Thursday, November 10, 2005

230 Years of Love

More years ago than I care to admit, and hardly believe, a Marine whose name I have shamefully forgotten, but whose war-wearied face and super-confident carriage I shall never, challenged me to do something meaningful with my adult life. To that point I had been immersed in the culture of the para-military organization in which my father was a career member, and whose name shall be withheld save it's initials: USAF. I was going to be a fighter pilot. My buddies and I lived and breathed light blue, and dreamed about dogfighting. When that hard-bitten Marine heard what I had my heart set on he scoffed, "Jets are for kids" adding unprintable emphatic language that rolled off his tongue in a practiced way I had never heard but to which I would later become all too accustomed. "Do you want to play for the rest of your life or do you want to make a difference?" His challenge (read: trap) was perfectly laid at the feet of an 18 year-old who was already naively convinced he had a destiny.

Had that Marine been an enlisted recruiter, I have no doubt that my high school graduation trip would have been to that sunny vacation isle hidden behind the tidal marshes of the South Carolina low country. Instead, a lackluster high school career was overlooked by a Vietnam-depleted Marine Corps who offered me a full-ride college scholarship in return for four year's service as an officer. It was a deal I couldn't refuse, and in the late summer of 1974 I packed the same trunk my father had 24 years earlier and headed off to Ole Miss. That's right, I really didn't go to college--I went to Ole Miss. Big difference. But I digress..., and will digress further...

My just retired NCO father seemed different in the days leading up to my departure from the nest. I finally asked him if he was unhappy that I was going into the Marine Corps. He responded, "No, it is just dawning on me that you are going to be a (add appropriate epithet here) officer."

At Ole Miss, I joined a disparate collection of scuzzy civilian boys becoming military men under the tutelage of a small cadre of Navy and Marine officers and men. It has taken thirty years to fully realize the remarkable and lasting transformation they wrought with their leadership. Our fraternity of Navy and Marine Corps officer candidates was drawn closer, and has remained so, than any other on campus. We were there first and foremost to get educations (or the close approximation Ole Miss offered) they told us. But we learned more from them than any professor on campus.

Graduating from college,and successful completion of a summer of pure physical and psychological fun (for our drill instructors, at least) on the banks of the Chopawamsic, granted me the President's pleasure and the congressional act of commissioning as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. I thereby joined an extended family of uncles, brothers, and sisters whose first names were Corporal, Captain, and Colonel, but who all answered to the same title: Marine. They taught me how to lead, they taught me how to fight, and they taught me how to love each other so much that laying down my life for one of them would not have occasioned a mili-second of hesitation.

I have been a lot of things in my life...husband, father (and now, wonderfully, granddaddy!), teacher, student, alumnus, teammate...and I will likely accumulate a lot of other descriptions over the course of the rest of my time on earth. But the one thing I will always and foremost be is a Marine.

Reveille, Marines! Our birthday dawns! It has already dawned for Marines in the fight as I write this. Here's health to you and to our Corps. God bless the United States and success to the Marines!
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