Camp Lejeune, N.C. --
The Protestant chapel pews were filled shoulder-to-shoulder with Marines, Sailors and civilians. Some cried. At the head of the chapel, bathed in a lone pillar of light, lay an empty pair of boots, an empty flak, and an empty kevlar – armor once worn by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Gilbert II of Golf Company, 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, who died March 16 of wounds sustained during combat operations in Afghanistan.
“Recruits in boot camp hear stories of the Marines who’ve gone before them,” said Staff Sgt. Jack Hinchman, a former member of Robert Jr.’s Marine Special Operations Team. “Rob was that Marine. He always volunteered for things, he never complained. He was always thinking of ways to improve. He was the epitome of a Marine.”
Robert Jr.’s memorial service began with a video depicting the bombardment of Ft. McHenry during the Revolutionary War. “The flag had suffered repetitious direct hits,” said the narrator. “And when it fell, men, who knew what it meant for that flag to be on the ground, and knowing that all of the British guns were trained on it, walked over and held it up – until they died. Their bodies were removed and others took their place.”
The video was solemn and inspiring, setting the tone for what Robert Jr.’s father, Robert Gilbert Sr., had to say.
“As a firefighter, I might have given Robert the inspiration to serve his country. But he definitely went above the calling that I had,” he said.
Standing at the church podium beside a picture of his son, Robert Sr. did not speak with regret, but with pride - pride that his son left behind a legacy of honor, and lived a life of dedication to his country and to his fellow Marines. In a nation of more than 300 million people, less than one percent serve in the military. Fewer wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor - and fewer still earn the title of Marine Special Operator.
“We all sing the national anthem,” Robert Sr. said. “Now it has a tremendous impact on me. The determination displayed by the Americans at Ft. McHenry is the same determination our forces have today. My son truly wanted to protect this country.”
Earlier that day at the MARSOC Headquarters building, Gunnery Sgt. Gilbert’s engraved name was unveiled on the MARSOC memorial wall to a gathering of family, Marines, Sailors and friends. Robert Jr. is remembered through his father and his sister, Ruth Ann Green.