Cpl. Rudy Ibarra Jr.

ARLINGTON, Va. (June 25, 1998.) --

My name is Corporal Rudy Ibarra Jr. I am stationed at Henderson Hall and work at Headquarters Marine Corps.

I have seen a lot of things in my time and have been a part of many interesting adventures in the Marine Corps. But nothing in my past could have given me the pleasure of experiencing the Marine Corps as I did today. I was asked to volunteer for a funeral for retired Sergeant Major Herbert Sweet, fourth Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and a true Marine. I knew very little about this man, just that he was a Marine. That's all I needed to know. If his wife wanted a Marine present at his service, then a Marine she would get. I did not feel that it was a painful service and something that I had to go out of my way to do. I felt it was my great honor to represent my father and all the men who served with the sergeant major during World War II.

My father and Sgt. Maj. Sweet probably never met or even knew of each other's existence, but they were Marines, and Marines are brothers for life. He was on Iwo Jima during the time Sgt. Maj. Sweet was chewing the same dirt as all the other great men who gave of themselves and there lives on that island.

This funeral meant more to me then just another detail that I was assigned to; it was a time to give back a little of what the Marine Corps has given me and all others before me.

I arrived early at the funeral parlor. We had a sergeant, a lance corporal, and one other corporal besides myself. We entered the room that held the sergeant major's coffin. We set up the flags, and I walked half way up to the coffin. I stopped. A flash of memories and future events rolled through my mind. I saw my childhood friend, Ronnie, who died in a car crash. I went to his funeral. He was a Marine and died just before he was supposed to get out. He wanted to make a future for himself outside of the Marine Corps.

I saw my Father -- this was the worst vision I saw -- my father in that coffin with the draped American flag. I saw all of this in a matter of seconds, but it seemed like hours. I wanted to leave, but I could not because I could not disgrace my father or my Corps by leaving. My Father told me once, "Don't ever disgrace my Corps or my country son, too many Marines have died for you to mess it up." He loves the Corps, and to imagine the feelings my father has for his Corps after all this time is something that can only be experienced through serving in the Corps yourself.

People often ask me why I joined, and I tell them because of my father. He never told me to do it, or even hinted at it. He is a great man and a Marine, one who I would love to be like, one who is respected wherever he goes and by whomever he talks to. He hardly mentions his time in and what he has seen, but you know he was in because of his faded tattoo, an eagle, globe and anchor on his right forearm. It is black and white, faded, and not as sharp as it once was when it was young.

As time pressed on, we were told that Sgt. Maj. Sweet's family was present and on deck. We placed our covers and headed to the door to meet a woman I had never seen. She and her whole family were in the main entrance waiting for us. We Marines, whom she had never met, wanted to see us, to tell each of us "thank-you" for volunteering to come. She shook the hands of two Marines before mine, but when she got to me she said, "Thank you for coming and volunteering your time."

I said it was an honor to be here and represent my Corps to your husband. I told her my father and her husband had chewed the same dirt on Iwo Jima together, and that I represent not only myself but my father in his absence. I shook with both my hands, surrounding her one, but after I said that, she put her other hand on mine.

She was proud of her husband and what he stood for, so she was proud of us. This is just what I have been trying to express to all Marines I meet. It is incredible what love there is for you just because you're a simple word -- Marine. To this woman it meant enough to embrace us and to accept us into her family. She didn't care what we had done in the past or if we were the best the Marine Corps had to offer. All she knew is that her husband and we were equal in one way, a title that we all had to earn and all must maintain throughout our career. Marine -- that word -- such a simple word but so powerful. It is more than a title; it means that you are now a part of a brotherhood that will never die, "because the Marine Corps will live forever."

Many people came in to the funeral parlor, and the first few most were civilians. I had the pleasure of meeting former Sergeants Majors of the Marine Corps, World War II veterans, Korean War veterans, and Marines who are still serving. All expressed love for their Corps and their fellow brothers who have died and the ones who still serve our country.

A lot has changed since the days of World War II, but one thing remains the same -- you never forget people you meet in the Marine Corps. They will never forget Sgt. Maj. Sweet, a man who influenced them not because he was the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, but because he was a man who cared about Marines. You do not get four Purple Hearts for standing by and watching other people work and carry your load. He earned one of his Purple Hearts when he was a first sergeant. He wanted to fight and fight he did. He put his life on the line for his Marines. He could not ask them to put there lives at risk if he did not give of his own.

The local chapter of the Fleet Reserve Marine Force was there, a chapter that the sergeant major was a member of. They had a little meeting in a separate room away from the coffin. They had wanted to move the colors in front of the coffin for a ceremony they conduct when one of their fellow shipmates passes on. I had overheard them, so when they came out of the room I went up to the leader of the chapter and asked if he wanted us to move the colors. I figured he would just want us to move them in front of the coffin and that would be it.

He asked if I and the sergeant would hold the flags on either side of the coffin and stand at attention. We said yes, and proceeded to get the colors. I took the Marine Corps flag and the sergeant took the American flag.

The head of the chapter led the other members to the front of the sergeant major's coffin after we had posted. One man called attention to orders. He read words from a sheet of paper that seemed like poetry. "Here we have today our shipmate who has fallen but will never be forgotten ...

"I really can't remember word for word but it started out so beautifully. He continued, Sergeant Major Sweet has been given orders to serve post at the side of God." That brought memories of our song, the Marines' Hymn. We guard the gates of heaven, and now the sergeant major guards the Commandant of Heaven.

After he read his message he called roll. All members were present until he called "Sergeant Major Sweet ... Sergeant Major Sweet ... Sergeant Major Sweet ... Sergeant Major Sweet." He said this four times, then one man in the rear responded. "He is unable to answer his presence, for he is now at a new post.

In those few moments when his name went unanswered, I felt my own heart filled with the same emotion as all others who knew him. I have lost a brother and a friend. As a child, I was told never to cry, and as I grew up in the Marine Corps I was told never to show emotion. "Bearing" is what we call it, a stone face and cold heart.

My eyes watered up and one tear was about to leave my trembling face. Then the end of the names were read, and a man from the chapter standing over a cassette player pressed a button and played Taps. All stood at attention, and all stood proud. As I heard the sweet, sad song of the lone bugler, my eyes began to shed its tears. My emotion was let loose because this is what I will one day have to do for my Father, and my future family will have to do for me. Stand at attention for a fallen brother, his coffin draped in a flag for which he fought, a flag which he loved very much.

I did not care who saw my tears or if it was not manly to show them in public. I cried with all the others who heard that song played that day, I knew the men in the chapter saw, and most of them cried as well. I heard their hearts as I heard my own.

We all lost a brother that day. In fact, we lose Marines every day, most of them under preventable circumstances that could have been avoided. All are important, and all -- no matter what they have done -- are still Marines.

Semper Fidelis is not just Always Faithful, but a code by which we all live. No matter if you like the Corps or not, you will always be loved by me and my fellow Marines who have shaped this Marine Corps as we know it today. So if you ever think of this Corps in a negative way, just remember what you are doing -- you are disgracing my Corps and the many Marines who died to give us what we have today. You are disgracing a title that everyone knows, a title that everyone has to earn and maintain, a title called "Marine."

Semper Fidelis, Sergeant Major Sweet. -USMC-

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