“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARINES”
By Andy Weddington
Monday, 10 November 2008
Today, 10 November, marks the anniversary—“the Birthday”—of the United States Marine Corps. On this day in 1775, 233 years ago, the Continental Congress passed a resolution directing that “two battalions of Marines be raised” to assume duty as landing forces with the American fleet. A few good men soon gathered and the Corps was born.
Since the Corps’ birth, generation after generation of men and women, from all walks of life, have courageously answered the call—putting country before self. To those who have faced and beat the physical and mental tests and earned the privilege of wearing the Corps’ distinctive, instantly recognizable emblem—the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor—and right to be addressed “MARINE,” today is special—it is each and every year. It is a time, formally established by Marine Corps Order, to pause and reflect on a rich, distinguished history—a history forever etched—with sweat, blood, and tears—in the annals of United States and world history. Today is a time for Marines to pause and reflect, to pass along tradition, to celebrate, and to respectfully pay homage to Marines of yesteryear and today—many who have paid the ultimate sacrifice during dangerous training and on battlefields, in God forsaken places around the globe, so that we may live free. There is a kinship among all who have worn and presently wear the cloth of our country. But there is a deep sense of brotherhood—beyond the grasp of words—amongst Marines. A brotherhood that is forged through first overcoming the right of passage—Officer Candidates School (OCS) and Recruit Training—and then conquering any and all challenges thereafter. Not all that test the initial ‘right of passage’ complete the journey. Everyone cannot be a Marine.
Every Marine has tales to tell about fellow Marines and their time in the Corps. I’d like to reflect and share a brief tale of one Marine (then Candidate) who endured the ‘right of passage’—OCS—with me. His name was Warren Wise—a southern California surfer who reported to OCS (Quantico, VA) with a head full of thick, wavy, shoulder-length hair. Warren was at least 6’4”—his lanky, muscular frame made him appear even taller. As fate would have it, he was assigned to the bunk next to mine in the squadbay—(the Corps is very creative when it comes to organizing—everything is done alphabetically—by height). Our platoon had not been in the squadbay more than a couple of hours when the Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Cooke, made his presence known. Warren’s appearance was an obvious target and consequently he was first to catch the eye and wrath of Gunnery Sergeant Cooke. The seven or eight inch height difference was irrelevant—looking up at Warren, Gunnery Sergeant Cooke wanted to know ‘why in the hell he was here—in his Marine Corps?’ To which Warren unflappably replied, “Dude, I’m going to fly helicopters.” Can you imagine? The gall of this guy…who does he think he is? And, does he have any idea who he’s talking to? That was day one—the early hours of day one—of a 10-week endurance test of continuous screening and evaluation to see just who had the mettle to become a second lieutenant of Marines. Well, I think everything possible and then some was thrown at Warren during the weeks ahead but he passed the test. Warren did go on to earn his wings of gold and fly helicopters. I heard more than once that Warren was an exceptional pilot—he was the guy to have the stick during tough, dangerous flights. He was also a very frank person and, at times, rather vocal when things were amiss. Bashful would not be a word to describe Warren. He was intolerant of nonsense. If you were fouled up, rest assured Warren would tell you. But Warren was extremely loyal and you’d want him on your side in a fight. He completed his obligated six years of service and left the Corps to pursue other dreams—flying commercial aircraft—he flew the big jets for U.S. Air. Through the years Warren and I remained friends—keeping in touch once or twice a year with letters, post cards, or impromptu visits—in 1995 he showed up unannounced at our doorstep one Sunday morning—a surprise and welcome visitor. My wife had never met Warren but when she answered the door there was this tall, Marine-looking guy holding a motorcycle helmet who fit my descriptions to a tee. She said, “You must be Warren, welcome.” Who else could it have been? As Warren was a bachelor—a free spirit who regularly traveled to exotic places when not in the cockpit—it was not unusual to not hear from him for six, seven, or eight months at a time—sometimes longer. Then one year, 2002, I realized I had not heard from him in a while and decided it was probably my turn to initiate contact. Ironically, a few days later and before I had made a contact attempt, I arrived home from work to a blinking light on the answering machine. The voice was that of a strange female who identified herself as Susan, a friend of Warren Wise, and asked that I return her call. Sensing an uncomfortable tone in her voice, I phoned immediately. Susan’s news was not good—Warren, my friend for 22 years and only in his late 40s—had recently died of stomach cancer. Susan concluded the call by saying she and Warren had married shortly after his diagnosis. His death was difficult to comprehend. He had been sick for months and did not want his friends to know or see what cancer had done to him. I can only guess that calling friends was too painful for him. I regret, as I know many of his friends do, not having the chance to say goodbye to him—a fellow Marine. I miss Warren Wise.
About 25 years ago, a short four and half minute film was made about the Marine Corps. “Such As Regiments Hand Down Forever” captures the essence of what it means to be Marine. This vignette presents a sobering tribute to a Corps of Marines that should cause all in our land to stand in awe and admiration—if only for a respectful moment. I have included the link for the video; please take a moment to watch. I bet you will watch more than once. The footage, the haunting music, and the narration make for a message that will moisten your eyes, put a lump in your throat, make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, swell the heart, tingle the spine, and cause pause, more than once, to catch your breath. If this clip does not trigger at least one of these involuntary biological responses, first check your pulse—if detected, seek professional help—immediately.
Finally, bear in mind that at this very moment, United States Marines (Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen)—asking for nothing more than support from their citizenry—are forward deployed, globally, and in very dangerous places so that we may go about our lives in relative safety and peace. If you know anyone who has well and faithfully served Corps and country, reach out today and extend a sincere, heartfelt “Happy Birthday, Marine.” Such a thoughtful gesture will be appreciated—I guarantee it. Semper Fidelis.