There was a time many years ago when I was a civilian.
I had aspired to the military most of my childhood. Hell, all of my life what I loved most was running around the woods near my house, shooting, hiking up the tall hills that surrounded me, sneaking around the bush, assaulting imaginary objectives, saving the world and just being out in the wilderness.
My mom had a large cowbell she hung by the front door of my house and would ring when it was time to eat, and home I would run, starving after the days activities. I had been out all day long and that was how she corralled me back to the house.
Of course that was a different time and place and a parent could let their child run amok in the outdoors and not fear the worst.
I would continually hound my father for war stories or pictures of him when he served. I think he had one photograph of himself in uniform which I treasured and that still to this day, hangs on the wall of my home. I think my Dad just didn’t care to talk much about his experiences for whatever reason. I would later learn after he passed away that he had been decorated for valor.
From time to time I would go visit my Mom’s family in Michigan, and there I would sit in my Uncle Bill’s basement looking at all of the things he brought back with him from Guadalcanal and the Philippines, paging through his scrapbook, absolutely enamored.
My brothers would come to visit us once in a while and see me, a ten-year old kid, fully kitted up in whatever boots, cartridge belts, helmets and weapons I could find. They would look at me in disbelief and refer to me as the storm trooper. Even at that young age I may have frightened them.
I think I still do.
Since I was a child, I have had the greatest respect for strength, heroics and selfless dedication, I am proud to say that I could sing the words to the Star Spangled Banner when I was still just a pup (my Mom made sure to teach me). I grew up saying the pledge of allegiance each day before the school day started, and I went to church and Sunday school for quite some time. My own mother taught summer vacation bible school when I was a kid and I had a fantastic time.
I learned tremendous respect for the greatest generation that brought the nation through World War 2, and admiration for the deep intestinal fortitude of the men who braved the brutal Korean winter and fought back the hordes of North Koreans and Chinese. As a child I stared at the young men who were friends or family who went to Viet Nam or came back home … or didn’t. I knew exactly who FDR, Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler and Hideki Tojo were even though they lived many years before I was even born.
I didn’t realize it at the time but my Mom and Dad quietly infused me with these values, and this may seem paradoxical in the political environment of today, but my folks were very liberal. There was much distrust and dissent toward the government when I was a child and my parents often voiced their opinions. Liberal yet still deeply patriotic. It’s the same bolt of cloth from which my existence was cut. Service is in my DNA.
Years later, I was in college, working, and with a family, and a man named Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait. The country was quite agitated over his decision to do so.
I spoke to my father on the phone about it soon after, and what he told me would change my life. He said the whole thing reminded him of a tyrant named Adolph Hitler. Here was my Dad, who, although he had fought and distinguished himself, who hated war, but suddenly sounded so serious and with so much conviction and also a little sad.
That was it for me. As much as I hated leaving my wife and babies, all of a sudden everything seemed to make sense. It was time to suit up, and that is exactly what I did.
I tested relatively high on my ASVAB and qualified for a lot of different programs the Corps offered, but there was only one thing I wanted and that was to be a rifleman in the United States Marine Corps and to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them.
This was not something I was prepared to discuss with anyone. My wife still makes it a point to remind me of this quite often.
My career in the Marine Corps has taken me many places, not all of it pleasant or good. There have been many casualties and more than a few brothers KIA. But I regret none of it and I never will. It has absolutely defined who I am and ever wanted to be.
The Marines I have had the grand fortune to come in contact with over the years, the crap talking, over bearing, I am right and you are wrong, judgmental, foul-mouthed, drunk more often than not, big-hearted, lovers of small animals, children, old folks, Christmas, cold beer and pretty girls, who would happily put you in the ground if you dare to threaten our country or even try to harm somebody unable to protect themselves, are by far the best humans I have come to know. if you find yourself injured, alone, surrounded, out of ammunition, water and food and staring your maker straight in the face, your brothers will kill everything they can see to get to your side and risk getting themselves killed getting you out of there. I have seen it time and time again.