Spanish Language, Death & War, Wise Men & Fools

The poem below is found on a memorial near the town of Recogne, Belgium; and was written by a participant in the Battle of the Bulge. 

We have only died in vain if you believe so

You must decide the wisdom of our choice

by the world which you shall build upon our headstones.

And the everlasting truths which have your voice.

Though dead, we are not heroes yet, nor can be,

筑Til the living by their lives which are the tools, 

Carve us the epitaphs of wise men

and give us not the epitaphs of fools.

-David J. Phillips, 506th PIR

My best friend, Rob Paz, was killed on 16 December 1989, arguably the event that led four days later to Operation JUST CAUSE. Almost nothing has been written about the USMC’s activities in Panama during the months leading up to Operation JUST CAUSE. I suspect that few, other than the participants, even remember them.

From an article by JOHN S. BROWN, Brigadier General, U.S. Army:

In the late evening hours of 16 December, following Maximum Leader Noriega’s declaration of a state of war, four off-duty U.S. military officers were driving through Panama City when they were stopped at a roadblock. The PDF guards waved other vehicles past the barrier, but stopped the civilian automobile carrying the four servicemen. Pointing their rifles toward the car, the guards demanded that the officers get out of their vehicle. Noticing a crowd beginning to gather around them, the servicemen refused and started to drive away. The guards fired at the car, fatally wounding one of the occupants, a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant. A Navy lieutenant and his wife, who had witnessed the episode, were seized by the PDF and taken to La Comandancia, where the lieutenant was interrogated and beaten and his wife was assaulted. The couple was released four hours later.

Click to access Operation JUST CAUSE (USMC)

In case you haven’t already figured it out, the Marine lieutenant mentioned in General Brown’s article was 1stLt Rob Paz, and he was my best friend in those days. He and I had participated together in what General Neller (USMC) calls the jungle phase, but I was in Camp Pendleton, CA when I received the report that he had been killed. Rob had returned to Panama on Temporary Additional Duty (TAD), due to his command of the Spanish language for one thing.

From a paper written by General Neller when he was a Major:

The jungle phase began prior to the arrival of the 6th MEB advance party. Soon after Noriega’s indictment in the States, Marines from MCSF Company came in contact with intruders at the Arraijan Tank Farm. It was these contacts and the violent civil unrest within Panama that led first tothe reinforcement of the company by a FAST platoon, and then the deployment of what was to become MARFOR. Although intruder activities against American installations throughout Panama were becoming more frequent, the greatest number occurred at the ATF. Immediately upon arrival in country the ground element of MARFOR, India Company 3/4, moved into and and occupied defensive positions in the ATF. They were immediately probed by intruders on the nights of 9 and 10 April, as was to become the pattern every time a new unit entered the tank farm. On the night of 11 April a patrol from the company split up in an attempt to catch an intruder. One patrol element ended up firing on the other in the darkness, and in the process killed one Marine. The next night, 12 April, the company was probed by a 30 to 40 man unit. The intruders were picked up by seismic sensors and a listening post positioned along a stream the intruders used as an avenue of approach. The Marines exchanged fire with this force, engaging them with small arms, mortar, and automatic grenade launcher fire for close to 2 hours. The engagement ceased upon direction of the Joint Task Force (JTF:) Panama commander, who arrived on the scene accompanied by a PDF officer. This general officer directed the Marines to remain in their positions until daybreak, and ordered them not to search the engagement area until daybreak. This order was complied with as the Marines watched ambulances pull up to the ATF on the adjacent highway, and saw personnel with flashlights move around the area where the contact had taken place. The next day, all Marines involved in the fire fight were directed to submit to a urinalysis. The event was reported in the international media, with the Panamanians claiming the Marines were shooting at palm trees.Surprisingly, the SOUTHCOM public affairs officer did not dispute the Noriega regime’s interpretation of events. The 12 April firefight set the tone for the rest of the jungle phase for MARFOR. The ATF became the focus of operations as Marines patrolled by day and established listening and night surveillance posts after dark. The intrusions were not imaginary, as the Noriega regime attempted to portray. Between 11 April and 17 September1988, on the West Bank area (Howard AFB, the ATF, and the Army Ammunition Supply Point), there were 14 weapons engagements, 43 sightings of uniformed intruders, and 296 sensor activations. Though some of these sightings were probably inaccurate, especially when a new unit pulled its first few nights of duty in the ATF, the number of shooting engagements, sightings, and sensor activations provided ample proof that someone was probing the Marines.

Entire paper can be found at:

1stLt Robert Paz, wise man or fool, may he rest in peace.

4 thoughts on “Spanish Language, Death & War, Wise Men & Fools

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