I guess I’m feeling a bit nostalgic this morning.
It was forty-one years ago this month that I signed on the dotted line to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. That may not seem like such a big deal, but anyone who has ever taken the step of joining any of our military forces remembers only too well that you knew that by signing your name on the dotted line that you were offering yourself up to be used by and for your country in its defense in a hostile world.
It has been correctly written that anyone who makes such a choice is, in essence, offering the government a blank check made out to the amount up to and including your life.
Such a decision, like marriage, “should not be entered into lightly or unadvisedly.” And everybody said: “Amen!”
Two weeks ago a young man from our church left for Marine Corps boot camp at MCRD San Diego. Many consider the climate and quality of life in San Diego to be the nearest thing to heaven here on earth. I would not disagree with this assessment. However, life at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) for a young man attempting to “earn the title” of Marine is not remembered for it’s balmy weather and recreational pursuits!
I remember only too well finishing boot camp and then the next day traveling by “cattle car” to San Onofre, one of the many training camps at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton. It was here that we continued our training in what was called Infantry Training Regiment (ITR). Over the years this term has morphed into several newer acronyms. Today it is called SOI which means School of Infantry. There’s an old saying in the Marine Corps: “If it moves – salute it. If it doesn’t – paint it!” That’s not far from the truth. Around any Marine training unit you will find varying rock formations, usually laid out in oversized letters to identify the training unit, or to spell some Marine Corps axiom. What I remember seeing, lo, these many years ago, were rocks painted white, spelling out for all who passed by, “God, Country, Corps.” Oorah!
This young man, Ramon Vasquez, spent a number of hours in my office soaking up as much about the Marine Corps as he could from me, particularly boot camp training. I urged him to focus on one thing from that moment on: Do not let anything get in the way of graduating from boot camp! It is only upon graduation from boot camp that you have earned the title, Marine! Anything short of that is failure. I told him that despite the fact that you’ll wake up with leg cramps in the middle of the night; you’ll frequently wish you were anywhere but there; you’ll question your sanity for ever volunteering for this abuse; you would kill for a chance to eat a home-cooked meal; you’ll wonder how you could have gone off and left your girlfriend like this (Right, Aileen?); and you might even consider telling your drill instructors and the Marine Corps to go pound sand (That would be a really bad idea!), do not quit!
Prior to his departure for this monumental change in his life, Ramon approached me and asked if I would baptize him. Would I? Of course! About a month ago now during our second service on Sunday morning it was my privilege to baptize this young man in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I also had asked him to share his testimony in trusting Christ as his Savior during our monthly men’s breakfast. What a joyful time we had amidst mounds of pancakes and sausage as Ramon opened his heart to us! On the final Sunday before he left, I invited the congregation to gather at the altar so we could lay hands on Ramon and pray for him. He will be missed for a number of reasons: his delightful personality; his gentlemanly manner; and his faithful work with our children’s program.
This last Sunday Ramon’s parents (his mother is from Mexico) passed out prayer cards so we, as a congregation, could remember to keep him in prayer. The card reads, “Please remember Ramon in prayer for the next fourteen weeks as he is off to Marine Corps boot camp. He has wanted to defend God, our Country, and Freedom as we know it, for years! May God bless you for taking time out of your day to pray for him!”
I encourage you to continually pray for all of our young men and women who make this decision to defend and protect the Constitution and our way of life.
God bless you, Ramon! You are what makes America great! God, Country, Corps!