Love Without End, Amen by George Strait
Introduction of the Marine Corps Veteran of the Year Coot Nelson
Since 1775, the Marine Corps has been winning battles and defending our nation through leadership and core values. Values that include courage, endurance, integrity and loyalty to country, the Corps, the unit, to one’s seniors, subordinates and peers.
The Legacy Veteran of the Year for the U.S. Marine Corps is a man who exhibits all of these traits and much more and is an excellent nominee for this award. This man had no intention of flying for the military and looked forward to a career which included aviation. Those plans were put on hold when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States into the Second World War. He entered the Navy in 1941 undergoing training in the skies over the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. A wartime shortage of combat aircraft meant the cadets trained in surplus WWI era biplanes, a far cry away from the new machines they would be flying into combat against Japanese pilots and gunners. This short flight school took him from a rookie flyer to his first combat mission in just one year.
Before he could face the dangers of combat, this aviator would have to prove himself in training by surviving a regimen that pushed men and their planes to the limit. While flying a night mission, he experienced engine problems that almost resulted in the loss of his life. Unable to land safely on the landing strip, he was forced to land on a grass field ending up face down in a deep puddle of water flipped upside down and the aircraft broken in half. He received minor injuries, which eventually saved his life. While grounded to heal, his instructor and plane took off for a mission and ran out of fuel killing all on board. He also had another near miss due to poor directions and missed his cables on a carrier landing. He struck the arresting barrier, pitched over on its nose and narrowly missed a drop off the deck into the ocean. He survived his training and was commissioned as an aviator with the US Marine Corps and was assigned to fly the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber.
His first operation was in Guadalcanal pushing back Japanese troops from the Island. His mission was to take back the field back and provide a base for aircraft operations and cover the American advance on the Solomon Islands. Many of the men were sent out in zero conditions to look for enemy fleets and never returned. He and his fellow aviators flew numerous missions to destroy Japanese ships calling their missions the “milk run” because they delivered the goods every day dropping bombs from overhead.
Over and over he continued his missions to drive back the forces and provide air cover for advancing Marines. Grateful for the times he crawled out of the cockpit unscratched and thankful for the multiple times he went out on single hops and came back with bullet holes, shrapnel or other debris in the aircraft arriving safely. Flying volunteer missions with 1000 pound bombs, he flew low and slow over targets escaping death on a daily basis eventually numbing his senses. After finishing his tour, he returned home attending optometry school and enjoying more than six decades with his wife, Bette.
As a Marine, you step forward when America needs you. You take an oath to defend this nation, and you keep that oath, overseas and under fire. All of you who have grown up in freedom must never forget their service and sacrifices. It is my great honor to introduce to you, the Legacy Veteran of the Year for the U.S. Marine Corps, Coot Nelson.