Yesterday I posted that I would be attending the Marine Corps Birthday Ball and hopefully would recharge my soul a bit, and indeed I did. Last night I was reminded of so many fundamental truths about our nation that still hold true, despite what we may interpret from the debacle on Tuesday. If you will permit I would like to share some of the highlights, some of which are personally meaningful, others more illustrative of our countrymen and the true nature of our still great nation.
To start with my wife and I stopped to get gas on the way and while I was standing by my car talking to a guy at the pump next to me I noticed a complete stranger stop to snap my picture. I was just an anonymous Marine standing next to a gas pump in his Dress Blues, but for a brief moment I guess I meant something more to her. It wouldn’t be the last picture taken by strangers that night.
Once we got to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino the people’s reaction was amazing. Walking to the ballroom dozens of people stared and smiled, and others who apparently knew what the date was, actually wished us a happy birthday. That was motivating to me, to see people step away from the slot machines to walk up and say happy birthday to us, or to say thank you. It was the beginning of restoring my faith in our countrymen.
During the cocktail hour I was standing by the ashtray smoking a cigar (at Seminole Hard Rock you can smoke anywhere there isn’t carpet, which is a large part of the facility) when a young Lance Corporal joined me. First thing I noticed was that he had a pretty pronounced limp as he walked up. The Purple Heart on his chest explained why. Turns out he was Fallujah Marine, serving with 2/8 during Al Fajr. When he mentioned he had been with 2/8 I of course told him I had been with 1/8 and 3/8. Even though our service had been 20 years apart, being in the same regiment was all the bond we needed to start the night off. We talked about how he had been out of the Corps for about six years now, being medically discharged with 90% disability, how much we both missed the Corps, how important it was to be with Marines again. He needed to recharge his soul too, probably more than I did. What he didn’t tell me, in typical Marine personal modesty, was that he was the Guest of Honor. Didn’t find out until the actual ceremony. Typical of a Marine, braggadocios about the Corps, humble about themselves. He and his lovely wife, along with a reservist Master Sergeant I know and his wife, would spend the rest of the night together.
Also while I was having a smoke a Staff Sergeant gave me a quizzical look and asked my name. Now I probably should mention that the Ball was put on by the South Florida Recruiting Station. That meant that the lowest rank, besides the Falujah Marine and myself, was a Sergeant. There were more rockers floating around than a rocking chair factory. After I introduced myself the S/Sgt. asked if I was on recruiter assistance. I had to laugh as I explained that no, I wasn’t on recruiters assistance, I had in fact been out of the Corps for about 22 years. He laughed and made a comment that I didn’t look that old. That really made my night, but it was only the beginning. I retorted that there was a shitload of young Gunny’s walking around that me feel a hell of a lot older than I looked. Later I was talking to a Sergeant Major and found out he had joined the Corps two years after I did. I made a joke about him being a boot, one that he took amazingly well. He probably just knows only too well that Lance Corporals sort of don’t give a shit when they’re a little lubricated.
The ceremony itself was as moving as always. The pageantry involved can stir you to the core of your being. But even more stirring was what happened afterwards. Once again I was smoking a cigar and drinking a beer when a young man in a suit wished me a happy birthday. He was attending the Ball as well, and even though he had only been out of the Corps for about 6 months, he felt the need to be with his brothers again the same as I did. As we were talking a Sergeant walked up and bear hugged the Marine. As I looked at him he seemed vaguely familiar to me, but seeing as how he was probably a recruiter I doubted I knew him. After he left the Marine I was talking to explained that he and the Sergeant had deployed to Iraq together with Scout Platoon 4th Tanks, my son’s unit. That was when it clicked. I asked if he knew Crumb Crunchie, which he of course did, and when I told him I was his dad he smiled ear to ear. Then it dawned on me that I did in fact know the Sergeant, except that when I had last seen him he was a Lance Corporal. He was one of Crumb’s best buddies from when he was with Scout Platoon. Now I probably should mention that Crumb transferred to a reserve unit in Tennessee last year and hasn’t seen these guys in about 18 months. We went back into the ballroom and tracked down the Sergeant. When I told him who I was he damned near broke my back he bear hugged me so hard. As I’ve told Crumb Crunchie numerous times, it’s a small Corps and the friendships you make last forever.
After the ceremony we hit the bars that are part of the casino complex and the rock-star treatment began. Everywhere we went people were thanking us or wishing us a happy birthday, or asking just to take our pictures. Some wanted to pose with us, others just wanted pictures of Marines. That was an incredible feeling, so different from my day when the only overt recognition any one gave was when a fellow vet would occasionally buy you a beer. For that I want to thank the American people who get it. These young Marines, and all service members, need that recognition. I don’t, even though it is not unappreciated personally, but these guys who are serving now need to know that their sacrifices are indeed appreciated.
A large contingent of us ended up in a meat market dance club (wonder why) where I once again was able to see Marines doing what they do best, steal women from pantywaist pseudo men. It is always motivating to see a gaggle of metrosexuals part like the Red Sea when one Marine walks up. I made eye contact with a bartender as we both watched a Sergeant totally dominate a gorgeous blonde (Oh to be young, single and on active duty again) and told him an old joke I knew. A father was talking to his young son, explaining the facts of life. “Son, one day you will meet a beautiful woman who you will fall madly in love with. That woman will be stolen away from you by a man better than you in every way. That man will be a U.S. Marine.” Not sure if he appreciated the spirit of sincere humility in which the joke was told or not.
There was a blue ball moment when I saw Major run past with a few Marines in tow. “Hot damn, a fight” I told myself and rushed after them, fantasies of reliving my youth racing through my head. But alas it was not to be. Apparently a pantywaist had stepped on a Marine’s corofram shoes, and had gotten a little froggy when asked for an apology. I guess he bowed up like he wanted to go a few rounds and was shoved back by the Marine. He and his buddies had then closed ranks, ready to jump the devil dog. Now there’s an old tradition in the Corps. In a bar fight you yell “Marines” and watch as they come pouring out of every nook and cranny. Apparently they didn’t like the odds when they saw a sea of blue and crimson and unassed the AO rikki tik. Crying shame it was.
Just before Bangie Thing and I got ready to call it a night I saddled up to the bar for one for the road. When I went to pay for my beer a Gunnery Sergeant next to me told to me put my money away, it was on him. When I protested he said “Devil dog, it’s because of you that I can be a Marine. Buying you a beer is the least I can do to say thanks.”
Got kind of dusty after that.