Old Corps, New Corps

A friend of mine was a Marine in World War II, attaining the lofty rank of Private First Class during his brief but eventful tenure from 1942 to 1945. As a member of the “Greatest Generation,” he was among those fabled Marines who landed on the Pacific beaches in actions that led to the defeat of Japan, and set a standard that Marines still emulate today.

He left the Corps after his tour was up, earned his law degree, and became a very successful lawyer in Atlanta.

I lost count of the number of times he recalled his experience in the Corps and how he credited it with any success he had later in life.

Then one day he called and told me he was dying of cancer and wanted my wife and me to help him arrange his funeral. He wanted to be buried in his dress blues and asked that I work with the funeral home to make sure his uniform was perfect.

Here was a man who could claim a dozen or more major accomplishments in his life, but the one he held most dearly as death approached was his title, Marine.

There are no words to adequately explain that type of pride. And he knew I would arrange his funeral well, and do it with honor.

It would not be the last time I did that.

A few years ago, I invited a WWII veteran to be the guest speaker on Memorial Day in our town. In his mid-80s, he was trim and lively, and gave a humorous and touching talk about his time in the Corps during WWII.

About a month after that, his daughter-in-law called to tell me he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had little time left. She asked for my help in getting him a dress-blue uniform because he never had one, but wanted to be buried in it.

So I helped obtain the full uniform and, in the process, discovered he rated the Purple Heart (for injuries in combat), but had never received it.

Again, words fail to adequately describe how I felt in watching this now-frail man in his last days, supported by his son and grandson to stand for photos, dressed for the first and last time in the Marine dress blues he had so perilously earned decades before, with his Purple Heart pinned above the other ribbons he had earned.

Earning The Title

Year after year for 236 years, young men and now young women have continued to fill Marine Corps ranks in war and in peace. Since 1975 to today, they have all been volunteers. A draft did not require them to join. Many of them joined a delayed-entry program when they were still in their last year of high school, or while going to college.

I recently made a trip back to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, this time as a father bringing my 17-year-old son there for the first time. He has expressed a desire to be a Marine. (Go figure, I wonder how that happened.)

I feel pride mixed with fear. I am proud he wants to take on that challenge, but this is a dangerous world for a Marine, and this is my boy. I know the heartache of telling a parent the worst news a parent can ever receive, and I can’t even conceive of the pain in hearing that news. I don’t ever want to be that parent.

As I traveled with him around the base, I saw the faces of these recruits. They were so young, but not much older than my boy. They were not so long out of Little League and youth football.

Oddly, they looked like the recruits in my old platoon from 1976.

They all graduated from high school because the Corps doesn’t accept anything less. They were last year’s sports stars, couch potatoes, nerds, or just regular guys and gals. Most were good students who could have gone on to college or a trade school or done nothing for a while and lived off their parents.

But they chose to be here, knowing–as did the Marines of WWII–that Marines today stand a better-than-average chance of seeing combat, even if they only serve one four-year enlistment.

I talked with some of them, asking why they were here. The answers were not what you might expect.

Some said they wanted to serve their country, others because a father or brother or uncle served in the Corps.

One young man said he’d wanted to be a Marine since he was five.

One told me he joined because people had labeled him ADHD, telling him he would not be able to make it through boot camp. He was here to prove them wrong, and with only one week left, he would do it.

None of the recruits said they joined because they needed a job or were looking for a paycheck.

Becoming a Marine is not a job; it is a quest, a way of life, a members-only club that only a small percent of Americans will ever know or understand. According to the old adage, “If it was easy to be a Marine, anybody could do it.”

As I listened and watched them train, I was overcome with hope for American youth. As long as there are men and women like these who are willing to stand up and fight for what they believe is right about America, there is hope.

I spoke with parents and family members who were there to watch their Marine march across the parade deck. There are as many stories as there are graduates.

Page 2 of 3 | Previous page | Next page

Related posts:

  1. The History And Tradition Of Recreation
  2. Earning the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor
  3. Leadership By Wandering Around
  4. “Get Off My Bus!”
  5. Second Chances
  • Columns
  • Departments