By Lieutenant Colonel Walter F. McTernan III, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Holiday greetings from Kabul. I just started a fantastic new job heading an instructor team developing and teaching Intelligence courses to Afghan National Army Special Forces. One of my teammates is a crusty old Army Ranger-Special Forces first sergeant from Puerto Rico, home to so many great American fighting men. Working with “don Angel” has reminded me of a Marine SNCO from Puerto Rico whom I was blessed to serve with many years ago, a Marine who both personally and professionally was a real class act!
My company command opportunity occurred late in my captaincy. I was privileged to have as my company first sergeant then-First Sergeant Blas “Pete” Pedrero, USMC. Pete was a suave, sophisticated, urbane multi-talented Marine who was the best all-around natural athlete I ever knew in the Corps. I used to tease him by saying that he was in the Marine Corps on an athletic scholarship. He was a real people-person and I greatly admired him. In fact I still do. Eventually we each moved up and onwards in our careers after our service together. I lat moved to OccField 02 and PCS’d back to Washington, D.C. and Pete made Sergeant Major of Marines and PCA’d down to San Diego from Camp Pendleton.
In the ‘70’s I had had a unique tour as a military advisor in Thailand. While serving with JUSMAGTHAI I was befriended by a retired Sergeant Major of Marines named Bill Crabbe. SgtMaj Crabbe was a three war Marine (WW-II, Korea and RVN) who retired out of the Corps in 1969 and settled in Thailand. He married a Thai lady whose cousin was a Thai Marine I worked with. I learned a lot through my friendship with SgtMaj. Crabbe, with whom I stayed in touch after departing country at end-of-tour.
Several years later I received a letter from SgtMaj Crabbe informing me that he had been diagnosed with cancer and had to return to the U.S. for treatment at USNH Balboa in San Diego. He had not been back to CONUS since his last tour in ‘Nam, out of which he retired to nearby Thailand. He did not know anybody in ‘Dago, and he was clearly a bit concerned – and understandably so. So I got in touch with SgtMaj Pedrero to ask if he could assist SgtMaj Crabbe in any way. Pete told me not to worry about it, that he would look after SgtMaj Crabbe in fine Marine Corps fashion. And man, did he ever!
I learned the following later, after SgtMaj. Crabbe had lamentably passed away. When Bill’s flight arrived at Lindberg Field in San Diego, the aging, ailing sergeant major was greeted by SgtMaj Pedrero and a couple of young Marines, all resplendent in Dress Blues. They took SgtMaj Crabbe in a staff car to Balboa Hospital. There the group was greeted by the Marine SNCO Liaison Officer to the naval hospital. SgtMaj. Crabbe received the best of care possible medically and VIP treatment with lots of TLC, as rated by a three war Marine. Unfortunately, the ugly side of nature did what neither the Japanese, the North Koreans, The ChiCom’s, the Viet Cong nor the NVA could ever do – it took the life of a brave American and a great Marine. But until the day he died there, Marines in Blues came to visit SgtMaj. Crabbe in the hospital every single day, and the old sergeant major got to spend his final days among his younger brethren, importing the lore of the Corps via war stories and Corps stories. Not a bad way to go under the circumstances. This classic example of “The Marines take care of their own” was due to the good offices of SgtMaj. Pedrero – a class act if ever I knew one in our Corps. May God rest SgtMaj. Bill Crabbe, USMC (Ret.) and bless SgtMaj. Pete Pedrero, USMC (Ret.)