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Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, The Saluting Marine - Interview

By Gerald D. Swick 
Originally published on Published Online: April 29, 2014 
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Staff Sergeant Tim Chambers during his hours-long salute, Rolling Thunder 2013, Washington, DC. Photo by Jennifer Berry, Weider History.

The first surprise in talking with United States Marine Corps Veteran Staff Sergeant Tim Chambers is how soft-spoken he is. He became known to the world as The Saluting Marine for standing at attention for hours during the Rolling Thunder event held each spring in Washington, DC, that honors veterans and raises awareness of POW/MIA issues. Holding the salute for three or four hours while standing on concrete in his Marine dress blues is demanding to say the least—grueling would be a more accurate term. One year he did it with a broken wrist, and he now performs this act to honor veterans despite a medical condition in his back.

He's tough, yes, but when he talks his voice is soft, his sense of humor quickly becomes apparent, and he speaks with the earnestness one might expect from a minister, rabbi or other spiritual leader of the need for Americans to put aside their differences and take care of each other.

In 2012, Roger Vance, Weider History's editor in chief interviewed Sgt. Chambers and wrote "Saga of the Saluting Marine," published on HistoryNet in April of that year. With Rolling Thunder XXVII rapidly approaching (May 23-26, Memorial Day weekend, 2014), we thought we'd catch up with The Saluting Marine. He spoke with HistoryNet's senior editor, Gerald D. Swick, on April 22.

Rolling Thunder, Ride for Freedom is an annual event held in Washington, DC, to raise awareness of and bring full accountability for the Prisoners of War–Missing in Action of all wars. It is organized by Rolling Thunder, Inc., a non-profit organization. Visit their website and Facebook page for more information. Click here to read a Vietnam magazine interview with one of the founders of Rolling Thunder, Walt Sides.

HistoryNet: First off, tell us a little about Tim Chambers, not just The Saluting Marine, but who you are, what kind of environment you grew up in, what sort of things you like to do.

Tim Chambers: I grew up in Oregon, the oldest of six children. Mom had a hard time finding her soul mate. My father was a Marine in Vietnam; he came back with a lot of problems. John Chambers came into my life just as I was about to start elementary school. He was kind to us; he didn't beat my mother. I took his name out of respect when I entered high school.

Tim Chambers as the Silverton Silver Fox mascot during his hgh school days. Click to enlarge.
Tim Chambers as the Silverton Silver Fox mascot during his hgh school days. Click to enlarge.
Our high school team was the Silverton Silver Foxes. I was the high school mascot, the Silver Fox. Everyone knew me as The Fox. People would see my mother, and they wouldn't ask how Tim was doing; they asked how The Fox was doing.

I was always motivated, always enthusiastic, and that carried over into the Marine Corps. Sometimes in a new unit it took time for people to realize it wasn't a show, it's who I am. I guess I've always been a sort of mascot throughout my life. I think I'm kind of a mascot for Rolling Thunder.

I like to help people. I can't stand to see people digging in garbage cans for something to eat. You see a lot of young people who come out here to Oceanside because its warm, and it hurts me to see them digging in the garbage. I try to help them. I don't want to be judged, I don't judge them. Helping people—that's kind of been my whole life.

I've been all over the whole country because of my salute at Rolling Thunder. It's given me many opportunities to do things for other people, and I'm grateful to the Rolling Thunder people for that.

HN: Can you give us a couple of examples?

TC: A mother called me one time and said her son, a Marine veteran who served in Somalia had met me in Las Cruces . She told me he'd been murdered. I couldn't afford airfare to the funeral services, and I knew my car wouldn't make it, so I rented a motorcycle from New York Myke of San Diego Harley Davidson, who served as a Forward Air Controller in Vietnam directing air strikes for the Army's 101st Airborne Division and drove 700 miles. I'd never driven more than 80 miles on a bike before. I ride, but I don't have a bike—I'd like to have one, but I don't. Anyway, I drove this bike 700 miles. Thank god for cruise control and Bob Seger.

I got to the town, put on a tie and walked into the church where the funeral was being held. I met the mother for the first time—she recognized me from the videos. After the services, I went with Stella to her house, got a few hours sleep and then drove back home, a 1,400-mile round trip.

Another time, I heard about a guy in Albuquerque an Air Force veteran, 48 years old, who had on his bucket list driving his motorcycle at Rolling Thunder past the Saluting Marine, but he'd developed stage 4 cancer and wasn't going to be able to make it. So I traveled from San Diego to Albuquerque with my family and surprised him with a salute.

Rolling Thunder, Ride for Freedom XXVII will take place May 23-26, 2014, in Washington, DC. Click to enlarge.
Rolling Thunder, Ride for Freedom XXVII will take place May 23-26, 2014, in Washington, DC. Click to enlarge.
I don't need to be active duty to make a difference. I think we can all make a difference, and we need to, to bring our country back to the center.

HN: You were near the Pentagon on 9/11 and rushed there to help. Would you mind talking a little about your experiences that day?

TC: I was in a meeting with my First Sergeant just up the hill from the Pentagon. I saw the plane fly over us, and within 10 seconds felt the impact. The ground shook. I didn't know what had happened in New York, so I was completely clueless.

We went down the hill and waited until it was cleared to be safe for us to go in and search for survivors. Even in daytime it was pitch black inside. I was there for three days.

I didn't realize the Army was in control at the Pentagon. They wanted us to leave, but all of us Marines stood our ground. Major Dan Pantaleo, author of 4 Days at the Pentagon, asked for us to be allowed to stay and said he'd make sure we were accounted for. So we got to continue rescue operations.

At end of three days I went home and slept. Before going inside the house I had to take off the white protective suit and my cammies and wash off outside. The next morning I got up, and when I went out I saw that someone had put a flag on a stake in the ground next to my gear. I'd felt kind of heavy, but that kind of uplifted my spirits; it meant a lot to me.

That's at least part of what inspired me to go help with the victims' families. I went down to where they were being housed, and they put me in charge of the daycare. I had all the kids low-crawling by the end of the day, and they all wanted to be Marines.

(He received the Navy Commendation Medal for his actions at the Pentagon.)

HN: How did you come to perform your first salute at Rolling Thunder, in 2002?

Tim Chambers with Walt Sides, one of the 'founding fathers' of Rolling Thunder. Click to enlarge.
Tim Chambers with Walt Sides, one of the 'founding fathers' of Rolling Thunder. Click to enlarge.
TC: I was a partner on the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee, so the year before I was at the Korean War Memorial in Washington for three days, wearing Korean War attire and educating people about the Korean War, all the countries that were involved, what it was about. It was hot and humid—I lost 10 pounds under that parka—and I was toasting people with sparkling apple cider as they walked by.

The next year, 2002, I decided I should go in my dress blues. I was going to go around, shake some hands, tell these veterans "Thank you." Then I saw all these vets zooming by on motorcycles. I popped out and started saluting.

They just kept coming. I thought, how am I going to do this? I can't just stop. Some of the bikers started pulling over, with tears in their eyes, as they passed by me. I felt I was touching them—in some ways, I was giving them the welcome home they hadn't received when they came back from the war. I felt, "Wow, I have to be here next year."

I've been all over the country now as the Saluting Marine. I've had people cry and tell me things like, "Thank you, Tim. No one ever told me I did a good job. I was dropping bombs from thousands of feet up, and all I was told when I got home was how I had killed a lot of innocent people." There are a lot of unsung heroes (in wars) who were never properly recognized.

HN: Do you plan to be at Rolling Thunder again this year?

TC: Do you think I have an option?

HN: What are you hoping to inspire in people when you are performing this grueling salute—not just the veterans and their families, but anyone who sees you?

TC: Compassion. Respect. Common sense.

A boy paying triubte to his fallen father is joined by The Saluting Marine (S/Sgt Tim Chambers) during Rolling Thunder: Ride for Freedom.
A boy paying triubte to his fallen father is joined by The Saluting Marine (S/Sgt Tim Chambers) during Rolling Thunder: Ride for Freedom.
I'm doing something we as a nation should have done a long time ago. We've gone away from respect and common sense as a nation. We need to be helping each other, accepting each other. I want to unite Americans, no matter what network they watch on TV.

Americans need to accept the risk in their freedoms. That's part of what I like about the bikers in Rolling Thunder. Bikers accept the risk when they ride. We all use our freedoms to make choices, and we need to accept the responsibilities for those choices. You have to accept responsibilities for your own actions. I've made mistakes. I don't blame it on my father or on the fact my mother was in an abusive relationship. My choices, my mistakes, my responsibility.

HN: You contracted a serious bacterial infection following surgery in 2005 that invaded your back muscles and still flares up at times. Do you have any plans for what you might do at Rolling Thunder if you reach the point that your body simply won't let you stand at attention for hours?

TC: I haven't thought that far ahead, I guess. What do you think a Marine thinks? They think there'll never be that day. I'm just blessed that I'm here and I have all my limbs. A lot of my friends don't.

If I ever couldn't do it, I wouldn't feel good about it. Maybe I don't even want to think about that. It's sad to think there's something wrong with me that would mean I couldn't even do something simple. I'd let a lot of people down.

HN: Thank you for talking with us, Sergeant Chambers. Is there anything you'd like to add in closing?

TC: I will be coming out with a book. It will be a coffee-table picture book. Some amazing photographers have donated their photos of the Saluting Marine for it. It will talk about why I did the salute, what it means to people and why it is important to care about each other. I'm hoping it will reach a higher level of awareness, and bridge the gap between Americans.

For more information, visit The Saluting Marine website and Leave No Warrior Behind website.

19 Responses to “Staff Sgt. Tim Chambers, The Saluting Marine - Interview”

  1. 1
    Terry Goodlad says:

    S/Sgt. Chambers made an appearance recently in Las Vegas at Red Rocks Harley Davidson. I had been sick in bed for over a week but when I saw he was in town I got up, dressed and rode my Harley down so that I could meet him and shake his hand. He is a role model and has done so much to garner respect for the Marine Corps. and the Military in general and he has opened the worlds eyes to the all but forgotten concept of service and un-selfishness.

    When I met S/Sgt. Chambers I was fortunate to have arrived during a lull in activity so we visited for a few minutes. He made me feel like I had visited an old friend.

    I wish to extend my deepest respect to this regular American Soldier that is anything but regular simply because he makes choices every day to serve others. He is an inspiration to me personally and is with me daily as I make my own decisions in life.

    Thank you S/Sgt Chambers.

  2. 2
    Scott Kittrell says:

    I have talked to Tim numerous times and as a retired Marine myself I consider Tim not only a friend but a brother. He truly lives what the Corps is all about. I can't think of anyone better to do this than him.

    As I told him myself his salute not only recognizes the Nam vets but all of us. At least that is the way I see it, in this world today were people are so scared to say something foor fear of offending someone else he stands by his beliefs. I wish there were more like him. Semper Fi

  3. 3
    Bonnie Pike says:

    I first got to actually know and meet Tim last year at the Healing Fields in Tempe AZ. When he returned to Phoenix this last winter to attend the wounded warrior ride, I loaned him my jeep for the weekend so he could get around the city and also managed to spend a quient evening that first night having dinner with him at Toby Keiths in Mesa, AZ.

    My significant other, Tom Fernow, was with us that night. A veteran of the Viet Nam War (four tours), he was so honored, humbled, and proud to be able to meet Tim, to shake his hand and to spend an evening chatting with him .

    Tim, this old Navy Widow (my late husband Douglas J Pike) was a career Navy Corpsman, thanks you from the bottom of her heart for all you do for our veterans and for showing America the true hope, honor, and inspirtation of our country…. men like you.

    God bless my friend… and when you are in Phoenix… you know you have a place to stay.

  4. 4
    Chet and Eileen Upp says:

    We have been to Rolling Thunder six times now and each time is such a thrill for us. Five times we have ridden by Staff Sgt. Chambers but this year we got to actually watch the parade directly across from where he stood. When veterans salute him, he acknowledges each one. When vets stop for a word or a handshake, he reaches out to them. But, this year, when he rolled wounded warrior, Cpl. Sean Adams onto the center aisle to stand salute with him, there wasn't a dry eye in the crowd. The character of both men is overwhelming to us. We salute you, Staff Sgt. Chambers and all that you do for the wounded warriors and their families. God bless you!

  5. 5
    Steve Otstot says:

    Staff Sgt. Chambers you are an inspiration to all services not just the Marines!! What you do is wonderful!
    Semper Fi Brother! God Bless!!!

  6. 6
    Rosalee says:

    I salute you Sgt Chambers.
    You are a fine example of our nation's finest

  7. 7
    Irene Esqueda says:

    I Salute you as a Marine and I truly admire you for your courage and what you represent. I am a mother of a Marine myself. Thank you for the sacrifice. I know only to well what War will do to you. I have seen my son with his tours and he's not the same but he is a man with a kind and loving heart. He reminds me of you. I would love to meet you someday. There is a place in my home for a good night's rest and a good Mexican home cooked meal.

    I Salute you and Thank you for the Sacrifice Siemper Fi!

  8. 8
    Diane Hoge says:

    Tim's book is done Here is the link for the pre sale

  9. 9
  10. 10
    brenda says:

    thank you staff sgt chambers. lots of people had tears with you. just loss my brother in law. sept 1. chief master sgt . 28 yrs of serving our country. and the military grounds in marion in are so beautiful. makes it easy he is now resting in a beautiful place. again thank you. and all who server for our country.

  11. 11
    Claude.Godard says:

    merci à toi Tim pour ce que tu représente et pour le message que tu fais passer ,tu à sus nous montrer le vrais respect que nous devons tous à nos vétérans.Ici chez moi en France nous avons bien des leçons à prendre.
    Je te salut respectueusement et si tu le permet accolade fraternelle .

    Thank you Tim for what you represent and for the message that you do spend, tu to sus show us real respect that we all to our veterans.Here at me in France we have to take lessons.
    I te Hi respectfully and if you allow fraternal hug.

  12. 12
    Tommy Leonard says:

    Staff Sergeant Chambers you are the reason people from all over the world want to be American. I proudly return your salute. Semper Fi Marine !

  13. 13
    Chickie Fortado Frederick says:

    Thank you for your service and for your continued efforts to be a champion for Veterans issues.

    You are the best!

  14. 14
    Chris Ogle says:

    Stand strong marine, you are not alone. I salute you. Nam 69-70 with the 173rd.

  15. 15
    Margaret Moore says:

    You should run for President. God Bless You.

  16. 16
    Leila Lindsey says:

    Staff Sgt. Chambers, please allow the honor of saying you mean the world to me and though I want to I will never meet you because I cant afford to go to you….

    My uncle David Schofield served in Vietnam when I was only 12 years old. Instead of writing letters he and I sent the old fashion tapes to each other from reel to reel recorders. Through those our family grew to know his troop members by there voices when he recorded his letters home to me. Our family did the same for him. Upon receiving his message the family gathered at our home and we had his favorite meal and shared. one day in November while listening to his message home we heard shots fired, men screaming for the medic, we heard some call the medic saying Schofield was hit. It was horrible because we did not find out he was alive til December when we heard from a hospital in Japan.

    I was so upset when he came home when people laughed at him for hitting the floor if a car backfired. The Vietnam vets were the most disrespected in my book.

    From that point forward I hated the military for sending our boys to other countries to fight. During that time his own son also named after him served over there during Desert Storm..
    at that point my letters were in the form of daily journals with date and times when I felt like saying something to him like what the seasons looked something I saw that was touching or funny ect… My cousin used to tell me I sent letters so long 10-20 pages front and back that he would still be reading them when the next one arrived. He said his buddies shared them too while waiting from their own letters from home.

    It was not until after 9/11 when our nephew who served in the Navy came home from the Persian Gulf and relayed a story to me on how one of his buddies explained to his 7 year old son who asked him the question, \Daddy, why do you have to go to another country to fight?\ His dad took him to the front window and pointed to the neighbors home across the street who was beating his family and asked the son what he would do.
    The son replied he would call the police. to which the dad told him the police would not help and then pointed out the man walking across the street and beating his neighbor and asked the boy the same question and got the same reply. The dad told his son the man was walking up to their door and the son became frightened and told his dad to close the curtains. The dad told him to hear the knock on the door and the little became more frightened and said shoot him.

    At this point the dad comforted his son and told him son that is why we go to other countries to fight to prevent the knock on the door for the United States.

    The knock on our country's door was 9/11. People should never forget and remember that is why our men go elsewhere to fight. I had to be in my 50's to understand the true meaning of love and honor.

    So in closing may I say I am truly grateful and proud of all our military and for you because even though you are retired you serve as a wonderful reminder of all that our men do. You did not retire and forget. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS!!!!!

  17. 17
    Ann Hiemenz says:

    You are an angel…Thank You

  18. 18
    Jeanne Fritts says:

    May the Lord Jesus truly and completely heal health issues so that you may continue your selfless act of respect, honor and love toward veterans of America. Bless you always. Amen.

  19. 19
    Cherielle says:

    As the daughter and mother of Marines, this brings tears to my eyes. It takes a special person to become a United States Marine, and I am honored to be a part of this history. Thank you Staff Sgt Chambers.

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