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.


No comments: