A scene from David Kniess' documentary film "The Gift."
Every April, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation hosts its annual awards dinner in Triangle, Virginia. According to the foundation’s website, the purpose of the event is to recognize “exemplary work that furthers the understanding of Marine Corps history, traditions, culture and service.” This year, a handful of men and women will join the exclusive club of writers, filmmakers, and other media professionals who have earned that recognition since MCHF began its awards program more than four decades ago. Included among them are two members of the Black Rifle Coffee Company staff: Coffee or Die writer Mac Caltrider and BRCC media producer David Kniess.
Left: Mac Caltrider goofing off instead of pulling security during a patrol in Helmand Province in 2011. Right: Mac Caltrider, post-Marine Corps, holding a fish that somebody caught.
Coffee or Die senior staff writer Mac Caltrider has been named the latest recipient of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s prestigious Master Sergeant Tom Bartlett Award.
The annual prize, named for the late managing editor of Leatherneck magazine, is exclusively reserved for enlisted Marines. It honors the author of what the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation has deemed the year’s “best article pertinent to Marine Corps history published in a newspaper, magazine, journal or other periodical.”
The article for which Caltrider is being honored was published in September 2022. Titled “Don’t Give Up the Ship: Why the Navy’s Mantra Really Belongs to the Marines,” it explores the largely forgotten history of the United States Navy’s unofficial motto — “Don’t give up the ship.” While those famous words are rightly attributed to a 19th century Naval officer, James Lawrence, Caltrider notes in his article that few people “know the real story of what happened after he uttered them, and why that slogan is a more fitting tribute to US Marines than to sailors.”
The history behind the Navy's famous rallying cry actually speaks to the bravery of US Marines. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
In a letter to Caltrider, the president and CEO of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, Maj. Gen. James W. Lukeman (ret.) praised the author’s “remarkable work,” noting that it “profoundly communicates the experience and the importance of the United States Marine Corps while preserving a rich history that our Corps and Nation should never forget.”
Caltrider, who joined the Coffee or Die staff in the spring of 2021, served in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2014. As a rifleman, he completed two tours in Afghanistan and achieved the rank of sergeant.
The Master Sergeant Tom Bartlett Award will be presented to Caltrider on April 23, 2023, during a ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle. In addition to the physical award — a gold medallion — he will also receive a small cash prize and a brick engraved with his name that will be “placed along the winding pathways of Semper Fidelis Memorial Park” later this year.
“I’m honored to be recognized alongside such accomplished journalists and artists,” Caltrider said. “It means even more to me that this story helps preserve the history of the Marine Corps in a small way.”
Left: Poster for The Gift. Right: Director David Kniess.
Caltrider will be joined in Triangle by his BRCC colleague David Kniess, a documentary filmmaker and US Navy veteran. Kniess has been selected to receive the Major Norman Hatch Award, named for the combat cameraman who famously filmed the battles fought on Tarawa and Iwo Jima during World War II.
The Major Norman Hatch Award, as explained on the MCHF website, is given “for the best documentary (longer than 40 minutes) videotape dealing with historical or current Marine Corps subjects.”
Kniess is being honored for The Gift, a documentary he directed and filmed intermittently over many years. It tells the harrowing story of Medal of Honor recipient Jason Lee Dunham, a Marine who died in 2004 after jumping on a grenade to save his comrades. The film’s focus extends beyond Dunham himself to also capture the profound and lasting impact his life and actions had on the men he served with in Iraq.
According to Kniess, there are two versions of The Gift. One is a two-hour film currently making its rounds on the festival circuit. So far, it has won the Best Documentary prize at the Utah Film Festival and the Beaufort International Film Festival’s Santini Patriotic Spirit Award. The other version is a five-part series that Kniess and his team hope to make available to general audiences in the near future.
“I never would have dreamed three years ago that I would be getting all of these accolades,” Kniess told Coffee or Die. “But I guess it’s really true what they say: If you put in the hard work, it pays off.”
Kniess, who served in the Navy from 1992 to 1994, joined the BRCC staff as a media producer late last year. Like Caltrider, he first learned that he would be honored at MCHF’s upcoming 41st annual awards dinner when he opened a letter from Maj. Gen. Lukeman. He will also receive a small cash prize and a brick engraved with his name that will be permanently installed at Semper Fidelis Memorial Park.
“The whole thing just blows me away. It’s such an honor,” Kniess said. “The only people I can really thank are Jason Dunham’s family and the Marines of Kilo Company because this wouldn’t have happened without them.”
Coffee or Die is Black Rifle Coffee Company’s online lifestyle magazine. Launched in June 2018, the magazine covers a variety of topics that generally focus on the people, places, or things that are interesting, entertaining, or informative to America’s coffee drinkers — often going to dangerous or austere locations to report those stories.
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