"Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem." Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, 1985
My youngest son was just 11 years old when the war in Afghanistan began in 2001 - playing his trumpet and dreaming of growing up to be a high school band director. That all changed one dark and misty morning as he stood aboard the Marine Recruit Depot on Parris Island, listening to the cadences of young Marine recruits as they performed their physical training. We were there to see his older brother graduate from boot camp. You could almost see warrior spirit overtake his being as he took in the scene. Right then, he made the decision to follow in his brother's footsteps and join the Corps.
|Andrew's boot camp graduation|
A lot happened between that day and the day he left for Parris Island himself. His brother went hell and back in Iraq and he fell in love with the sweet girl who is now his wife. Through it all he stayed firm in his decision to enlist, and his two best friends from high school also joined with him.
And so, I made a second trip to Parris Island to watch my baby boy become one of the few and the proud. The rain outside did nothing to dampen the spirits of the family and friends who had not embraced their loved ones for thirteen long weeks. Even though we all knew that longer and significantly more trying separations were to come, this first cut was indeed the deepest.
As the crowd spilled out of the bleachers, our group made our own way down the steps, trying to stay together and not be trampled in the mêlée. My bearing started to deteriorate as I caught the eye of a new Marine standing at the foot of the stairs struggling to maintain his. With lips pursed and tear stained cheeks, his eyes scanned the crowd for the ones who belonged to him. I wanted to embrace him for that alone, but he was not mine and we moved along.
We made our way down to floor level and in the general direction of where we’d spotted them prior to dismissal. But, progress and visibility were impaired by all the spontaneous reunions that were happening all around us.
Finally, my oldest son found him. But, I was unable to see, so he grabbed me by the arm to lead the way. When I found him, he was standing at attention with his two best friends; stock still, feet hip width apart, arms behind their backs, eyes forward, with nary a wobble in their newly acquired Marine bearing.
|The Tennessee Three|
They had agreed in advance that this is how they would greet us – standing in sharp contrast to the boisterous young men who hammed it up for the camera as we snapped the obligatory “before” pictures the day they left. Their formation lasted only a moment, as we immediately rushed our new Marines and threw our arms around their necks.
As I clung to him, so overcome with emotion and pride that he had to hold me up, he whispered in my ear, “Momma, I’m a Marine.” I choked out the words, “Yes, you are…I love you and I’m so proud.” I held on to him as long as I could without being insensitive to the crowd of people waiting their turn, and he repeated the same statement, over and over again, “Momma, I’m a Marine” - as if he had not really absorbed the information himself just yet. Reluctantly, I pulled away, but not before I took one last mental snapshot.
|Adam's boot camp graduation|
He and his two best friends went on to infantry training, and have twice deployed to Afghanistan since that day. Some of their fellow recruits who graduated that day went to war and did not come back or came back seriously injured. They continue to take care of each other and the families of their brothers who were lost. These young men have a bond that no civilian can fully understand, and yet it is palpable any time you are around two or more of them at the same time.
Our Marine family has grown as we’ve come to know the parents, grandparents, wives and girlfriends of our boys. We families have a different sort of bond, but equally as strong and strengthened by supporting each other through the various crucibles we endure through separations, deployments, injuries and news of casualties. It is nothing like what they go through, but is difficult in its own way.
Today is the Marine Corps 236th birthday. I am proud of my boys and their brothers, and proud to be a part of the bigger Marine Corps family. I hope you will take the time to watch the following video and take a moment to be mindful of what they have done for all of us. It is a longer video, but powerful and well worth 15 minutes or so of your day. Semper Fi.
|Today I am thankful for ...|
My Marines, their fellow Marines, and all those who serve.