Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard

Marine Mounted Color Guard
••• Wikimedia Commons/Flickr/Samantha

The year 1967 was a year of history in the making. In Vietnam, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces engaged Viet Cong troops in the Mekong Delta, while Vietnam War protestors stormed Washington, D.C. and Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first black United States Supreme Court justice.

Not to be left out, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow (California) made history of its own by founding a Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard, which remains the only mounted color guard in the Marine Corps today.

A Marine by the name of Lt. Col. Robert Lindsley, U.S. Marine Corps retired, came back from Vietnam in 1966 and was appointed as the senior officer in charge of the Center Stables Committee. It was during that time that he noticed what the children of the military parents did for fun.

"Some of the dependent children, my son included, would take horses from the stables, they had about 20 at the time, and would ride in parades when they had them in town," said Lindsley.

"Having been familiar with the Mounted Color Guard at Camp Pendleton, I decided rather than kids riding in parades, we would have a color guard."

The creation of the MCLB Barstow Mounted Color Guard was pretty much smooth sailing from there.

"I happened to be the senior lieutenant colonel on the base and it is surprising what you can get done, especially if you push it," he said. "I hadn't been back from Vietnam that long and I was used to pushing things."

To get the color guard started, Lindsley had an appointment with Col. Fred Quinn, base chief of staff at the time, at 6:30 every morning to go riding. During those rides, Lindsley would tell the colonel what he wanted to do. From there, arrangements were made.

With $600 the stables received from Quinn, Lindsley went to Saint George, Utah, where he had previously bought horses, in search of horses suitable for the Marine Corps' needs.

"Actually, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the stables and I went up to San Joaquin Valley, Calif. looking to find black horses but couldn't find them," said Lindsley. "To find a true black is very difficult, you can find a dark brown horse that looks black, but to find a true black and matching horses is very difficult.

"So we took the government vehicle to St. George, Utah, where (we bought) some palomino horses, four of them that we brought back. The fifth horse we bought locally here."

As is fitting for horses belonging to the Marine Corps, they were named after some of the most famous battles in the Corps' history. They were Montezuma, Tripoli, Soissons, Surabachi and Iwo Jima. In each of these battles, Marines have faced a formidable foe but ended victoriously. Unlike the Mustangs of the color guard today, the breeding of the original horses is mostly unknown.

All of this happened in 1967. Once the horses were bought, they had to be worked with and trained to deal with various obstacles they might run into while on a parade route.

"We worked with them, trained with them and so forth, banging on tin cans, throwing fireworks and all this stuff that you do."

Next, they had to tackle the task of buying gear for the horses. Help came from a man named Art Manning.

Manning provided the color guard with red saddle blankets from the movie theater he worked with as a stunt rider, of which gold trim was added around the edges. Lindsley got five McClellan saddles for $75 each.

Somehow, Lindsley wanted to incorporate the Marine Corps colors into the color guard.

"By having red and gold what do you do? Well, you get a gold horse with red trappings and that's why you got palominos. Golden palominos with red trappings and Marines in dress blues makes a nice looking group."

An added advantage to having palominos is it is much easier to find matching palominos than it is to find matching black horses.

The first parade the color guard went to was in Ridgecrest, Calif., in 1967. From there, the originally mounted color guard attended parades in town, the Calico parade and Yermo when they had rodeos.

As word of the newly formed mounted color guard spread, the stables got invitations to ride in professional parades. With the increased interest, came increased travel as the area the mounted color guard covered, grew from presenting at local parades to parades anywhere between San Diego to Ohime. Because of the popularity of the color guard, the number of riders also grew in size.

"At one time we had about 18 riders," he said, "we had a Navy Corpsman, a female Marine, about four officers and the rest were enlisted."

Contrary to many write-ups on the color guard, it wasn't founded by a group of officers, said Lindsley, instead it was founded by those first riders. The predominant rule of the color guard, during its founding days and even today, if a person joined that didn't know how to ride, they would be taught how to.

"We had this sergeant who just wanted to join the color guard and he would go along to help clean the horse and paint the hooves to just go along with us," he said. "I said no way, you belong to the color guard you will learn to ride."

Rank didn't, and still doesn't today, have any sway over whether or not a Marine could be on the color guard.

"I told everybody when you come in, I don't care if you are a private first class, rank has nothing to do with it," said Lindsley, "The only thing rank had anything to do with the color guard was that the senior man would lead the color guard and carry the colors."

This is the tradition that formed the color guard, he said. It was not just officers but Marines of all ranks.

Today, the mounted color guard of MCLB Barstow remains the only one of its kind in the Marine Corps.

"What do I think of today's color guard?" said Lindsley. "I think it is the finest last mounted item in the United States Marine Corps. If they ever decide to move it, I will be very distraught because it was formed here in Barstow and should stay here in Barstow.

"I know the trials and tribulations that this color guard has gone through. We used to have to scrounge money that came out of Special Services to buy the hay for the horses. The men were all volunteers; they didn't get paid anything and went at their own expense. I give nothing but my hat's off to the original members and since then, having been acquainted with the color guard, I give nothing but two hats off to everyone that serves there now."