Posts Tagged ‘USMC


this is the law of combat (and boy does she make it plain)

PFC Jay Kimbrough circa 1969 - Vietnam

USMC PFC Jay Kimbrough circa 1967 – Vietnam

(Editor’s note: Originally written and posted on Memorial Day, 2014 while  Jay was still recovering from a motorcycle accident. Updated in his honor and shared in his memory. Texas has lost a fine man, a friend to many, a patriot and Texan to the end – S/F PFC Kimbrough RIP)

A friend to me and countless others suffered a bad motorcycle accident somewhere on the road to Bryan, Texas last Friday. This is no ordinary man, a decorated Marine who always referred to himself as, “Private First Class.” As a matter of fact, he once told me that his life was never as simple as it was when he was a young PFC. I know as hard as those days were for him, you could still see that certain longing in his eyes that is present in most all who served as he had. I saw it every time he spoke of those days which wasn’t very often.

Jay Kimbrough is recovering in a Bryan hospital still today, and slow as it is – it’s not the first time he’s been broken. As a PFC in the Marine Corps way back in the late 60’s, the chopper Jay was riding in was shot down in a dank jungle in Vietnam. He survived the crash, but was in heavy enemy territory. Having been shot down and now shot-up, things were looking pretty dire. However, a fellow Texan had other plans and after saving Jay’s life, among others that day, the Texan was awarded the Silver Star. Those two were reunited 30 years later incidentally, a great story for another time.

Kimbrough, JayWell, Jay made it back of course and the rest is history. He went on to become a lawyer in the USMC Judge Advocate Division and later, Bee County Judge in South Texas. He also went on to serve the state at many leadership capacities and developed a reputation for his ability to not just fix problems, but clean up troubled state agencies.

Well respected by governors, legislators and statewide elected officials alike, Jay is a tremendous Texan, a proud patriot and formidable leader. Jay is also still fighting for his life this Memorial Day.

When he reads this, he’s going to be some kind of ticked that it sounds like a eulogy, but Jay my friend, it’s not that – not by a long shot. I haven’t seen or talked to Jay in months, but the lessons I learned from him during our time working together are never far from my mind.

It was one of those days sitting across from one another in a small charter aircraft somewhere over Texas that he spoke of a poem which he has never been able to get out of his head. One he read in Leatherneck magazine while also on a plane – but at that time, flying from the United States over to Southeast Asia against the backdrop of a cold blue ocean, and into the unknown that lie ahead as a newly minted 19-year-old United States Marine.

He spoke of how the poem came to define the struggles he realized ahead of him, what came to be his own story – but admittedly the same as countless other Marines, Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers who were all sent overseas. I was enthralled that such a written piece existed – having read only once on all those years ago, could leave such a lasting impression. It was clear to me that poem haunted him, still some 30 years later.  I knew right then exactly what I had to do.

After weeks of searching – it was found.  Jay had given me just enough.  I knew the magazine name and the time of his deployment.  Jay would offer that confirmation as soon as I handed it over –  and there it was, volume 50, issue 11, starting on page 66 of the November 1967 issue of Leatherneck magazine – The Law of Combat, by Ralph E G Sinke Jr.

Now those who know the hard-charging, Harley riding, knife-toting, f-bomb dropping “PFC” Jay Kimbrough best, will not agree with what I am about to say next.  But his response to receiving that  poem was the closest thing to an emotional reaction that I would venture to say any co-worker had ever seen from Jay.

Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

I’ll never forget the look when he realized what was before him, and I was just happy to find something my friend has long awaited to read again – the reaction was certainly reward enough.  Jay took it further of course and after soaking in what he was holding, retold the story how they impressed upon him over the years since that time and of how he had ached to read them – and so he did.  Like he was sitting on that plane to Asia all over again.

This Memorial Day, by God’s grace we wont be memorializing my friend Jay. However, he and his family could sure use your prayers.   As for me, I will think of him and the many like him that cannot be with their families this weekend.  I hope to catch a few good John Wayne war movies and think about those many sacrifices that were made by so many men and women called into service.

In the Texas Capitol  - photo courtesy of

In the Texas Capitol – photo courtesy of

Going back to the time when this great state was struggling to become Texas – to the flooded trenches, the poppy fields, the hedgerows, black sand beaches, rice patties and the cold rock ravines of later times.  You name the place, if liberty and freedom was on the menu – American blood was shed to solidify the ground once again …new blood over old, new tears over sweat.  And we all should swell up with pride on this day and every day frankly, even more so knowing that should the call come tonight – we will answer it. We always do, it is the law of combat and PFC Jay Kimbrough knows it too well.

“…The bullets whine and search,And snarl about their ears,

And as each man fires back,

He blazes through his fears.

Now a fire team rushes forward,

In a blazing, raging wedge,

And the choking screams of wounded men,

Sets every tooth on edge.

Then suddenly it is over;

And Stillness reigns as Queen;

No sound is there to tell of death,

Yet still, there’s the blood’s red gleam.

Now comes the time to report,

To the stalwart leaders who’ve led,

Now is the time to count,

Your wounded and dying and dead.

And you look old Death in the eye,

And you know how stern is his sway,

And the hurt that builds up inside you,

Is of a million years and a day.

But you have a job to do,

And you do it without knowing how,

Who gives a damn for eternity?

For you, all-time is now.

The choppers have taken the wounded, and

There comes a stabbing of sorrows,

They’re alien, strange, yet you know,

They’ll be with you for all your tomorrows.

And then comes the piercing pain,

Of a grief that bludgeons you dumb,

And you long for the warm wet wash,

Of tears that will not come.

But this is the law of Combat,

God, how she makes it plain,

Once you have come through my borders,

You’ll not be the same again.

If once you enter my fearsome fold,

If you’ve the guts to endure my ways,

I’ll make you a changed but stronger man,

For now and the rest of your days.

She calls the strongest of spirit,

Those who thrive in battle’s red rage,

The bravest, the toughest, the greatest,

Men from a Viking age.

If you have the fine-fierce fiber,

She’ll steel your heart and your brain,

Yes, this is the law of Combat,

And God; how she makes it plain.”

–Excerpt from THE LAW OF COMBAT

Ralph E.G Sinke Jr., Leatherneck

Copyright Marine Corps Association Nov 1967


goodbye mister graves

Last week, Texas lost an impossibly talented author with an unmatched writing style and wit.  He was 92.  A book that began as a magazine article became a Texas classic and an all time favorite of mine.  John Graves wrote Goodbye to a River in 1960 after completing a three-week canoe trip down the Brazos River, which he feared would forever be changed by the dams that were being proposed at the time.  It was his farewell to youth and an acknowledgment of the innocence lost therin whilst making way for progress.  Graves was the author who awoke a love in me for the streams and tributaries that span this great state, not to mention the history of the people who converged on these life-giving byways.  As it turns out, the first roads of Texas were traversed with a paddle.  He was the one author who showed me and so many like me – that a river does indeed have a soul.

At home at Hard Scrabble - photo by Michael O'Brien

At home at Hard Scrabble – photo by Michael O’Brien

Graves was an environmentalist by association and I can assure you that those who shared his love for this great land we call Texas would be destined to become fast friends.  I had the opportunity to meet him about five years ago and will forever lament that I did not bring my first run copy of this classic for his signature.
I was like a kid in candy store,  just hearing him discuss his work much less be introduced to the man.  As we say our goodbyes, we also play taps for yet another veteran of WWII.
Graves was injured on the island of Saipan and his experience as a Marine could often be found infused in his work.  William D. Wittliff, the screen writer who helped bring Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove to television perhaps put it best in a recent interview with the New York Times.  “He cared about things that were worthwhile caring about, and he wrote about them in a way that made you care about them.”
Whether it’s  trucking, writing or running an association,  you had better feed the soul in order to be successful.  Graves understood that like no other and wrote about it with emotion, authenticity and authority.  Although he spent time abroad in the Marine Corps and began his work in New York City, he came home to Texas to find his true voice – expressed in so many essays and so many literary works.  He will truly be missed.
“Neither a land nor a people ever starts over clean. Country is compact of all its past disasters and strokes of luck–of flood and drouth, of the caprices of glaciers and sea winds, of misuse and disuse and greed and ignorance and wisdom–and though you may doze away the cedar and coax back the bluestem and mesquite grass and side-oats grama, you’re not going to manhandle it into anything entirely new. It’s limited by what it has been, by what’s happened to it. And a people, until that time when it’s uprooted and scattered and so mixed with other peoples that it has in fact perished, is much the same in this as land. It inherits.”  – John Graves, Goodbye to a River: A Narrative 

semper gumby

Every once in a blue moon, things run as planned.  You hit all the cues, the lights go down when they’re supposed to and the music is not too loud.  Your presenters are all insightful and the food is fabulous – not cheap mind you, but good groceries.   All the minute details come together at the prescribed times and even the weather cooperates – yes even the weather.  Much like the written word where Spanish Playwright and Philosopher Enrique Jardiel Poncela once said, “When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into it’s writing,” so too must great effort go into well planned meetings of your making.
Careful planning first comes with knowing your environment.  By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.  That takes time, talent, discipline and the relentless pursuit of attention to details.  If things are rolling like they are supposed to be, even when things are going horribly wrong according to your standards – your guests are oblivious.  The preverbal duck gliding on top of the glassy pond – on top graceful and beautifly effortless, while underneath all elbows and…well you get the picture.
In the world of political advance we used to call it, “getting rolled.”  No one liked it nor planned for it, but if something came down the pike that causes you to make an adjustment – you roll with it.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith any luck you owned it and make it flow for you.  Not unlike what you do everyday that makes you successful, you are able to maneuver the daily land mines that were not evident when the day started.  Such is the life of the working man & woman.  The well known motto of the United States Marine Corps is  Semper Fidelis, Latin for Always Faithful.   The unofficial motto is one we have adopted around here, that is simply and appropriately, “Semper Gumby,” or Always Flexible.
We have to be ready to accept what comes that is unplanned and deliver despite adversity.  It’s what makes us uniquely qualified to be successful in our own environment and cultivates us to realize success even when thrust into unfamiliar territory.  The novelist J.R.R. Tolkien may have put it best, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”   Make a sound plan to slay those dragons and you’ll have no problem with a few horned toads that crash your party.


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