Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Marine

David and I flew DFW to San Diego for our friend, Chris’ graduation from Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD San Diego). Got a hotel shuttle to the Howard Johnson’s where Shirin was staying, along with Chris’ brother George and his sister Jennifer. We went to dinner together – seafood, nice. In the morning it was raining hard, so we didn’t go to part of the outside graduation ceremony. MCRD was just a mile or so from the hotel, so it was a quick drive to the base.

My memory of MCRD is cloudy, except for exactly where I was way back then, so I didn’t have a lot of recognition – like I didn’t remember that all the buildings were painted yellow, but despite differences in utilities, the Marines looked exactly the same (more about that in a moment). One huge difference is that recruits are in barracks vs. the Quonset huts we had. The grinder (photo above) is exactly the same – a vast expanse of parade ground where countless recruits have sweated and learned. It was empty this day, wet, ghostly, cadence counted in my mind …

We walked through some buildings, some of which I remember and then we got to the yellow footprints! What fierce memories these footprints evoke!

But what affected me most on this momentous day was being among these true warriors. Everywhere I looked there were men ready to kill and die for this nation, our Corps, their comrades. They looked great – completely squared away, clear-eyed, strong, brave – warriors for the ages. It was good to see the drill instructors, too. Strong, hard, cruel – true avatars of the Warrior Spirit.

We and others were a little lost and a DI escorted us into the auditorium where the ceremony was to be held. Though he was completely polite, I knew the DI held a low opinion of us – sheep, unknowing, weak. The auditorium was the same as when I was in boot camp – where they had church services – which I liked because the seats were comfortable, no DIs and I could doze …

The recruits were sitting in the center of the auditorium, everyone with eyes straight ahead and DIs prowling the aisles. Some DIs and a couple of officers were on the stage and in the front of the auditorium. Then they cleared the stage and the company commander marched to the center of the stage and called the Marines to attention – “Prtoons, Aww-Ten-HUT!” Crash! They came to attention and the auditorium was silent. Then about 12 DIs and officers marched on to the stage and stood at attention in a V formation. They sat down, with some more or less at ease – but not the DIs, who would never be at ease in a ceremony. Colors were presented and the band played the National Anthem. There were several ceremonial actions (including asking all former Marines to stand – there were fewer than I expected) and Lt. Colonel Scott, the battalion commander spoke, and was followed by several more ceremonies (e.g., presentation of the Command to the Reviewing Officer). The band played the Marines’ Hymn, platoon guidons were retired, and the platoons were dismissed (photo above).

We went outside and eventually found Chris in the throng. He looked great – what a grand moment!

We went to the PX and Base Museum (We all went back to the hotel and then headed out to eat at a seafood restaurant. When Chris’ food arrived it was pretty funny to see the look on his face when he saw the small serving. In almost all of his letters he’s written about never having enough to eat in boot camp and here he was in an upscale restaurant looking at a huge plate with a little bit of shrimp artfully arranged in the center. In the end, though, I think he got enough to eat.

From the restaurant we walked to the Coronado bay Resort, an old-fashioned grand hotel, for coffee and dessert. One of the things that struck me about Chris during this time was the quiet dignity he showed in dealing with several civilian faux pas – and as I reflect on him, this is the way he is. But really, it was all good and day celebrating great achievement by Chris and I think we all were very happy to be with him. David was there and in addition to his other good qualities, is a good traveling companion. I had a good time talking with George and Jennifer and of course, Shirin is a good friend.

On the way home on the plane, Chris told some MCRD stories. Some pretty brutal and some cruel and most funny – to me, anyway, but maybe not to everyone. Some random and unfair things happen at boot camp. And that’s the nature of war, isn’t it – random, cruel, unfair, and the hardest thing (un)imaginable. Some recruits don’t make it and some may be broken. There is no easier, kinder or gentler way to forge the world’s elite fighting force.

One of the things we talked about on this day was that at MCRD and to a lesser extent, San Diego, it is nothing unusual to be a Marine (although, a number of people in San Diego congratulated Chris – clearly a new Marine). But once out of that small environment, being a Marine is uncommon. Chris is part of a small and distinguished group of brave men.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tet, ideas

Today we met Ron & Melinda for lunch at Bistro B, for Tet. We thought there would be big crowds, but no, and no dancing either. Last year it was seriously rockin'. In a wonderful coincidence we were sitting next to a young man who said, "Melinda?" He was one of the scouts that Ron and Melinda led, mentored, and in some cases, saved way back when in the 1980s - the "Blue Dragons" law enforcement explorers. Ron (TAC sniper & do-gooder) ran the East Dallas police storefront back then and did scout stuff. Melinda was teaching at Spence Middle School (tough place) and doing scout and ESL things. Leslie was managing contracts and volunteering huge numbers of hours with Cambodian refugees. I was teaching and starting the East Dallas Health Coalition. Those were the days. Often when we go out to eat we run into someone from those bad old, good old days.

Lunch was good and when we walked out of the restaurant we could hear the drums around the corner and there were the lion dancers in front of Hong Kong Market. So we had a great time there, too. We're into the crowds more than the dancers and of course there was a good crowd and the drums/cymbals intense and I looked across the way and saw Leslie and that made me happier and as it all came to an end the dance master gave Leslie a blessing, a little magic. And, Michael, the manager at Bistro B told me there will be a big party next Sunday - See you there!

Ideas 2008: (If I retire in May) 5/08 - 7/08 Leslie & I to HKG, BKK, Pakse or maybe Chiang Mai, BKK (meet DK) and on to Hanoi, Sapa and slow travel down through Hue, Saigon and on to Phnom Penh, back to BKK, maybe Chiang Mai, HKG, home. Pocket-Buddy. Home for a month. Then 8/15/08 - 10/08, 1-2 weeks each place, working my way southward (backpack planning page): Glacier, Wind Rivers, RMNP, and back home. Hopefully DK in for the first part, then Jeff. But we'll see - I'm committed regardless. 10/08 ... work on squaring away house. Thanksgiving Sierra Club to Big Bend and maybe BB again New Year. Of course if DK is going to be in California ... what if? John Muir Trail?! In Asia it will be hard to maintain my current level of fitness, much less ramp it up as needed for a major trek. Just grandiose wandering at the moment - part of JMT. OR, what if on east coast? Maybe walk small part of AT.

By now ... Leslie, cycling Asia fall when it's cooler, desert early spring, US more travel summer, backpacking Aug-October as long as I can.

2009: 2/09 Grand Canyon and then to Asia for a few months, slooowwwwin' it down. 8/09 - 9/09 John Muir Trail - meet Leslie in San Francisco, pretty good shower after 30 days on the trail (Oh, I've had some good showers over the years). Easing on down northern Cali - 2 days here, 10 days there OR, slow ride north - northern Cali, Oregon, Washington, BC - to Vancouver and take Air Asia to Macau ... "Come along Little Susie, come along."

What if I drop dead a day or two from now? "Oh how sad, he had so many plans ..." Nope, we're just repeating things we know are good, changes here and there, but not things undone.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Justice & Mercy

How much profanity and cursing do you think I’ve heard, what with the Corps and all!? But one time …

I was in the Parkland Psychiatric Emergency Room, in one of the little interview rooms with a woman, her daughter, her granddaughter, and one of my students. Their story was that the grandmother had learned that her husband was molesting her granddaughter – just as he had molested her daughter. “He’s not going to get away with it again, God-damn him.” The room froze – not just the people, but the air, the temperature, the everything, froze like sharp-edged ice, and then it all broke apart and I realized, with a deep chill, that the woman had just done a real and formal curse: he was already damned, but now formally and truly damned.

Another day a man having suicidal thoughts came in. Actually, every day, people with suicidal thoughts came in. I remember this man because of his story: he was going to kill himself the previous night, but didn’t because he didn’t want his children to wake to that. Then he was going to kill himself when he awoke, but he had to fix breakfast for his children, then he was going to take his children to school and come home and do it but after he dropped his children at school he drove to the Parkland ER instead, where he was cared for and released in time to pick his children up from school. Those were the days when Doug P. was Chief of Emergency Psychiatry and what a decent person and incredibly skilled psychiatrist he was.

A woman came to the clinic last week, crying, looking for help because her daughter’s teacher said in front of her daughter’s class that her daughter smelled bad. The mother wanted someone to smell her daughter and write a letter saying that she did not smell bad. I don’t know the details of how Leslie handled it, but she did handle it – involving the school, of course. And so, the woman found a place that really did help her and her daughter. Where else could she have gone?

All these people, except one, found mercy.