In early September my wife and I drove to San Diego to attend and participate in a friend’s retirement from the military. Steve is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, starting out as an enlisted man in 1971. Over the years he acquired his college degree and was accepted into the Marine officer program. Later he earned a Ph.D. He accomplished a lot during those forty-one years.
The location for the retirement ceremony was the courtyard of the museum at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful time to reconnect with Marine officers I’ve served with over the years. I’ve been retired from the military for four years, so I am, for all intents and purposes, out of the loop. On this august occasion I was honored to be asked to offer the Invocation.
I went to MCRD in October of 1969 as a Marine recruit to begin boot camp training. The Marine Corps has been training Marines at this base since 1919. The memories of such an experience never leave you. There’s probably not one day that goes by for all former enlisted Marines that something doesn’t cause you to harken back to those days in boot camp. The image of a Drill Instructor (DI) with the tell-tale “Smokey” (because it looks like the hat Smokey Bear wears, but is officially known as the WWI campaign hat), still causes me to wonder if I’ve done something wrong. It was 1984 before I ever returned to MCRD after graduating from boot camp. When I returned, I was a commissioned officer, serving as a Navy chaplain. As such I was senior to all DIs on the base, but it didn’t matter! You never quite get over the intimidation these folks placed on you!
On the way down to San Diego we stopped at Camp Pendleton where I was first stationed as a chaplain in 1984. I needed a haircut, so we stopped by Mainside to have “my ears lowered.” I now looked military again with a close-cropped “high-and-tight.”
Once on base at MCRD Isaura and I checked into the Transient Officers Quarters. It is located on a small bay with perfectly manicured grass, colorful flowers, and swaying palm trees. Our room was spacious and comfortable. Even though I retired as a Navy captain (meaning the only ones senior to me are admirals and generals), you still get a twinge while coming on the base where DIs ruled your life for a few months. Isaura commented on how beautiful it was. I reminded her that as a recruit I never saw this part of the base!
During boot camp training you run everywhere. So, before Isaura and I left for home I decided to go for a run on the base. I ran up toward headquarters, then around to the building where the Marine Corps Band is located. This leads out to the Parade Deck, a place where we marched as recruits in formation endlessly. I stopped to take in the view of this magnificent rectangular area, with a huge American flag (called the Holiday Flag) on the far side of the parade deck centered for various ceremonies. It fluttered beautifully in the ever-present breeze which comes in from the San Diego Bay. This being a Sunday morning there were no platoons of recruits marching in formation where they learn the finer points of “close-order drill.” But Sunday afternoon? They’d be back out there. There is a reason why Marines know how to march!
I wasn’t quite ready to leave this scene, so I looked over to my left and marveled at the architectural structure of the commanding general’s office building, all part of the base’s Spanish Revival Style (circa 1920) used throughout the base. But none of us going through boot camp will ever forget the mustard-yellow color of all of these buildings!
Starting up my run again I swung a loop around the end of the parade deck where the parking lot is and headed for the alcoved entrance separating the general’s office from the base chapel. A number of recruits in their first week were heading back to their barracks after church services. The reason I knew they were in their first week is because they had there pant legs hanging straight down instead of “bloused,” and they were wearing tennis shoes. Dressed in this way makes you feel like a real dork. And you cannot wait until you are given permission to wear your combat boots so you can then blouse your trousers. It may not seem like a big deal, but trust me: It is! You want to at least look like a Marine. And all the while you’re striving to prove you are worthy of being called a Marine.
I continued my run until I arrived back at our room. I truly enjoyed those moments of reflection, and particularly the run itself. Don’t get me wrong – I do not, nor have I ever, enjoyed running. But this was different. This time I went for a run because I wanted to – not because I had to.
Semper Fi! Oorah!