Retired Marine thanks military for his education
January 12, 2009
By Jeff Richards
The U.S. military is most commonly associated with strict training and life-or-death combat. But for retired marine Col. Bruce F. Meyers, the hallmark of his long and distinguished military career was the extensive education he received, preparing him for life in and out of service.
After 28 years in the Marines, Meyers retired from the service with a bachelor’s degree and a law degree. He used his education to help innovate the Marines and work to, as he put it, “save lives.”
“The GI Bill is one of the best things that could have happened to give the opportunity of education to all these people who had busted their tails on behalf of the U.S.,” Meyers said. “We had people who would have never had the opportunity to go to college had they never had the GI Bill.”
He served briefly in the Pacific near the end of World War II and then in Korea as a leader for Korean line crossers and then as a rifle company commander. But it wasn’t until after the Korean War that he would leave his lasting mark on the Marines.
On June 18, 1957, Meyers took command of the Marines first force reconnaissance team, the 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Co. His team was tasked with delving deep into enemy territory to gather intelligence and positioning on the enemy for America’s front-line troops. It was the first American military outfit of its kind.
“We were young, educated. We were the cream of the crop,” Meyers said. “We wanted to be with an elite unit, and we were elite. The rest of the Marines got upset when we said we were the best of the best.”
The unit still exists, under the name Marines Special Operations Command.Meyers did most of his deep reconnaissance work during the Vietnam War, where he took part in the Battle of Khe Sanh, one of the major offenses staged by the North Vietnamese during the war. Meyers spent 68 days under the jungle canopy nearby and commanded more than 6,000 troops during the engagement.
Marines defending Khe Sanh base were supported by an Air Force aerial strike, and Meyers’ company was tasked with retrieving remains that may be used as intelligence from bombed out targets, putting themselves at risk to the bombings.
Other times, threats came from the jungle itself. While camping in enemy territory, half the unit slept while the other half stood guard, often for threat of tigers, who were known to snag sleeping soldiers and drag them into the jungle. Of course, there was also the People’s Army of Vietnam to worry about.
“There were plenty of times when I thought I wouldn’t have a wake up,” Meyers said. “After awhile you figure, ‘Well, they haven’t gotten me yet,’ but it’s always in the back of your mind that you’re going to get zapped one of these days doing the crazy things you’re doing.”
Back home, Meyers had a wife and three children. Jo Meyers, who met her husband, now of 61 years, on a blind date at the University of Washington, said she did her best to make the time pass while he was overseas in combat situations. She also had help from fellow military families experiencing the same situation.
“A military community is a very close community,” she said. “We look after each other, so we don’t dwell on stuff like that.”
After retiring from the military in 1970, Meyers became an attorney and practiced law for the next 30 years. Being born in Seattle and raised in Bellevue, the Seattle area has always been Meyers’ home when he hasn’t been commissioned elsewhere for military service.
He said he is most proud of the innovations he brought to the Marines, which included a new type of jungle boot for use in Vietnam, a new way of ascending troops for reconnaissance from a submerged submarine and parachuting the reconnaissance unit in rather than using rubber boats, leading to the first force reconnaissance unit.
“We were trying to do the best job we could to develop the tactics and techniques to save major unit lives,” Meyers said.
In 2003, Meyers released his first book, “Fortune Favors the Brave,” which details the beginnings of deep reconnaissance in the Marines. His second book, “Swift, Silent and Deadly: Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance in the Pacific, 1942-1945,” came out a year later.
He said he wrote the books so the lessons learned in those early years of reconnaissance would not be lost on current and future generations.
Even with all of his accomplishments, Meyers keeps his military memorabilia tucked away in the office, save for an officer’s saber with an ivory hilt kept hanging over the living room fireplace.
“My wife won’t let me have any of the ‘I love me’ stuff here,” he said.
Still, he maintains much of the modesty himself, acknowledging his work as simply the result of 28 years of service in the U.S. military.
Reach intern Jeff Richards at 392-6434, ext. 236, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.