by Andy Weddington
Friday, 30 October 2015
"I've always been proud of being a Marine. I won't hesitate to defend the Corps." Jonathan Winters - Marine
An interesting week - a Marine week - it's been. Unplanned. Our birthday is coming up - 10 November - maybe that's why. God knows.
Tuesday morning an unexpected email arrived from a Marine. Family. He's growing up, has a family, is thinking about things kids don't think about. An infantryman no longer on active duty he wrote to give me an update on current events. More so he wrote to thank me for steering a listless kid toward the Marine Corps. It changed his life. He remembered (my) brief but directs words to him straight into the eyes more than a decade ago - that still resonate. I remember, too. Still he has no idea how much more being a Marine will impact his life - and his children. In due time.
After reading his note I thought back to family day - the day before his graduation - at Parris Island. My parents, other family, and my Marine brother sat and visited with him for about 30 minutes. He was in the Service Charlie uniform. Trim, tanned, muscled, fit. He looked like a new man. I saw exactly what I expected to see. He spoke directly. Looked everyone in the eye. Respectful (militarily so even though I was his uncle). Confident. And there was that wonderful aura of Marine pride.
When he departed to return to his platoon, my dad (not a Marine) remarked, "Andy, what a difference. Did you notice that chip on his shoulder was gone?" "Dad," I said, "I would have been gravely disappointed if seeing anything other than exactly that Marine. As for that shoulder chip, the welcoming DIs took care of that the moment he stepped off the bus - there was a big pile of them." Dad, an Air Force veteran, smiled - a proud father of two Marines and grandfather of a Marine.
Wednesday noon I joined about dozen old friends and co-workers for lunch - most not seen since last duty days aboard the Combat Center nearly 10 years ago.
Across the table sat the mother of a Marine. A staff sergeant. A helicopter crew chief. Now currently assigned to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, he is a Marine maker - an 8511 - a drill instructor - a DI. So is her daughter-in-law. Proud mom!
Earlier that same morning an email alerted that a Marine friend was in a nearby continuing care center following surgery to repair a shattered hip. After lunch, I went to visit.
Approaching his room number there was a small figure draped in a blanket seated in a wheel chair. That head - that was slightly tilted forward as if dozing - familiar. Passing and turning about and stooping to confirm, he was awake - eyes perked up and mouth broke into smile recognizing a familiar face.
We chatted for 20 minutes or so - about his health and, of course, about Marines. He was disappointed recovery would preempt attending the Birthday Ball - first one missed since enlisting. And then a nurse came to tend to the business for which he was there. I excused myself and promised to return in a day or so. That will happen later today.
An artilleryman, he fought in three wars. The most brutal combat being on sundry now famous inlands in the South Pacific during World War II. I don't recall if he is a Marine maker proper (8511) or not. But he, a sergeant major, trained many a Marine. And still does - young Marines with mouths agape awe, senior Marines with mouths purposely closed and listening.
Last evening, upon walking in the door after a short walk, I could not grab the ringing phone - hands full so the answering machine handled. The voice and name not familiar but they were looking for me.
I returned the call within 15 minutes. The caller answered. I asked how I could help. He told me his son-in-law is a Marine - a gunnery sergeant later commissioned and soon to pin on gold oak leafs.
This Marine had a couple of tours aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego - first a Marine maker - a DI - and later a series and company commander.
The proud father-in-law, a Marine, asked about acquiring an inscribed copy of the book 'Making Marines' I'd written. "Yes sir, that can be done." We talked briefly about that book but longer still about Marines; who's being made into Marines these days; politics; and concerns thereof to him, his son-in-law, me, and many other Marines.
Serendipitously in yesterday's mail arrived a DVD celebrating the 100 years anniversary of Parris Island being in the hands of the Marine Corps and a place for Marine making - sent by a Marine friend for nearly as many years as we've been Marines. Soon there will be time to watch.
And to cap the evening an admiral friend, Navy, forwarded a Youtube about Parris Island made a few years ago I'd not seen before. I watched. The opening caught my attention - for close-in shots of the iconic sign at the gate (that greeted some six decades of recruits) that was necessarily moved but senselessly destroyed some 15 years ago and a general since has yet to accept it as duty to restore history and tradition. The history of the depot I knew. The presentation, of course, focused on Marine makers - DIs.
Typically in the evenings, I read. Last night that did not happen. Instead I sat quietly without distraction and reflected on three years - series officer and company commander and ops officer - in 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Parris Island.
What a privilege to lead Marine makers - DIs - men who did a job I don't think I could have done.
To witness what those remarkable men did day in and day out throughout non-stop (save 8 hours for recruit rest and sleep) 24 hour days during a three months long training cycle making Marines is still an experience beyond mere words. Those years (and three following as an MOI) remain the most important to me - for the contribution to the Marine Corps and the personal impact that strengthens still (and ever will).
And then I thought about the beginning - a Marine maker (8511) and another staff non-commissioned officer who made me into a Marine.
Gunnery Sergeant Cooke, OCS platoon sergeant, wore a black belt but not the distinctive campaign hat worn by DIs. He did not need the intimidating cover and its visual authority. In earlier days he was a Marine maker. But now he was making Marines who would lead Marines including Marine makers. He led. Calm. Demanding. Fair. Physically fit. Exemplary in everything - all the time.
He retired a chief warrant officer 4. But (to me) he will always be Gunnery Sergeant Cooke - Marine maker. Staff Sergeant Hardison, too.
Which brings me to closing last evening's telephone chat.
To finish on a note of optimism, I passed along three words offered me when assigned to the recruit training regiment at Parris Island some 32+ years ago.
Those wise words came from a Marine - who knew a little something about being a recruit; drill instructor; officer candidate; Marine Officer Instructor (MOI); leader in combat; commanding general of a recruit depot (Parris Island); and commandant.
I said to that gent, "I understand frustrating and challenging times. So, in the words of General Robert H. Barrow, USMC, 'Keep the faith!'"
He replied, "That's what my neighbor, an old Marine who lost a limb in combat, said. I feel better hearing it again from another Marine. Will you add those words to my son-in-law's inscription?"
"Yes, sir. Happy to."
Marines - we're more alike than not.
And to that unique, treasured, and respected commonality gratitude goes to the...
So much to say. But no words to say it.
It's been some week.
My god, life if not for being a Marine? I cannot imagine. And thankful I don't have to.
Marines: 1) Active Duty; 2) Reserve; 3) Retired; 4) Not in a duty status; 5) Dead.
Never "ex", never "former."
"Once a Marine, always a Marine." - poster nor bumper sticker ditty it's not.