Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lt. Col. Kevin M. Clifford, Marine

The 31st MAU Lieutants' Protective Association; November 10, 1982; Aboard USS Bellau Wood, somewhere in the Western Pacific.  From left: 1stLt Powers, 1stLt Clifford, 1stLt Gregory, WO-2 Marzean, 1stLt Bartow, 1stLt Sullivan.

The Colonel has a heavy heart and a smile on his face as he writes this.

Earlier this week, an old Marine buddy from his first few years in the Corps was brought to the Colonel's mind by the loose collection of cognitive cells in his brain-housing group dedicated to nostalgia. 

Kevin Clifford had, at one point, been as close to the Colonel as any brother.  To the Colonel's discredit, he had allowed the miles and years of separation since to result in a break in contact.

There had been sporadic reconnections over the years but no contact in at least ten. 

The Colonel tried an internet search for his old friend a couple of days ago and found his obituary.

The terse announcement indicated that Kevin had died of natural causes late last month. 

The news shamed the Colonel.

A friend like Kevin -- a Marine Brother like Kevin -- deserved the Colonel's presence at his funeral. 

Kevin and the Colonel had been in a company of 250 brand new second lieutenants who had been prepared for service as leaders of Marines at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, during the sweltering spring and summer of 1978.  The Colonel doesn't think they even spoke during those six months -- different 50-man platoons, and different career choices.  The Colonel was headed for the infantry; Kevin became a ground supply officer.

In January of 1982, the Colonel (then a first lieutenant) was assigned as the Training Officer on the staff of the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), after three years of leading Marines in an infantry battalion at Camp Lejeune.  A couple of months later, then First Lieutenant, Kevin Clifford, joined the staff. 

At first handshake, Kevin and the Colonel seemed to have very little in common.  Kevin was from Chicago, educated by Jesuits at Quincy College, and, in the discriminating world of Marine infantrymen, NOT infantry -- worse a supply officer. 

Supply officers are a subset of the larger collection of a group known as logisticians -- the bane of infantry officers' existence.  

Logisticians tell infantry officers "no."  Logisticians poke gaping holes in the best laid plans of infantry operators.  Logisticians consider themselves professionals in the practice of the art and science of war -- infantry tacticians are amateurs.

Infantry officers consider logisticians to be out-of-touch, rear echelon softies, who spend their days kicking boxes and counting beans. 

It didn't take long, however, for Kevin's quick wit, professionalism, competence, and Colonel-rivaling initiative, to break down the Colonel's stone walls of bias and disdain for all things not infantry.

As they were the two most junior officers on the staff, Kevin and the Colonel shared a tiny stateroom in the behemoth amphibious ship on which the MAU was embarked.  As the amphibious squadron sailed hither and yon across the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean carrying two thousand Marines from exercise to exercise, Kevin and Colonel made it each of their missions to educate the other on the error of his ways.

One of the best educations the Colonel ever got in his career. 

In February of 1983, the Colonel was reassigned to the staff of The Basic School.  A scant four years after graduating, but with two "fleet tours" under his belt, the Colonel (selected for, but not yet promoted to captain) was now teaching lieutenants.  A couple of months later, Kevin Clifford walked into the office space the Colonel shared with several other instructors.

The Colonel will never forget Kevin's greeting,

"Hey, remember me?  We used to be friends."

Mind you, only a few months had elapsed since the last time they had seen each other.  The "We used to be friends" line was reprised many times over the next ten or fifteen years.

In the prodigious amounts of spare time available to Marines embarked on amphibious shipping sailing hither and yon on the high seas, Kevin and the Colonel learned much about each other's upbringing, hobbies, faith, and plans for the future.  The Colonel introduced Kevin to the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda via the cassette tapes sent back and forth in those days before near-instantaneous e-mail and inter-continental cell phones.  The Colonel thinks even now that Kevin looked forward to mail call and the next tape from Miss Brenda as much as the Colonel did.

The Colonel opined frequently that Kevin's never having wet a hook or forayed afield for furred and feathered game was a serious deficiency in his claim to manhood.  Kevin opined frequently that the Colonel's never having learned to play golf left much to be desired in the Colonel's manhood department.

At Quantico, Kevin and the Colonel went in together on the purchase of a small jon boat suitable for navigating the local lakes and estuaries off the Potomac. 

Kevin took to bass fishing and duck hunting like a natural.

The Colonel and golf -- not so much. 

Kevin and the Colonel often talked about a business plan for their retirement -- buying a bunch of land and opening a hunting/fishing lodge catering to high-dollar clients wanting to "get away" as much as wanting to hunt and fish.  The Colonel would do the guiding and Kevin's quick wit and world-class sense of humor would provide the after-field entertainment. 

The Colonel still thinks it would have been successful.  Kevin would have made it so.      

The last contact the Colonel had with Kevin was nearly ten years ago -- a couple of one-line e-mails over the Marine Corps' intra-net.  Shortly thereafter, they both retired from active duty.

Kevin's obituary mentioned he was an avid golfer.  

The Colonel wonders if Kevin, living in St. Petersburg, Florida, ever went fishing, again.

The Colonel isn't looking forward to the next twenty years -- there are going to be way too many weeks like this one.      
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