The Marine Silent Drill Platoon

Washington, DC – Complete silence captured the air, with the only disturbance to the quiet in the slap and rattle of rifles expertly twirled by the Marine Corp’s Silent Drill Platoon during its Sunset Parade.

In the crowd, Bob Gasche sat, watching in quiet reverence on the occasion. Gasche, 92, is one of the few remaining Marines from the Battle of Iwo Jima, the single deadliest battle in Marine Corps history. The Marine watched as the generations that came after him participated in the show of force and discipline in front of the iconic Marine Corps War Memorial, which features a statue paying tribute to the famous raising of the flag that occurred during the battle. Gasche, of Gainesville, FL, spent the day touring the Pentagon and the various memorials in Washington DC. The day before, he was at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station (NAS Pax River) and was given the opportunity to tour the base.

The aging Marine took great pride in the ongoing legacy left by the Marines and this nation’s military. But Gasche’s story starts 71 years before on the hot black sands of Iwo Jima’s invasion beach. A member of the third wave of amphibious landings, Gasche landed in the thick of the initial chaos of taking the beaches.

“We had orders to hit Island X. What’s Island X? It’s Iwo Jima. What’s Iwo Jima? We had no idea what that was . . . but we found out,” said Gasche, in describing the confusion leading up to the day of Invasion Feb. 19, 1945. The Japanese General tasked with defending the Island, Tadamichi Kurabayashi, ordered his forces below ground, where the American bombing and naval bombardment before the invasion could have minimal effect on the defending forces.

Kurabayashi, a studied veteran of the Japanese army, devised many tactics to transform the eight square mile island of volcanic sand, into the hellish battle-torn landscape that would come to be taken at such a great cost. The Japanese had pre-registered all of their weapons to focus fire on the landing zones of the beach and received orders to let the landing Marines gather in great numbers on the beach, before the first shots were fired.

“They let the first few waves in, to jam up the beach, because the sand was very loose and you couldn’t get vehicles off of it,” said Gasche. When the order for the surprise attack came, Gashe said, “they fired down on us and the casualties were horrific on the beach, and so we had orders to get off the beach as soon as you can. It wasn’t easy.”

The landing marines struggled through the battle, with sparse cover to be found on the island. They made their way across the island, bisecting Iwo Jima into sections, and prepared to take Mt. Suribachi. On Feb. 23, four days into the 36-day battle, the 28th Marine Regiment went with orders to capture the strategic position looking down on the rest of the island. The marines raised the first flag, before the iconic picture of the second flag raising was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

“Did I see it go up? No. Did I see it after? Oh yes. And what a blessing, because we knew that Mt. Suribachi was ours and they wouldn’t be firing on us. We were just overwhelmed by that sight,” said Gasche.

Inscribed on the front of the Marine Corps War Memorial, whose statue depicts the famous raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi, are the words quoted from Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, “Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue.” Those words could no better be embodied than by Bob Gasche and the men he fought alongside. The marine described the frustration and pain of trying to carry on in the battle, moving across the island and fighting against a heavily entrenched enemy, who were well camouflaged, hard to find and harder to fight, despite the skill and professionalism of the marines. But words can do little justice to describing the experience of battle or the mindset that could carry anyone through it. Gasche made it through the majority of the fighting, before eventually becoming wounded in action during the battle.

In his days since the deadly battle, Gasche returned to serve in Korea, and then went on to teach of his experience and to promote veteran outreach. Gasche has been active in support of veterans. He is an officer in the Marine Corps League, a member of the Order of the Purple Heart, an inspiring friend to the Young Marines with whom he donates yearly, and one of the founding members of the Iwo Trio, a group of three Iwo Jima survivors. Since their founding, the Iwo Trio has expanded their monthly meeting to include friends, family and guests to come out and sing patriotic songs, share stories, and to promote respect and gratitude for this nation’s military tradition.

“I met Bob at Patriot Festival in Virginia Beach,” said Andrew ‘Doc’ McCorison, a former combat medic assigned with the Marines and the man instrumental in organizing Bob Gasche’s visit to NAS Pax River and the nation’s capital. “I saw his purple heart and his Iwo Jima logo on his shirt and I just said two words, Semper Fi,” said McCorison, paying reverence to the bond formed by America’s warriors across branches of service.

McCorison showed his appreciation for the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of generations before him. Proud of his family heritage, dating back to Americans who fought in the French and Indian war, McCorison has made an effort to reach out and be an active participant in the veteran community. McCorison is the founder of and continues to serve veterans through organizations like 22Kill and by contributing to legislation to help prevent veteran suicide and improve healthcare and opportunities for veterans.

Gasche’s transportation from Gainesville, FL to Maryland was provided by the Veteran’s Airlift Command. McCorison coordinated with Colonel Kelly of the Marine Aircraft Detachment on NAS Pax and they facilitated the opportunity for Bob Gasche to see the MV-22 Osprey and the F-35 and witness the 21st century power of Marine Corps aviation as well as the naval test pilot school. According to McCorison, Michael Barrett, the 17th Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps, and current Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green helped organize Bob Gasche’s tour of the capital, which included the Pentagon, the Marine Corps Barracks at 8th and I and the Marine Corps War Memorial, where Bob Gasche was provided VIP seating for the Marine Corps Sunset Parade.

“That’s why I serve. That’s my call-sign. It’s an honor to be called ‘Doc,’ ” said McCorison. “We took an oath. And for me that oath never had an expiration.”

Gasche returned to his home in Florida. Along with him, he took away an NCO sword commemorating his rank as a corporal in the Marine Corps and a vial of black Iwo Jima sand, given to him at the sunset parade by a group of marines in attendance.

“I don’t hesitate to talk about it,” said Gasche while recounting his story of the Battle of Iwo Jima. “I feel that I have to let the younger generation know that guys who were teenagers, we served our country, and we were told we were the greatest generation.”

The Marine Corps Sunset Parades are a continuing summer event, going on throughout the Tuesday evenings at the Marine Corps War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. It offers the opportunity to watch the highly practiced Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, and the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, as well as the opportunity to meet and pay tribute to the veterans of this country.

The Marine Corps Sunset Parades are open at the Marine Corps War Memorial