MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- At first glance, the man in camouflage utilities looks like any other grizzled sergeant major who has served in the Marine Corps for decades. The perfect figure of a Marine, he stands with his shoulders thrown back, ready to take on the world. Upon closer inspection, subtle discrepancies mar the assumption that SgtMaj. Mike D. Mervosh is still on active duty. His cammies are pressed with creases in all the right places, but the nametape reads "Iron Mike," a nickname he earned for service in the Corps. His boots shine, even though they are relics from the Korean War era. His hair is cut in the regulation "high and tight," but it is sprinkled with more salt than pepper. His face is the final clue that sets him apart from Marines clustered around him. It?s a wrinkled, weathered road map of past battles fought. A life spent upholding the highest traditions of the Corps has worn deep creases into that face. "Iron Mike" began his lifelong trek in the Corps in September 1942 -- well before today?s new enlistees were even born. Though he left active service in 1977, Iron Mike is still invited to speak as the guest of honor at Marine Corps events. After all, he served in every enlisted rank from private to sergeant major during combat with infantry units. He held the rank of sergeant major for 19 and a half years, and when he retired, he was the most senior enlisted man in all the armed forces. It is no surprise why the staff noncommissioned officers of 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, invited him to be the guest of honor at their recent field mess night -- he served with five different Marine divisions. He was a member of 4th Marine Division which formed in Camp Pendleton Aug. 16, 1943, and disbanded Nov. 28, 1945. Some of the battles he participated in -- Marshall Islands and Iwo Jima to name a couple -- are now entrenched in Marine Corps history and tradition. He was awarded the Bronze Star and a second Navy Commendation Medal for "heroic" actions while serving with 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, in Korea. After two tours in Vietnam with 1st Marine Division, he received a third Navy Commendation Medal and his third Purple Heart. When Iron Mike arrived at the regiment's field mess night, SNCOs gathered around to meet a "living legend." Some merely wanted to touch him and shake his hand. Others wanted tangible evidence of the meeting, getting their friends to take photographs while they posed with Iron Mike. Iron Mike had time for everybody. The Marine Corps motto, "Semper Fidelis," might as well be tattooed across his chest, for in his heart he has never stopped serving the Corps. During his speech, he said he envied the Marines still in uniform, and that he was grateful for the opportunity to be a Marine again and be among his fellow Marines. His voice rang with pride and devotion as he talked about the Corps' past -- and its future. He recounted the battle of Iwo Jima as the toughest and most demanding assignment of his lifetime. "Iwo Jima is recorded as the bloodiest battle in the history of the Marine Corps. There were so many unselfish and unrelenting acts of bravery, courage and heroism that occurred routinely on a daily basis that it was taken for granted, and most of it was unaccounted for. Which brought forth that inspiring message that will live on forever by Admiral Nimitz, 'That among those that fought at Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.' "Our Marine Corps has a proud and glorious history. We also have the finest and proudest traditions at which we share those sea stories and our camaraderie and esprit de corps by having our mess nights, our many Marine reunions and ... our Marine Corps birthday," he said. "Our fine and proud traditions must not solely be preserved in libraries or books or museums, but by faithful participation on the part of all Marines. If our traditions were to ever die, we would only have ourselves to blame." He reminded his audience that, "we joined the Corps not for a fat paycheck or perks ... but because we wanted to serve our country and fight its battles." He charged them with the obligation to maintain the honor, valor, fidelity, devotion to duty, dedication and reputation of the Marine Corps that has remained unchallenged and highly respected throughout the world. "If it were easy, everybody would do it, and Marines wouldn't be needed," he said. "Being a Marine is not a job, it's a way of life. "It is the duty of all Marines of all ranks to strive to be full-time Marines -- the leaders, the warriors, the professionals -- by being strong, tough and decisive. And by maintaining, participating, observing and preserving our fine and proud traditions, or we will just become another branch of the service and obsolete." Throughout the Corps? history, there have been those who have tried to have the Corps disbanded, Mervosh said. "We have certainly had our share of critics who say the United States Army can perform any function or mission the Marine Corps can, that there is no need for a second Army with the title of ?Marines.? "That is something to think about, which means we cannot become ?Army-nized.? We've got to be different and better," he said. "Take a good look at the crossed rifles on your chevrons -- you are a rifleman first. "Our Marines of today cannot afford to be complacent or live on past sentiments, glories, laurels or accomplishments. What they must strive to do is be a heck of a lot different and definitely a heck of a lot better than any military organization in the world. Maintain that status for being the finest, the proudest Marine Corps that you can be," he said. "If everybody could be a Marine, it just wouldn't be the Marines." Iron Mike puts things into perspective without sugarcoating, said GySgt. Thomas F. Parks, the vice-president of the regiment?s field mess night. "His words were coming straight from the heart." Indeed, Iron Mike summed up his hopes up with this graphic image. "Whenever there is a dirty job to do and the going gets really tough, meaning when the defecation hits the ventilation, the cry will always be heard, 'Land the Marines!'" Mervosh and his wife, Margaret, reside in Oceanside.