Reconnecting during the Memorial Day weekend, Golf Company 2nd Battalion 4th Marines gather as Bosque County Serenity Ranch, Parsons Marina & more host special holiday for soldiers from 2004 Ramadi mission in Iraq
While the unofficial Marine motto “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome” personifies the Marine mentality in and off the battle field, many Marines have had to put it into practice returning to civilian life after a rough, tough tour, dealing with physical and mental wounds and grieving fallen brothers in arms. And nothing helps overcome better for a “fight hard, play hard” Marine than sitting back and relaxing with fellow “Devil Dogs,” kicking back a couple of beers and sharing war stories. The camaraderie helps slowly heal old wounds and deep scars, inside and out.
This Memorial Day weekend, Bosque County’s Serenity Ranch served as comfortable, safe home base for a special Memorial Day Weekend reunion for 30 marines of the Golf Company “Second to None” Second Battalion, Fourth Marines, lovingly known as “The Magnificent Bastards.” Veterans came in from Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nevada and of course, Texas. The weekend also gives families of the fallen, known as Gold Star Families the opportunity to embrace the brothers of their fallen loved one as members of their extended family.
From the ranch, groups enjoyed shopping outings, a fishing excursion and boat cruises at Lake Whitney, and many moments just sharing meals, listening to live music and hanging out.
During the opening ceremonies on Friday, Bosque County Sheriff Trace Hendricks extended a welcome to Bosque County and that the county was honored to have them. He said that the words “thank you” didn’t express the gratitude and appreciation the nation has for its service men and women.
“We are thankful for people like Mark and Jacquelyn for holding events like this to show our gratitude,” Hendricks said.
Also on hand Friday, Bosque County Game Warden Dayton Isaacs stressed the importance for those participating in the Saturday fishing excursion to sign up for fishing licenses. The eight guided boats brought in a total of 300 pounds of striper for the Saturday evening fish fry. The largest fish caught was a 6.1 pounder.
Parsons Roofing Company and Parsons Marina on Lake Whitney, Golf 2/4 Memorial Day Foundation, Semper Fi and America’s Fund and countless others proudly honored these soldiers by sponsoring significant parts of the event. The Golf 2/4 Memorial Day Foundation is a nonprofit veterans’ organization with the mission to provide the Marines of Golf Company 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, who served together in combat from 2004-07, the opportunity to reunite every year in honor and remembrance of their fallen comrades.
The organization helps with paying for plane tickets to the annual reunion. Semper Fi and America’s Fund sponsored the hotel lodging and transportation to and from the different activities. A battalion consists of three or more companies, while a company holds 243 Marines.
What started with a couple of guys coming together has over 15 years evolved into three-day weekends in which Marines and the Gold Star families reunite and to visit their fallen comrades’ graves. This year the 2/4 visited the grave of Lance Cpl. Nickalous N. Aldrich in Pflugerville. Just 21 at the time of his death, Aldrich lost his life proudly serving his country while fighting in Iraq on August 27, 2004.
It has become a tradition to place flowers, crack a beer, take a swig, and pour the remainder out on the grave, decorate it with flowers and stand by their fallen comrade, telling them “I wish you were here.” However painful it might be for the surviving soldiers, it is a healing experience; strengthening their unbreakable bond with their brothers in arms; because “Once A Marine, Always a Marine.”
Besides a chance for the Marines to reunite, spouses and significant others also bond over shared experiences, offer each other support about practical things like navigating the complicated Veterans’ Affairs procedures.
“For them, it is very therapeutic,” Laura Erwin said. “They tend to open up more together. It’s so good for them. Some are afraid of the emotions. But after the first time, they realize how much better they feel.”
Her husband Nick always feels a lot happier after Memorial Day Weekend reunions. That he just underwent a liver-transplant surgery March 7 did not deter him from coming this year. The couple lives in Oklahoma with their three children. They have always found the retreats in Texas to be the most memorable.
“It is just amazing how these communities come out to meet the veterans, to talk to them,” Erwin said. During the brunch cruise, she passed around a photo of the first get-together back in 2008 to exclamations like “look at those babies!”
Marines have served in the vanguard of every American war since the founding of the Corps in 1775. During the siege of Fallujah in the spring of 2004, the Marines were tasked with support and stability operations and defend the Iraqi town of Ar Ramadi from an insurgent assault. Under battalion command of Lt. Col. Paul Kennedy and Sgt. Maj. Jim Booker, the battalion conducted missions known as Information Operations.
To “win the hearts and minds” of the locals constituted the primary role of the Marines in these missions. While the Marines were acting as policemen, ambassadors, and peacekeepers, if necessary they were still able to conduct full scale combat operations in the city. From February through March, the Marines had seen very little combat.
But then, on April 6, came the onset of a tough, tough tour. An ambush of two Humvees killed six marines outright through machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The surviving eight marines sought cover in a small building, fighting off enemy fire. Their radio operator had been killed and there was no way to contact command. Finally, after several hours, tanks came to their rescue.
From that moment on, instead of being guardians of the peace, the 2/4 was thrust in the midst of an onslaught of deadly engagements involving ambushes of vehicles, bombings, machine gun and RPG attacks. They received way more casualties than they ever expected, and they lost more men than any other single unit in Iraq. The 2004 battle was among the war’s hardest fought, and between April 6 and 10, the 2/4 battalion lost 34 marines, leaving their families and countless fellow marines with only intense grief and some dog tags. However, under their signature black Jolly Roger flag and the creed “No better friend, No worse enemy,” the Marines of 2/4, broke the insurgent momentum by killing an estimated 250 enemy fighters.
One of the Memorial Weekend reunion organizers Sgt. Major James E. Booker – a Bosque County resident – received a Silver Star medal for “gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy” for his contribution in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was in Iraq from Feb. – Sept. 2004.
Sgt. Major Booker courageously exposed himself to enemy fire while leading Marines and eliminating enemy forces in several battalion engagements. On 31 March 2004, the forward command element came under intense machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. With utter disregard for his own safety, Booker dismounted the vehicle, engaged the enemy and forced their withdrawal. He pursued his attackers down several darkened city streets and mortally wounded a RPG gunner who was engaging the Command Group.
Booker subsequently led a search that resulted in the arrest and capture of an eight-man cell and several weapons. On 10 April, the forward command element came under fire from insurgents during cordon and search operations. He calmly led a team of Marines in a counterattack, personally clearing several buildings, eliminating one insurgent fighter, and facilitating the evacuation of a severely wounded Marine.
Booker's efforts enabled the forward command element to regain freedom of maneuver and inspired Marines to fearlessly engage the enemy. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and loyal dedication to duty, Booker reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Over the course of their seven-month deployment on foreign soil many others – 255 of them – were left injured, dealing with extensive surgeries, long-term rehabilitation, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome with horrifying nightmares; and their families suffered with them through these tough times.
More often than not, the surviving marines felt they failed their comrades, for not bringing them home with them alive; a guilt many still carry and deal with daily – asking themselves “could we have done anything differently?” “Could we have avoided this, that or the other?” “Could we have anticipated better?”
For their very costly participation in the wars to safeguard democracy across the globe, offering them a three day retreat with all sorts of activities and entertainment gives these magnificent marines a chance to reunite, reminisce and heal and to celebrate the life of brothers in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation and world democracy.
Through thick and thin, the fierce former fighters remain “Semper Fidelis – Latin for “Always Faithful.” The motto of every Marine, Semper Fidelis stands for their eternal and collective commitment to the success of their battles, the Nation’s progress, and the steadfast loyalty to the fellow Marines they fight alongside. It is a warriorhood that is lived.
And as Memorial Day 2023 comes to an end, the 2/4 will start planning the 20th anniversary reunion of the Ar Ramadi battles at their home base of Camp Pendleton in California.
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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