It has been my honor to count myself among the men and women of this storied American fighting unit.
For me it all began when my mother, in 1955, married my step father who had served as a Marine during World War Two. Like so many others after Germany and Japan were defeated and his services were no longer needed, he received his honorable discharge and moved on with his life. I was young and impressionable, without a doubt. But even at a young age I knew Pop had done something very courageous. You see, he did not have to go to war. He was married and well past the age limit. He was certainly physically fit enough, having been captain of his high school football team in Needham, Massachusetts, and then recruited to play for the University of Alabama from 1930-32, just ahead of the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Early in the war Pop tried to become a Navy pilot, but he had difficulty with depth perception. So, wanting to do his part, he offered himself to the Marines. At that time he was 31 years old. He jokingly would tell us that during boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, the other recruits, who were 17 & 18 years old, all called him “Gramps.” Little wonder then that my brother, John, and I joined the Marine Corps, each serving in Vietnam during that long and protracted war. A generation later, John’s son, Josh, would join the Corps and serve multiple tours in Iraq.
Now, some might have the mistaken impression that the Marine Corps is all we talk about when we get together. Not so. But we are each proud to have served our country as Marines. And though none of us is still serving, are uniforms still hang in the closet. John retired as a colonel with 33 years of service. Josh graduated from the Naval Academy and spent nine years in the Corps, turning down a promotion to major, choosing to return to civilian life. And I spent nine years as an enlisted Marine, attaining the rank of staff sergeant. Later I was commissioned as a Navy chaplain, retiring after 34 years of total service, many times assigned to Marine units
This past Thursday, I once again hosted the 5th Annual Marine Corps Birthday Breakfast at Spring Creek Golf & Country Club. Each year I invite a guest speaker as part of the celebration. This year I asked my friend, Colonel Al Cruz, USMC (Ret) to be our guest of honor. As part of the program, I include the Ripon High School JROTC drill units to provide a demonstration of their silent drill, under the capable direction of Lt Col Pat Dunn, U.S. Army, (Ret). We have a birthday cake which is ceremonially cut and served to the oldest and youngest Marine present.
On Friday I drove to Sacramento at the invitation of my friend, Jim Auble, a former enlisted Marine, to attend the annual Marine Corps Birthday Luncheon hosted by the members of the Sutter Club. There is much in the way of fellowship and good cheer as Marines, past and present, share around their respective tables. This is a luncheon strictly for Marines. Steak is on the menu for this event. But my favorite part of this gathering is the time allotted for each Marine to stand and give his or her name, rank, service number, and where and what years they had served. This takes a while as there are about twenty tables of eight. A birthday cake is also cut and served to the oldest and youngest Marine present.
There is one more celebration of the Corps for me, and that’s actually on the birth date of the Corps. My friend, Rick Van Unen (Recon, Vietnam), invites his Marine friends (and those who love them) to his home for a barbeque. This is a much more casual, relaxed affair, but no less significant.
Marines are warriors. They run to the sound of battle. It’s who they are. This is why the slogan, “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” rings true.
Eleanor Roosevelt had it just about right when she said this about Marines. “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”
From that statement you can see why Navy chaplains have such a challenging job when serving with Marines! But we love them!
The following is the official prayer of the Corps, entitled, THE MARINE'S PRAYER.
Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose love never fails, make me aware of Thy presence and obedient to Thy will. Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and deed and helping me to live so that I can face my fellow Marines, my loved ones and Thee without shame or fear.
Protect my family. Give me the will to do the work of a Marine and to accept my share of responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm. Grant me the courage to be proficient in my daily performance.
Keep me loyal and faithful to my superiors and to the duties my country and the Marine Corps have entrusted to me. Make me considerate of those committed to my leadership. Help me to wear my uniform with dignity, and let it remind me daily of the traditions which I must uphold.
If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith; if I am tempted, make me strong to resist; if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again.
Guide me with the light of truth and grant me wisdom by which I may understand the answer to my prayer. Amen.
Happy Birthday, Marines!