Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Change-of-Command Ceremony for the Commandant of the Marine Corps

June 26, 1983

Generals, colonel, the distinguished guests who are here tonight, and the members of my own band— [laughter] —we are present tonight at one of the most solemn and important ceremonies in the life of a military service that began in 1775. Today, or tonight, we have passed the colors. We mark a change in command of an institution that is older than even our nation itself: the United States Marine Corps.

It is altogether appropriate that we should do so in this place. We stand today on the parade deck of one of the oldest military installations in America, the Marine Barracks, selected in 1801 by President Jefferson himself. And we stand in front of Washington's oldest, continuously occupied public buildings, the home of the commandants and the battle colors of the corps.

This place marks the home base of one of the world's most modern and powerful striking forces, a corps of honor and legend, a corps of selfless Americans whose valiant service has, for more than two centuries, thrilled their countrymen and kept their nation free. Because of their valor, faraway places whose names were once strange and unfamiliar to Americans are now part of our nation's history. Places like Tripoli, Chateau-Thierry, Iwo Jima, Inchon, and Khe Sanh. Names that speak of soldierly virtue. Names that evoke the spirit and memory of all those United States Marines who have given, and still give today, so valiantly of themselves, so that their countrymen might live in peace and freedom.

Today we mark the retirement of a man who exemplifies the best of these traditions, the 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Barrow. General Barrow's valor is testified to by his decorations, by his leadership of fighting marines in three of his country's wars. In World War II he served behind the Japanese lines with the Chinese guerrillas, the campaign where the cry "Gung ho!" was heard. And in Korea he fought at Chosin Reservoir. In Vietnam he played a critical role in the success of Operation Dewey Canyon.

Just after the breakout of Inchon in Korea the then Captain Barrow was at the head of a rifle company faced with a powerful enemy armored attack. He spoke for so much of Marine history when he later said of the marines that he led that day, and the victory they won, "They stood cool and tall and let them have it."

In peacetime, General Barrow has served his nation with equal distinction. Because of his leadership, the elite force that is always first to fight has never been better prepared to carry out its mission. Its weapons and tactics are modern; its morale is high; its men and women are dedicated to the standards of excellence that are synonymous with the title of United States Marine.

General Barrow, you leave a legacy that is reflected in the eyes of the Marines here today and in the unexcelled performance of the fleet Marine forces, both afloat and ashore in far-off lands. Under your stewardship as the 27th Commandant, the Marines have never been better prepared or better led.

I want to say I will miss you; I will miss your counsel and your decisiveness. As you return home, General Barrow, I give you, sir, on behalf of a grateful nation, what another distinguished soldier on a more somber occasion gave his departing comrades, many of whom would also return to Louisiana. "Take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed." And I pray, as did General Lee on that occasion, that a merciful God will extend to you and Mrs. Barrow His blessing and protection.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to add here, however, that we won't be losing his service altogether, because General Barrow will soon be serving his country again in a key advisory position.

General Kelley, I have the utmost confidence in you. Few public careers have shown as much selflessness and commitment to country as yours. In combat and in peacetime you've been a dynamic and innovative leader of marines. You've had successful tours of duty and worked closely with all of our military services. You've won the respect and admiration of military and civilian leaders throughout the world.

Marines have always been asked to accomplish the most formidable tasks, as they are, this evening, serving in the difficult and dangerous task of peacekeepers in the Multinational Force in Lebanon. I expect, General Kelley, that under your leadership that performance will exceed expectations and that you will hold with the standards of excellence that are the hallmark of the Corps and the pride of the American people. At this ceremony tonight, viewing the marines that are here with us, all of us in civilian life feel a surge of that pride.

On a personal note, I want to say that I came here early in my term as President and saw the evening parade held during the summer months at these barracks. Some call it the best show in town. I can only tell you that I consider it one of the most unforgettable moments of my term in office. Yet it is an experience I share with the countless Americans who have come here over the years and seen the drill and the pageantry and the pride of the corps.

And I hope the Marine Corps will forgive me when I say that it is sight of these everyday Americans, from small towns and big cities, that is as inspiring as the marines on parade, for it is they who, thrilled beyond description, stand here and cheer. They cheer because they're grateful for the chance to show the world how America feels about her Marines.

And so to the new Commandant, General Kelley, I issue the first orders from your Commander in Chief. On behalf of all Americans I want a message sent to every member of the corps, to every place where the words "Semper Fidelis" is a way of life. General, tell it to the Marines, whether in ceremonial white or leatherneck blue, whether in dress greens or combat camouflage, whether they serve in the air, on land, or at sea, tell them that their countrymen are grateful. Tell them that we stand behind them. Tell them that we're proud of our proudest. God bless you both, God bless you all.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:34 p.m. at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C.

Prior to his remarks, the President attended a reception for General Barrow at the Commandant's quarters.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Change-of-Command Ceremony for the Commandant of the Marine Corps Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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