08 June 2012


by Andy Weddington
Friday, 08 June 2012

"To observe a Marine is inspirational. To be a Marine is exceptional." attributed to Gunnery Sergeant Charles F. Wolf, Jr., USMC

Tuesday past was primary day in California, and I did my civic duty--while clad in a polo shirt emblazoned with our Corps eagle, globe and anchor. That attire was no coincidence. The below photograph an inspiration after being decorated for service to country. Thank you iPhone4s.

The polling station was quiet--a couple of voters ahead of me and one or two trickled in behind. Four ladies, well my senior, ran a smooth, orderly operation. There was no party loyalists, activists, obstructionists, occupiers, nor New Black Panthers on site. Good decision on their part. A fight, though not expected nor desired, would have made for an invigorating, interesting morning.

If a Marine in good standing was running, I voted for them. Regrettably, the race for one office had two Marines competing and only one vote permitted; a tragedy.

There was also a couple of propositions on the ballot--one about term limits and the other taxing cigarettes. Despite annoying, exhausting efforts by politicians and special interest groups to confuse voters, and they tried their darnedest, votes easy.


That evening, while reading a history book about the Korean War and with the television volume low to keep tabs on Wisconsin's governor recall vote, the phone rang. As evenings during the past few weeks have been routinely interrupted by political robo calls, I'd decided not to answer but caught glimpse of caller ID--it was a retired Marine friend so I picked up.

Caller: "Andy, colonel, hey I'm having dinner with some friends at the moment and am being interviewed by their son who's working on a school project. He asked a question and just to confirm what I told him I'm going to ask you the same question and put you on speaker...'When talking about a Marine combat unit, whether fireteam, squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, division, what's their mission?'"

Without hesitation: "To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat."

Before finishing that mission statement, imprinted on the brain more than 32 years ago, I could hear my friend laughing and others laughing in the background and what sounded like the boy's father, "You Marines, you're all alike." 

Yes, we are.

A couple of hours later the phone rang, again--my friend following up after his dinner engagement and interview.

Turns out the young man who interviewed him is completing 7th or 8th grade. A few months ago my friend took this lad to a minor league baseball game. While taking their seats my friend spotted an older gentleman, a handful of rows up, wearing a USMC ball cap. He caught his attention and offered a robust, "Semper Fi, Mac!" and waved. And the greeting was returned in kind. Impressed, the boy asked my friend, "Do you speak to every Marine you see?" "Pretty much," the answer. And so the boy was intrigued--enough so that he decided to do his school project about Marines.

The interviewer first asked how long my friend served on active duty. Twenty-one years. Well, what did you do? The reply, "I was an infantryman and pretty much the same thing--just at different levels." And that's when my friend explained that whether serving at the fireteam, squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, division, or whatever level, and in whatever job, your mission, in some form or another, is to 'locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat.'

Noticing a look of suspicion on the boy's face (and his parents), he said, "Okay, wait, I'll call a good buddy who's a retired colonel and we'll see what he has to say." And so came his call, the question, my answer, and the suspicious became believers. And, as my friend said he told his hosts following our call, "Any Marine worth his salt will tell you the same thing."

Yes, they will.

The boy asked about pay. And was told, "Well, you don't serve in the military, especially the Marine Corps, for the money. You're not going to get rich." During our post-dinner call we figured as new second lieutenants we netted somewhere around $800.00 a month. Of course in those days, as young bachelor Marine infantry officers and living the dream, we thought it practically absurd to be paid for having so much fun. And agreed it was almost embarrassing to collect a check twice a month. But we graciously accepted the money, anyway.

And there were the typical questions you'd expect a youngster to ask--out of curiosity and to satisfy the school work. I don't know the answers but have a good idea.

So, are all Marines alike?

Pretty much.


Because only three plots of earth, hallowed ground each, in the world today stake claim to making U. S. Marines--Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina; Recruit Depot, San Diego, California; and Officer Candidates School, Quantico, Virginia.

Though recruit training and officer candidate "training" (actually screening and evaluating) differ significantly, both time-tested rituals are intentionally designed to be physically and mentally challenging and stressful--requiring continuous extraordinary individual effort but always with deference to teamwork--with an end state of imbuing that intangible but unmistakable Marine spirit in all who earn our emblem and title.

And, from that framework, the ever-challenging demands of service--whether in the operating forces or supporting establishment--and accomplishing mission(s) as part of a team seasons Marines.

It's as simple as that.

And as absolutely bewildering as that to outsiders--including those who serve in our sister services.

Marines are different. Everybody knows it. And now another young teenage boy knows it.

As to that ball park greeting between Marines...

There is no 'generation gap' between Marines. For that goes to ethos--lifeblood of our Corps; where our motto, 'Semper Fidelis' and its nick 'Semper Fi', is far more than a professional code of conduct--it's a way of life. And, it's the traditional greeting between brothers.

Do I speak to every Marine I see?

Pretty much.

Post Script

Like I said, there is no 'generation gap' between Marines. Memorial Day 2012--so binds our eagle, globe, and anchor.

Corporal Dolley, USMC (Afghanistan) 
Private First Class Matthews, USMC (Iwo Jima)
(Photo, as posted on Facebook, courtesy of Tom C.--Marine.)

1 comment:

Ken said...

While sitting in class at the Navy War College in the fall 1990, we were in the middle of a class discusion when an Army major turned to me and more exclaimed than asked: "Why do you Marines think you can do everything?!?" I smiled at him and pretty much recounted what you wrote here, Andy.

Excellent commentary.