10 November 1999    

Today mark’s the 224th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps.  Marines of all ages take time today to celebrate and reflect on the proud heritage and history of their beloved Corps.  In war and peace the Marines have served with honor and distinction in all of our nations’ wars and actions throughout the world.

This is a true story about one of those Marines:
Private First Class James Epps, USMC.

    PFC Epps joined the Marine Corps in 1968 after he graduated from high school  in Brooklyn, New York.  He chose to serve his country at a time when thousands of  Americans were fleeing north to Canada to avoid the draft or finding other ways and means to avoid military service due to the unpopularity of the war that America was fighting in Viet-Nam.   PFC Epps was assigned to MOS training in tanks and was sent to serve in the lst Tank Battalion , lst Marine Division in Viet-Nam.  PFC Epps was a quiet, unassuming young Marine and always gave 100% no matter what the assignment or duties were, he was there and you could always count on him in combat and off the line.   Epps had a good sense of humor and always had a smile on his face no matter if the chips were down or he was back on the fire base standing down with his tank crew.  He was a humble young man and always had a cheerful attitude about him that was infectious.  One Sunday afternoon when his tank company commander came upon him and his tank and crew which were at tank battalion maintenance in DaNang waiting for  a new engine for their tank which was damaged in a recent combat, his company commander asked him how things were going and Epps replied, “Can’t  wait to get back to my platoon sir as I know that they could use us”.  Two days later his tank was repaired and he was rolling down the red line to rejoin his platoon just prior to a major offensive operation.  Several days later on a late summer afternoon, a Marine infantry company was pinned down and taking withering, deadly fire from an NVA battalion from a fortified position in the woods. The Marine infantry commander called for artillery but couldn’t get a fire mission on the enemy, he called for an air strike but bingo no air was available either.  PFC Epps’ tank commander heard the ‘May Day’ request from the infantry and ordered his tank into action from a rice paddy nearby, PFC Epps was the tank driver and unhesitatingly poured the coals to his M48 Medium Patton gun tank and skillfully maneuvered his tank to a position between the treeline and his pinned down Marine infantry comrades while his tank  poured 90mm canon fire and .50 caliber machine gun on the enemy stronghold.  This courageous and bold action allowed the Marine rifle company to disengage and seek the safety of covered positions to their rear.  After several minutes of fierce tank fire being placed on the enemy by PFC Epps’ tank and 4 other Marine tanks the enemy fire was rapidly being neutralized when a RPG-7 anti-tank round slammed into Epps’ tank  mortally killing him and wounding the 3 other Marine tankers.   About the same time Marine artillery started rain down on the enemy and 4 Marine A-6 bombers blasted the enemy stronghold into rubble at which time the Marine infantry over ran the NVA position and secured their objective.

     PFC Epps gave his life for his fellow Marines on that afternoon so many years ago in a place far from his roots.  He never flinched, he never asked for anything special or never asked what’s in it for me.  When his nation called, he stepped forward from his humble apartment dwelling in Brooklyn to join the Marines.  They never named a building, road or bridge after him, the only place you will find his name is on the Viet-Nam war memorial monument in Washington, DC along with 58,000 other Americans who gave their life for this nation we call America and the buddies they served alongside of in the rice paddies of Viet-Nam.

    It is ironic in that war those who had the least to gain gave the most to America and died with honor and valor so that the protesters could enjoy the freedom and democracy that is America then and even now some three decades later.

    PFC Epps loved his country, his Corps and the “steel  lady” that was his home in the paddies of Viet-Nam, he loved life and his buddies and if  he had to do it all over again I am sure he would be a Marine tanker.  He was happy and at peace with the Lord that day that he died  in Viet-Nam even though he knew that sometimes tanks get knocked out  by rocket fire.  

    PFC Epps was a great Marine and a distinct credit to the contributions made by African-Americans who have fought in every clime and place that you could take a gun since the founding of the United States Marine Corps in 1775.   Semper Fi, PFC Epps! And I was honored to be your  tank company commander on that day so many years ago in Viet-Nam.  I  love you PFC Epps for who you were and what you did so unselfishly  and  will cherish your memory  as long as I live  with heartfelt gratitude for the great sacrifice that you made so that we could live in America.  May eternal rest be granted unto you and the souls of all your fellow Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice!

“No greater love has any one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Written by:

Captain Ken Zitz, USMC
Commanding Officer, “Bravo” Company,
1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division
Viet-Nam, 1968-69

When a 1stLt., Ken Zitz was attached to
H&S 3/3 in May 1965 with 3rd Tank Bn