WASHINGTON, September 12, 2014 — The heat was inescapable even though it was October in the country of Vietnam. The sweat clung to Corporal Joe Houle’s neck and back like a second skin, an ever-present reminder of the war in Southeast Asia that would forever change so many lives.
As he crouched at the edge of the rice paddy that day in 1966, Houle surveyed the endless carpet of green that lay before him as it swayed in the grasp of a sporadic breeze. It had been a long journey for Houle from the small dairy farm where he had spent his childhood to the endless jungles of Vietnam. He had stopped school at the age of sixteen to help with the family business and at eighteen joined the United States Marine Corps to serve his country in an unpopular war.
Vietnam had been immersed in conflict for so long generations of children had never known the calm of peace. America had officially entered the war in March of 1965 with the deployment of combat troops and would remain until April 1975. In the end 58,220 Americans would never return home from the war in Vietnam and 303,644 were wounded. It was a war that would rage on far beyond the battlefield as controversy over the conflict divided America. Upon returning from Vietnam, soldiers found a part of themselves would always remain behind in Southeast Asia and the memory of those who served beside them but never made it home would forever haunt their memory.
That day Houle was part of a three man team on the hunt for a sniper who had been taking shots at the men in his company as they went about their daily routine at base camp. Houle and his team had been relentlessly hunting the sniper, but after days of laying motionless in the grass waiting for him to reveal himself, all they found were a rapidly growing collection of insect bites.
This time the sniper had opened fire on the Marines and Houle and his team were in hot pursuit. At the edge of the rice paddy, Houle stood and began to step into the field when beside him Lance Corporal Frank Crenshaw grabbed his arm. Crenshaw was the RTO or Radio Telegraph Officer. It was his responsibility to maintain communications with the battalion and call assistance in the form of artillery fire, close air support and helicopter evacuation of the wounded or “medevac.”
“Hold up Corporal Houle. I’ll go first!” Crenshaw said.
As the two remaining Marines provided cover for Crenshaw, he darted across the field in a half crouched position to provide the smallest possible target. Crenshaw made it to the other side of the rice paddy and “Got down on one knee and raised his weapon to cover me as I crossed” Houle remembers. “It was then as I began crossing the rice paddy that all hell broke loose. Rounds were going everywhere and one caught Crenshaw just underneath his radio on his back.” Houle says.
Crenshaw was bleeding profusely and Joe Houle followed his training by removing the radio from his back and applying pressure to the wound in a desperate attempt to stop the flow of blood as Crenshaw’s life slowly slipped away. Across the rice paddy, the third member of Houle’s team courageously laid down a steady steam of cover fire to give Houle time to aid his fallen comrade.
Houle picked up the radio to call for help. “I called for a medevac to land and pickup Crenshaw. He circled around our position but the pilot said the area was too hot to land. After a few choice words from me he finally landed.” Houle remembers. “We loaded Crenshaw onboard but he died, he died that day on that helicopter. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Frank Crenshaw.” Houle says as a notable sadness hangs on his words.
Almost forty-eight years have passed since that day in Vietnam and Sargent Major Joe Houle has since retired from the United States Marine Corps. He may have left behind the life he loved as a United States Marine, but he refuses to let the memory of Frank Crenshaw and the courage of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice be forgotten.
After retiring, Houle became the Director of Operations for the Museum of the Marine and works tirelessly to preserve the memory of brave and courageous men like Frank Crenshaw.
The Museum of the Marine is a 40,000-square-foot facility scheduled to begin construction later this year. Located in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the Museum will honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great country and those who continue to defend our freedom in far away lands today.
More than four million Marines and Sailors have passed through the many bases located in the Carolinas including Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point and New River, North Carolina.
The Museum of the Marine will provide a sanctuary where families and friends can honor the memory of their loved ones and find a community that supports their sacrifice. Family members can also learn more about their loved ones currently serving through the interactive exhibits at the Museum.
The Executive Director of the Museum of the Marine is Lieutenant Colonel Dave Brown (U.S.M.C. Retired), and he works alongside Joe Houle to bring the Museum of the Marine from an idea to a reality.
Dave Brown also is driven by a deeper purpose in his quest to build the Museum. In 1967, Brown was a young Captain serving in Vietnam and after a year he was scheduled to return to the United States. He instead insisted on staying in Vietnam to have the chance that all Marine infantry officers yearn for, to command a rifle company.
It was in August of 1968 that Brown’s memory would be etched with the unforgettable imprint of the human cost of a war. HM2 Andy Rackow was from Philadelphia and he had joined the Navy as a Corpsman in order to both serve his country and prepare for his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. The United States Marine Corps has no medical personnel and Navy Corpsman serve on the front lines with Marines, stabilizing injuries until the wounded can be evacuated to a hospital.
“He was extremely bright, really intellectual and he and I would often talk for hours.” Brown remembers. HM2 Andy Rackow became the senior corpsman in Brown’s Company and their leadership roles coincided as Rackow and Brown helped keep morale up during times when hope seemed a distant friend.
When Dave Brown speaks about that day in August, a sense of loss can be seen in his eyes, “I think about Andy every day. When I speak about building the Museum of the Marine it is to honor Andy and all those like him who knew the risks but could not ignore the voice inside them driving them to put their own lives at risk to save others. Andy wanted to go to medical school after he finished his time in Vietnam and I will never forget the lives he saved and those that he could have helped had he made it home. If there was a way to repay Andy I would gladly do it and although the Museum won’t bring Andy back it will teach future generations exactly what his sacrifice means and that no one who fights for this country will ever be forgotten.”
Jacksonville, North Carolina is also home to the Beirut Memorial honoring the 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers who lost their lives in October 1983 when terrorists bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Together the Museum of the Marine and the Beirut Memorial will be a beacon of the courage, honor and sacrifice that has secured our freedom. Inside the Museum of the Marine three galleries will provide visitors with a unique experience.
The “World Warriors Gallery” will trace the history of the Marines who have trained in the Carolinas from Guadalcanal to present day warriors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marines and Coast Guard of the Carolinas trained two Army Divisions who led the Allied assault in Europe and North Africa during World War II in amphibious assault. The “Corps and Carolinas Gallery” will tell the unfolding story of the Carolina bases and the communities around them as they continue to grow.
The “Today, Tomorrow and Beyond Gallery” will show visitors the evolution of the weapons and equipment of the Marine Corps and provide a peek into the next generation of military hardware. Inside each of the galleries will be a recording booth where visitors can make a keepsake audio or video recording remembering loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country or are serving in harms way.
The Museum of the Marine will feature a great hall with seating capacity for 300 that can function as a venue for organizations and accommodate social, educational and ceremonial events. The Museum will also have its own catering kitchen allowing easy access for supplying any large gathering.
The Orientation Theater will be equipped with surround sound and high definition capability. As they relax in the comfortable stadium seating, visitors will be transported back in time as they are immersed in the history of the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve this country.
Outside, the courtyard will house the “Remembrance Memorial” which will contain a gas lit eternal flame, an endless reminder of the commitment and courage of all those who have served. Radiating outward from the memorial will be five semicircular wall sections with attached benches. Five permanently lit flagpoles will surround the courtyard perimeter flying the American, Marine Corps, Navy, Prisoner of War and North Carolina flags.
For Joe Houle and Dave Brown, the Museum of the Marine is about honoring the sacrifice of those who served alongside them in combat. It is also about reminding everyone that peace can only come with a price and so many have courageously sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom so we can live in a country where anyone can aspire to greatness.
Houle and Brown would quickly dismiss the idea of either of them being heroes but they are the marrow of the bones that make our country so great and are indeed true heroes.
Over eight million dollars has been raised for Phase one of the Museum of the Marine, and that portion is now fully funded. Houle and Brown continue to work to raise an additional twenty million dollars to complete full construction of the Museum of the Marine. To find out more about the Museum of the Marine and how you can help by volunteering or donating go to their website http://www.museumofthemarine.org.