Joseph Zawtocki was born on May 16, 1946, in Charleroi, Belgium, and he immigrated to the United States with his family when he was a child. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on March 16, 1966, and completed basic training at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, in May 1966. After completing infantry training at MCB Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and then training as a Wireman at MCB Camp Pendleton, California, Sgt Zawtocki served with Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division in South Vietnam from October 1966 to November 1967. His next assignment was with the 2nd Combined Action Group of III Marine Amphibious Force in South Vietnam from December 1967 until he was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War on February 8, 1968. After spending 686 days in captivity, SSG Zawtocki died in captivity on December 24, 1969. His remains were returned to the United States on August 14, 1985, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than the enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, or the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit.
My rifle is human, even as I am human, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other.
Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy.