1775-2015 – 240 Years Young

 

 


Today is the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

Some people, looking at this, will likely think, “Why is he celebrating that?” If you don’t know me, and you’re asking that question, then you deserve to know. If you do know me and you’re asking that question, then slap yourself in the head with the palm of your hand, because you should already know why I am writing about this.

For those of you who don’t know, I served in the Marine Corps from June of 1980 until June of 1984, and again as a Marine Reservist from August of 1985 to October of 1989. I was a musician, a bandsman. A trumpet player, MOS 5541. As a Reservist, I served with the Infantry as a rifleman, an Infantry platoon sergeant, and as a communications technician and team chief. It was a great time in my life for a number of reasons. Not only did I get to do something I liked quite a lot and that I recently realized how much I miss doing it, but I learned quite a bit.

I grew up. I learned how to be an adult. I developed character. And I had some great role models. People like Clyde Croswell, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who I had the privilege of serving with twice and working for when I was stationed on Okinawa. Or Elaine and Bob Gooding, both musicians that I got to know and become friends with when I was with the band at Quantico, Virginia. Another Quantico Marine musician I had a great deal of respect and regard for was James “Pete” Snyder; he was the drum major while I was there. A Marine’s Marine. Always looked out for his people. And he made sure we did our job to the best of our ability every time we went out, whether it was to do morning colors or a change of command, or to the rifle range on the outskirts of Camp Barrett to qualify. Or Master Gunnery Sergeant William Mike; he was the Bandmaster of the Second Marine Division Band at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. A man who knew how to set an incredible example. I saw a photo of him recently; he is now in his mid-70’s and he still looks like he could run the kids into the ground.

Probably one of the people I have the highest regard for is a man named Hank Donigan. He is a retired Marine Colonel that I have known for most of the past 35 years. When I first encountered him, Hank was a First Lieutenant. He was the series officer of the recruit series I was assigned to in June of 1980. I was a member of Platoon 2048, Foxtrot Company, Second Recruit Training Battalion.

It is amazing what we remember years later, isn’t it?

In any case, Hank was the first officer I encountered. He was 25 years old to my 18 – I thought he was old. But I also was impressed with the way he carried himself. He had a quality that I couldn’t describe at the time, but I know it now: he had bearing. And he had presence. Plus, he knew how to lead. That was something I discovered, sort of instinctively. Between him and the three Drill Instructors that were responsible for forming me and the 70 other young men that were in my recruit platoon – SSgt Bjelko (killed in a helicopter crash in 1984 in S. Korea – RIP), SSgt Britton (one memory I have of him is that he told my battle buddy that he should have his face dipped in batter and made into Gorilla Cookies….), and SSgt Lomax (retired as a Marine Gunner – last I knew was on the range staff at 29 Palms) – they molded us into Marines. And I think they did a decent job, if how I turned out has anything to do with that.

Years later, I am still in touch with Hank. He has children that are the same age as mine. He runs marathons. And he is still a good, cherished friend who I still look up to. He lives out on the west coast (not too far from Camp Pendleton, CA, in fact), and if I have an opportunity to go out there again any time soon, I will make it a point to contact him first so that I can buy him a beer. Should he find his way out here (originally he grew up in Bedford, MA, two towns away from where I grew up), I will do the same. It is the least I can do.

In any case, I felt it was worth sharing some of my memories of serving in our beloved Corps. It is something I keep with me every day, and from time to time it is worth letting out and putting on display.

From me to you – Happy Birthday. And Semper Fidelis.

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