then was sent to Camp Pendleton, California.

While stationed there, Schwartz told his wife Marge that he’d be gone a short while.

“He said ‘We’re going out on a ship to cruise and would be back in about three weeks,’” Marge recalled.

He returned from Vietnam 13 months later, although Marge had been told where he was.

“We lived in the jungle the entire time,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz, a company commander of Co. M, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was one of the 5,500 Marines engaged in Operation Starlite, the first major U.S. ground battle in Vietnam.

When the ship arrived off the shore of Vietnam’s Van Turon peninsula, the military was engaged in a battle for an important piece of land.

“It was decided by the powers that be that we were going to land Mike Co.,” Schwartz said. “My guys were lined up thinking they were going to get into a big fight.”

Schwartz got a call telling him the company’s landing would be at midnight.

“We stumbled ashore, all 225 of us,” Schwartz said of that night.

Amphibious landing craft took the Marines as close to the unfamiliar shoreline as they could get, but ran into sand dunes. Marines had to jump into the water and wade 200 yards to the beach, with Viet Cong spread out along the shoreline.

“It took us until first light to have everyone together and know where everyone was,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he was impressed with Navy corpsmen who provided battlefield medical care to Marines. The corpsmen remain in contact with the Marines and show up for reunions.

During Schwartz’s time in the Marines, he and Marge lived in Virginia, California, Louisiana, Okinawa, Hawaii, South Korea, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and District of Columbia.

Marge supported his career and enjoyed military life.

“I’m happy to tell you I’ve got a wonderful wife who stuck with me all these years,” Schwartz said.

Their son-in-law, Ray Griffith, is also a retired colonel, and their grandson, Benjamin Griffith, is a first lieutenant.

Last modified Nov. 9, 2017

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