On July 30, 2010, a helicopter at the memorial service held by 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines for Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman departs Patrol Base Jaker in Afghanistan. Wrightsman died trying to save the life of an Afghan National Police officer who was being carried away by the Helmand River. On July 13, 2023, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, the Corps deactivated the famous battalion. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga.
During a somber ceremony in Hawaii, “America’s Battalion” folded its colors, sheathed its battle streamers, and faded back into its storied history.
On Friday Jan. 13, the Corps deactivated 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. It’s part of a series of moves across the Indo-Pacific region, designed to slim infantry-heavy combat teams into littoral regiments, with fewer grunts but more anti-aircraft missiles and ship-killing batteries.
That cold logic of strategy didn’t make Friday’s moment any less bittersweet. While a Marine band played Auld Lang Syne, six Marines struck the battalion's colors and swaddled the banners in black cloth.
A quartet of Marines then marched the cased flags off the parade deck, with no troops trailing behind them, because their battalion was no more.
“Before I look to the future, I want to look at the past, and honor the service and sacrifice of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines,” Col. Timothy S. Brady Jr., the commander of the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, told the Dewey Square audience midway through the nearly hourlong ceremony. “A unit founded by heroes. A unit that answered every call. A unit that embraced the motto, Fortuna Fortes Juvat — fortune favors the brave.”
At Marine Corps Base Hawaii on the island of Oahu, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines cased their colors on Jan. 13, 2023, and were officially deactivated by the Corps. US Marine Corps image.
Brady commanded 3/3 from 2015 to 2017, but his address sailed back to the bloody Pacific Campaign during World War II, when the battalion was formed to storm the beaches of Bougainville and Guam.
During Vietnam, 3/3 fought at Danang and Khe Sanh.
In a written message to the Marines and sailors gathered in Dewey Square, their boss — Lt. Gen. James W. Bierman Jr., the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force — reminded them that famous battalions and squadrons have furled and sheathed their colors before, only to return to duty later, and that’s been true of 3/3, too.
Pfc. Aramis C. Sandoval, a Marine in Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, pulls security at a vehicle checkpoint near Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan, May 30, 2010. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga.
The battalion was shuttered in 1945, but then reactivated in 1951. It was shut down again in 1974, but the Pentagon resurrected it only a year later.
And if war comes again, the battalion’s colors likely be unfurled for a new generation of Marines.
“This deactivation is hard and cannot help but come with a sense of loss in all who have served in the battalion,” wrote Bierman, who fought alongside the unit in Iraq as the commander of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. “For a number of veterans, and many currently serving, the entirety of service was in 3/3, and so the tight-knit battalion completely defined the experience of being a Marine. Even as each of you wipe away a tear and steel your heart, take great comfort in the fact that the proud memories and strong relationships will endure.”
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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