Staff Sergeant Floyd Walker, United States Marine Corps, was my Platoon Sergeant when I entered Officers Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia, in March, 1970. He was a career Marine, tested in combat and serious about his role of teaching (and screening) young officer candidates. Sgt. Walker was tough, smart, and fair. He was determined to give everyone an equal chance to succeed, but early on he told us that, if history held, fifty-percent would likely not make it through the ten-week program.
We began with 54 and finished with 27.
The very first night at OCS, after a day of shouting, processing, and more shouting, I still remember Sgt. Walker telling us that we were now in a state of culture shock, and he then ordered us to write a letter home and tell our loved ones that we were okay, and that we “wanted for nothing.” I wondered if the other candidates felt as I did, that is, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Sgt. Walker pushed us hard during those ten intensive weeks. He evaluated our academic progress, our military and physical skills, and especially our leadership abilities. He bluntly informed us that he would not recommend a candidate for commissioning as a Marine second lieutenant unless and until, in his professional judgment, that same candidate could lead him in battle. That seemed an impossible standard, but as we learned over time, impossible standards are rarely impossible; they just take a little longer. Marines have a long history of doing the impossible, which was precisely Sgt. Walker’s teaching point.
Sgt. Walker was the best Marine non-commissioned officer I came across in my three years in the Corps. I never saw him again after leaving Quantico, but I thought of him often. I still think of him. And so on 10 November, the birthday of the Marine Corps, I think of all the Sgt. Walkers over all the years who have trained Marines to become the finest fighting force in existence. They trained those Marines, as Sgt. Walker trained us, by demanding excellence, and commitment, and sacrifice. No shortcuts, no coddling, no excuses. They trained those Marines to go and do the impossible, if necessary.
And for 239 years, that’s exactly what Marines have done. And still do.
Sgt. Walker’s salute was the first I received the day of our commissioning. In the above picture. Sgt. Walker (at left) is holding a folded handkerchief containing 27 silver dollars which, by tradition, the new officers gave him after that first salute. Thank you, Staff Sergeant Floyd Walker, for what you did to enable me to earn that salute. And thank you for giving me an example of everything a U.S. Marine should be.
I wish all Marines a happy birthday!