Some things are worth preserving

The 1-year-old Fayette-Coweta Clyde Thomason chapter of the Marine Corps League held its first Marine Corps birthday event in Sharpsburg, Ga., Saturday, Nov. 7, and with 40 Marines and spouses in attendance, it was a very successful first effort.

Surprisingly, the event led me to re-discover that there is strength in tradition in this world of instant gratification, cyber-speed activities and fleeting values. The Marine Corps birthday is one of those traditions.

The Marine Corps birthday on Nov. 10, 1775, is a date that every Marine knows and reveres, whether their background is officer or enlisted, one-tour or a 40-year retiree. From the first day of boot camp or officer candidate school, every Marine is taught that they are Marines first and foremost and that a lifelong loyalty to fellow Marines is an uncompromising duty and a privilege.

This ethos was clearly depicted at the gathering here Nov. 7th. Of the Marines present, none was active duty, but once a Marine, always a Marine. The youngest Marine present just tipped 40; the oldest served in WWII.

The youngest and oldest present is important at a Marine Corps birthday celebration. When it comes time to cut the cake, the oldest is given the first piece and presents it to the youngest to represent the passing of knowledge and tradition from one generation of Marine to the next. The second piece of cake is given to the youngest, who passes it back to the oldest to show the reverence for those who have paved the way.

Every rank from buck private to colonel was represented. One man joked he had been a corporal ... twice ... and a Private First Class ... three times. Rank is important in the Marine Corps, as in any military service. The rank structure and adherence to the rights, privileges and protocols that accompanies each ensures good order and discipline.

While ranks have meaning and importance even after leaving the Marine Corps, the default is back to having been a Marine, period.

It doesn’t really matter what job a Marine had in the Corps either. At the birthday event we had Marines who had been supply clerks, infantry men, combat correspondents, aircraft mechanics and a dozen other jobs. We even had a group of three vertical take off and landing Harrier jet aircraft pilots and their spouses who have been together since leaving the Corps.

Indeed, the Marine Corps is a belief system in and of itself that has stood the test of time since 1775. The mystique that Marines encapsulate in their motto, “Semper Fidelis,” which means Always Faithful, is a phenomenon that even Marines don’t fully understand.

If you press a Marine to explain why Marines share this lifelong kinship, they’ll generally circle around it and finally come up with something like, “It’s just a Marine thing.” Learned scholars and scribes have spent much time and many words trying to define it, but it defies explanation.

My wife, Ellen, came closer than most when she theorized, “I think what it boils down to is the basic human need to belong ... to belong to something that is larger than themselves. To know that no matter how fractured our modern world may be, Marines always know there are people out there who share this common bond.”

That’s pretty close. You always know that when the chips are down, when all else has failed, all you need to say to a fellow Marine is, “Marine, I need help,” and you have invoked a nearly sacred vow.

And it doesn’t really matter how long one spent in the Corps. One late middle-aged Marine at the birthday event who had spent one 4-year tour in the Corps early in his adult life, outlined a list of accomplishments that included multiple college degrees and several prestigious career titles. However, he said, “To this day the first thing people I know identify me to is the Marine Corps. It is still what I identify myself with first.”

Also inexplicable is the fact that this ethos extends to most Marine families as well. The pride and kinship generally rubs off as family members see and feel the bond that exists, even though they don’t totally understand it.

One of the wives at the birthday event summed it up. She said, “Since we got out of the Marine Corps we have missed the closeness and the feeling of being part of a family. It’s been a gap in our lives. Tonight it feels like we’re home again.”

So, while Nov. 10 may be just another day to some people, or just the day before Veterans Day, to Marines across the world it is a day that tugs at their very core. They may not remember their siblings’ birthdays, they may occasionally forget their spouse’s or even their own. But the Marine Corps birth date is ingrained into their brain like an irreversible tattoo.

Once a man or woman earns the right to be called Marine, it is a brand they carry with them forever, and you can’t take it away.

So to all Marines who happen to read this missive, I bid you a happy 234th Marine Corps birthday and Semper Fi ... and you know what I mean.

[Randy Gaddo is a retired Marine. Additionally, he is leisure services director for Peachtree City.]

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