Remembering 3 decades of service
Longtime Marion resident and retired Marine colonel Dick Schwartz, who died April 20, made a lasting impact on his chosen hometown.
Schwartz was on a visit to University of Kansas soon before his 1958 graduation from Ottawa University, where he’d been in the Coast Guard Reserve, when he met a Marine Corps recruiter. Schwartz, already drafted into the Army, talked to the recruiter about his desire for something challenging and his wish to be a Marine.
The Marine recruiter assured Schwartz the Army draft was “no problem,” and told him to go ahead and sign.
He spent 30 years in the Marine Corps, retiring in 1989.
The Marines sent him to officer candidate school at Quantico, Virginia, then Camp Pendleton, California.
While there, Schwartz told his wife, Marge, 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 in 2017.
He returned from Vietnam 13 months later.
Schwartz, commander of Company M, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was one of the 5,500 Marines who fought in Operation Starlite, the first major U.S. ground battle in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s Van Turon peninsula was an important piece of land.
“It was decided by the powers that be that we were going to land Mike Co.,” Schwartz said during a 2017 interview. “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 and the unit remained in contact, attending reunions together.
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.
Military service runs in the family. His son-in-law, Ray Griffith, also is a retired colonel, and his grandson, Benjamin Griffith, is a first lieutenant.