Remembering the Rose Garden Marines

Jul 03, 2024 at 12:48 pm by Bethany Bowman

The country music legend, Lynn Anderson became the U.S. Marines's unofficial ambassador 50 years ago when they used her award-winning song, ‘I Beg Your Pardon (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) in a recruitment ad campaign.

The term “rose garden” is an ironic reference that led to one of the most memorable recruitment campaigns in the Marine Corps’ history, forever linking country music superstar Anderson with the Marines.

Veterans from the Task Force Delta in the Vietnam War were later dubbed the “Rose Garden Marines” after the song. In 2022, they celebrated their 50 50-year reunion from the initial Rose Garden operation in Nam Phong, Thailand. This year, celebrating 52 years as brothers, more than 50 Marines were reunited again in Nashville with family and friends from June 23-27.

The Rose Garden Marines held their first reunion in 2004 and have been doing so every other year since (though 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic). While in Nashville, Lisa Sutton, Lynn Anderson’s daughter, served as their host as they visited the Lynn Anderson Rose Garden at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery. They also visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and attended a “Nashville and the Civil War” presentation at the Devil Dog Den. On June 26, they participated in the Rose Garden Marines Banquet at The Inn at Opryland Hotel and later enjoyed an evening of singing and dancing at Nashville Jubilee at the nearby Troubadour, Nashville.

The highlight of the reunion was on June 25th when the Rose Garden Marines were honored and celebrated at the live broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry, with a special tribute to Lynn Anderson as well. Opry member Mandy Barnett sang the iconic song ‘I Beg Your Pardon (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) as fellow Marines stood and beamed with pride.

In 1972, during the Vietnam War, to counteract a small contingent of covert Thai and Loas Forces using T-21s and UH-1Ms, a band of young Marines were brought to fortify an airstrip and build a base in Nam Phong, Thailand which was near Hanoi, Vietnam.  

Nam Phong was brutal, hot, and teeming with snakes and poisonous insects.

Marine Joe Echols told me, “We had cobras. We had scorpions. The first thing they did was spray Agent Orange everywhere. Everybody shook in their boots because they knew the odds were against us. Dysentery was horrible because of the water we drank. Because it was only supposed to be a temporary spot, we could not get basic supplies needed for survival.”

While Task Force Delta began in May 1972, Echols was stationed at the base from January to September of 1973. “I didn't realize the conditions I was going to have to live in,” he confirmed.

This was a classified operation by the CIA, and no one knew what occurred until many years later. Because the operation didn’t become declassified until 2004, many of the Rose Garden Marines were initially denied health care even with their extensive exposure to Agent Orange and other toxins.

Host of Nashville Rose Garden reunion Lisa Sutton stated, “Learning about (Nam Phong) and reliving it through them is eye-opening. Half of them are still fighting for their health benefits. Because the Rose Garden operation was top-secret, no one could prove they were there until about 20 years ago.”

Regardless of where she was, Lynn Anderson always kept in touch with the Rose Garden Marines as she would run into them during her concerts. In 2004, ten of the guys told Anderson that they were meeting up in the ski resort town of Angel Fire, New Mexico. Anderson and her partner, Mentor Williams agreed to meet them and that became the first unofficial reunion of the Rose Garden Marines.

When Anderson passed, in 2015, the Marines sent flags, a color guard, and hundreds of roses to her funeral.

Rose Garden Marine, Malcolm Browne, is currently researching and working with fellow Marines to make a book about what really happened in this “most historic event of the Vietnam War.” Additionally, he hopes that a movie can be made to tell the true story of the Rose Garden Marines.

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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blogInstagram, and X.