I'm not one to ordinarily go out of my way to call attention to myself. Those of you who know me well may disagree, but my self-perception is of a terribly introverted boat-stabilizer. There is one thing I do, however, to advertise who I am to others. When on business trips, I wear a small Marine emblem lapel pin on my sport coat. Invariably, that miniature eagle, globe and anchor catches someone's eye and they comment with either a "Semper Fi!" or a question about my service. What I love most is the short stories I hear from complete strangers about their connection with the Marine Corps--their own service, a child's, a spouse's.
A flight attendant on one recent flight pointed to the Seventh Marines pin on her apron and proudly told me her son was in 1/7 and in Iraq. She was enormously proud of him, a huge fan of the Corps, and terribly worried about his safety. I told her to pass on an "ooorah" from me, and then I told her she was now on two of my lists--my personal hero list and my prayer list.
A gentleman in his eighties tapped me on my knee as I sat in a terminal waiting for a flight, and volunteered quietly, "I was in the Sixth Marine Division." "Iwo?," I asked. He nodded and his voice seemed to lose six decades of age as he commented, "I can still smell that stinking island." Then his age returned as he remembered, "Lost a lot of good friends on Iwo." As I always do, I thanked him for his service and told him it was the exploits and sacrifices of his generation of Marines that made it so honorable to be a Marine in my day.
Occasionally, folks with no Marine connection, will volunteer a story about their service in one of the other branches of the military. Recently, a gentleman asked me how long I had been in the Corps. He laughed at my stock answer, "25 years, 5 months, and 17 days--but who's counting," and then told me that he was in the Army Reserve and had commanded a tank battalion in Desert Storm. He told a quick story about training hard in Saudi Arabia and wanting to reward his soldiers in a special way. We officially and strictly obeyed the kingdom's ban on alcohol, but this commander had an idea. He contacted his golfing buddies back home--one of whom owned a beer distributorship and was owed some favors by a local soft drink bottler. A pallet of high octane cokes was shipped to Saudi Arabia, a savvy sergeant major traded for some ice, and a battalion of tankers enjoyed a surreptitious cold one (or three) on the eve of their battle with the Republican Guard.
I really should start writing all these stories down.