Last summer I visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. It is an impressive and moving tribute to the U.S. Marines, focusing especially on WWII to the present War on Terror. There was an even a section which chronicled the transformation of young recruits to Marines who embody the virtues of “honor, courage, and commitment.” David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times has written a piece titled, “From Boys to Marines.” The article is one in a series of articles about three teenagers and their wartime enlistment in the Marines.
In a culture which glorifies the adolescent, with media spots and television shows depicting men as simpletons and children, the Marines call attention to an entirely different value. In many cases, the War on Terror has been described as a war that is led by squad and platoon leaders. On the battlefield, Marines in their late teens and early twenties have to make life and death decisions, immediately affecting the future of the men and women around them.
The rigors of Marine boot camp, and The Crucible certainly transform the courage and character of an individual. My brother who is a Marine combat veteran of Iraq, emphasized the maturity and sacrifice of combat veterans with an analogy. In a recent conversation he said, “Somebody at work came up to me and said, son, you don’t know nothing about hard times.” Sometimes in the South, “son” can be used to talk down to somebody. My brother, who works in a lumberyard, responded to this customer’s remark with a miniature harangue.
One of the things I noticed about all Marines, is they all know the history of their fighting force. Marines easily rattle off names like Chesty Puller, Smedley Butler, Pappy Boyington, and Archibald Henderson. To many people the names ring hollow, but to Marines they are the very definition of icons. They are good heroes to emulate, especially when contrasted with many figures who are lifted up in today’s culture.
The new Marines chronicled in the Los Angeles Times article were described by their drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hibbs, who said, “I could tell right off they were good citizens, good people, good guys with good strong families, strong work ethics. Honor, courage, commitment – they already had it. It just has a new meaning to them now.”
Sunday is Veterans Day, a national holiday which honors the military veterans in our nation. My father was an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force. At his retirement ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, he paid tribute to the men of the Eighth Air Force, who won the air war over Europe in World War II. The Mighty Eighth suffered horrific casualties, and played a critical part in liberating the continent from fascism. It was a not so subtle reminder to remember those who have sacrificed so much, and also a subtle reminder that it’s very classy to put the focus on others on your own day of tribute.
When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, one of the rewards of the job was helping veterans with military casework. I was also able to meet many of the Marine veterans from battles such as Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa, the “frozen” Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sahn. They are the men who helped spread the light and flame of freedom across the world. Today, this elite class of warriors remain dedicated to the courage and principles that made our country free. All the Marines I know are familiar with Ronald Reagan’s words, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”