Interview with Russ Hawthorn–A Marine Corps Officer that Qualified as an Officer of the Deck

Russ as Midway Docent
  1. Russ Hanthorn, Colonel, USMC ret was CO (Commanding Officer) of the Marine Detachment MARDET on the USS Independence He has been a Docent on the USS Midway and plans to return to the ship as soon as COVID permits.
  2.  Which ship’s CO asked you to put together a landing force?  It included how many of your Marines and how many sailors?  I was stationed onboard the USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62).The landing force, approximately a Marine Corps rifle company in size, was composed of my Marine Detachment of 60 marines and was complimented by 150 sailors from the ship’s crew. The ship’s XO ( Executive Officer) tasked the different divisions on the ship to provide me with the needed compliment. They all came from INDEPENDENCE. What was most interesting, and didn’t actually surprise me, was that, almost without exception, the sailors really enjoyed the training. It was an opportunity to learn something new and spend time away from their normal duties. As well, they integrated well with the marines and became good friends. I would often see a few of these sailors in our Marine Detachment spaces enjoying the evening movies with their new found friends.
  3.  How did you develop your training course and what type of training did you do?  Was it more physical fitness, how to land, weapons training, procedures for taking prisoners, or what? The training basically centered on conducting a limited landing from the ship to the shore. We utilized small landing craft located at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, VA. In addition, we studied very basic defensive operations. Of course, there was also time spent with military drill and physical fitness on a daily basis. All of this helped integrate these shipmates into a motivated force. During our WestPac deployment, while in port in Subic Bay, PI, I was able to take the entire landing force ashore for a one day practical survival course on jungle survival by the Negrito guides at the naval Base. All of the aforementioned training was geared toward the remote possibility the force would be called upon to perform some security function ashore, which did not prove to be the case.
  4. You were also the only Marine to qualify as OOD (Officer of the Deck)?  What did you have to learn to qualify for that and how did you ever find the time? It took me about 8 months to become qualified. I was provided with the ship’s OOD training materials and went through the same training that the naval officers on the ship went through. We all worked through the paces from Junior Officer of the Watch to Junior Officer of the Deck and finally qualified as an Officer of the Deck (Underway.) I was fortunate to have an outstanding 1stLt XO and 1stSgt, along with highly motivated NCOs, who were able to “take care of business” during the time I spent on the bridge both in training and then as a qualified OOD.
  5. What were your most favorite and least favorite part of being part of the MarDet (Marine Detachment)? From a professional point of view, there was not a downside. MarDet CO assignments, be it on a carrier, battleship or cruiser back then, were joint tour assignments and provided the young captain CO with an independent command. From a personal point of view, as with my sea service comrades, being away from home for an extended period was my least part of the tour.
  6. How did being part of the MarDet affect the rest of your career in the Marine Corps? The tour provided me with an “up close and personal” opportunity to work with my Naval counterparts on a daily basis for two years. The assignment held me in good stead. I have fond memories of this tour.
  7. What was your favorite assignment in the Marine Corps? I was fortunate to have command assignments from the platoon level up to a logistics support group. My most rewarding staff assignment was as a special assistant in the office of the Secretary of the Navy.
  8. If you were involved in the Vietnam War, what did you and where were you stationed? During INDEPENDENCE’s WestPac tour in ’65, I was fortunate to take leave and be in country with the Recon marines for a period of time. This was my only opportunity to be involved in a combat environment.
  9. Were you ever stationed in Washington, DC?  What did you think about that tour of duty? As noted earlier, I did have one tour in the Pentagon in the office of the Secretary of the Navy. I traveled extensively, worldwide, with my “boss,” a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, during the 3 year tour. I was fortunate to observe, first-hand, the manner in which the Navy-Marine Corps team plan and execute.
  10. Which Marine Corps base is your favorite and why? Three of my favorite were: (1) Camp Pendleton; (2) Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, HI; (3) Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC.
  11. Have you visited the Museum of the Marine Corps?  If so what do you think of it? I have visited the museum on one occasion. An outstanding reflection of the history of our beloved corps.

Anecdote

A few years ago one of the marines in the MarDet sought me out on the web. He had been one of the orderlies for the ship’s commanding officer and a very squared away marine. In fact, I had recommended him for Officers Candidate School. He was accepted and was subsequently promoted to 2dLt.

In early 2017, he emailed me that he had been invited to give a Memorial Day presentation about his military service in his home town in PA. I decided to fly back, unannounced, and come to his presentation. I had not seen him in the past 51 years, since I had departed the INDEPENDENCE in 1966.

I contacted the facility where he would be giving the presentation, explained that I wanted to surprise him, and asked for assistance in this regard. The lady I spoke with was “all in” with the idea.

On the evening of his presentation, I remained out of sight behind closed curtains on the auditorium stage. His talk was to be given from the floor level in front of the stage.

Russ and two former landing crew members meet for a reunion on Pennsylvania

When he began to speak I stepped out from behind the curtains. He was taken totally by surprise. I came down, we spoke briefly, and he proceeded with his presentation.

The next morning he called another marine from the MarDet who resided in NJ. This marine had also been an orderly for the ship’s commanding officer and was another squared away marine.

 The three of us met for lunch in NJ. It was a wonderful reunion after all those years.

10 thoughts on “Interview with Russ Hawthorn–A Marine Corps Officer that Qualified as an Officer of the Deck”

  1. No, it does not, especially when you have something like the USS Midway (CV-41) museum to tie us all together. We meet weekly for a one hour Zoom session where we have heard speakers from the Midway, the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, the USS North Carolina in Wilmington, local museums in San Diego–its been fascinating and one of the highlights of my COVID existence. Russ is an impressive man and so far as I know, the only Marine Corps officer to qualify as Officer of the Deck–talk about cross training. 🙂

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