Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA --
Marine noncommissioned officers gathered at Marine Corps University’s Warner
Hall Auditorium aboard base to listen to retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Nick
Popaditch speak as part of the 17th Annual Walter K. Singleton Distinguished
series was created to memorialize Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Walter
Singleton, a young Marine killed in the line of duty during the Vietnam War,
but not before he carried numerous wounded Marines across a kill zone to safety
and destroyed an enemy’s position.
moment we entered the Corps, we were told about the heroes that laid down their
lives for their country,” said Sgt. Maj. Garell Bass, director of the Staff
Noncommissioned Officer Academy. “We realize we stand on the shoulders of
giants and hope one day we may do the same—to fight with a triple heart”
to Bass, 2017 marks 50 years since Singleton’s death and he could not think of
anyone more suitable to talk to the SNCO class than Popaditch—a veteran who
served 25 years for his Corps and inspired a generation of tankers to come
after him. His intent was to broaden the leadership of the future Marine
leaders of the Corps.
talk about why do we do what we do in the Corps, we often over simplify it, making
it way bigger than what it actually is—Semper Fi—Always faithful—God, Corps and
Country,” Popdatich said. ”In the Corps we are surrounded by so much greatness
all the time that sometimes we forget to notice the giants we walk among every
According to Popaditch, it was the giants
such as Singleton that were the reason many Marines sitting in front of him
joined the Corps. “There is no better love than he who lays down his life for a
and Popaditch believed it was the triple heart, the sacrifice for God, Corps
and Country that shaped Marines of past and present that led to wars won and
freedom and liberty preserved.
something any one of us could do if we did the right things, developed
character and learned our warrior ethos,” Popaditch said. “If we developed that
Semper Fi warrior’s ethos we could walk with those giants and we could be one
believes this could not be obtained without a certain level of commitment—something
he called the 0400 Marine.
Marine is the real deal guy, that guy at four in the morning cold, tired, wet
and wounded who’s up against the wall and believes in the Semper Fi warrior’s
ethos,” he said. “That is the real deal guy that is the one you want to be.”
to Popaditch, a Marine is far more afraid of making a mistake than of the
As he told
the story of two Marines at a gate post in October 1983 that allowed a
truckload of explosives to drive by them and explode next to a barracks full of
Marines, killing 240 of them, Popaditch said those Marines would give anything
to get those 10 seconds back.
get to pick when that time comes, so you’ve got to always spend that time
preparing, developing your leadership philosophy and getting ready for that
moment in time, because when it happens you gotta be ready to react,” Popaditch
also recalled one of the most symbolic moments of his Marine career—the fall of
a statue of Saddam Hussein placed at the center of Baghdad, Iraq within Firdos
arrived at Firdos Square, it was simply a great place to set up defense, but
for the Iraqi people it took on a strange symbolism to them,” Popaditch said.
“The statue of Saddam was a reminder of their oppression, their silence and the
threat of death to them and their families.”
the American troops surrounded the statue, the symbol of terror slowly became
a symbol of peace, as one Iraqi man came to greet the unit at their perimeter
and he was welcomed not with a rifle barrel or butt, but rather with a
“And that is when it hit me I was looking at freedom and liberty,”
Popaditch said. “I was looking at people who never knew one bit of freedom or
liberty in their entire life because they grew up under the unrelenting fists
of dictators and I realized I had never known a day without them.”
This victory over tyranny was a
small representation of victories past—victories won before he was even born
victories his father helped fight for by preventing the spread of communism in
Korea or the Raider Battalion that fought against the spread of totalitarian
regimes in the Pacific.
Popaditch said he found himself in
front of many acts of heroism in the pursuit of freedom and liberty, but very
few paled in comparison to April 7, 2004 as he commanded a combat operation in
the city of Fallujah.
As an Al-Qaeda cell mobilized and
surrounded the Iraqi city, he began to really see what the fight meant.
This was his fight and he stood
alongside great men and women from his fellow Marines to a small group of
Iraqis his unit had helped train.
“When it came time to fight only a
couple dozen Iraqi soldiers showed up and my Marines were mad, but I said,
‘Marines, who is willing to pick up a rifle and fight for their country, I am
willing to fight with you,’ and then they replied, ‘We will too gunney,”’
During the battle in Fallujah, the
gunnery sergeant’s tank had come under fire and in nearly an instant he had
been placed in the fight of his life, as an enemy combatant shot two rocket
propelled grenades, causing a blast to his face, blinding him.
“I felt my face and neck and it
felt pretty wet, I knew I was bleeding out pretty badly,” Popaditch said.
As he tried to find his fellow
Marines shouting for recognition that they would take command of the tank, he
would come to find out his Marine brothers were already stationed on the tank
“I couldn’t see my fellow Marines, but if I could I
would have seen that they were both wounded too and if I could see the top of
the tank, I would have seen that it was on fire. I’m alive today because of
these men—these 0400 Marines, because of their training because of their preparation.”