Today is November 10, 2015. The 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. And I have something to get off of my chest.
Once, a long time ago, I disliked the United States Marine Corps. I mean, I really didn’t like Marines at all. My disdain had nothing to do with being a liberal punk-ass kid or a dislike of the military. In fact, I’d been actively recruited by various branches of the military after I made the huge mistake of absolutely crushing the ASVAB test. I considered the Navy for a while, as my pops had enlisted back in the day before receiving a medical discharge. I ended up going to college and never joined up with the armed forces of this or any other country. So, right away, my dislike had nothing to do with my peacenik, pussy-ass Democrat leanings.
No, it was more the Marines themselves. Specifically, the guys that I knew from my small hometown of Mount Vernon, Indiana. Guys who you either didn’t ever pay attention to in high school or the ones that got the wrong attention, being bullied by the meathead jocks and made to feel inferior. (Hey, it was high school. If you’re one of the lucky ones who never got bullied or made fun of, congrats. Savor that shit.) Some of these kids, though, went off to places like Parris Island, and they came back hard. Too hard. I mean, I get it: you used to get beaten up. Now you can kill a man with your bare hands before he has a chance to even flick his cigarette. Good for you. The problem was that some of these guys didn’t wield their new powers with class or grace. They were every bad supervillain from the comics. “Remember me? Remember stuffing me into that locker? Remember all those wedgies?! Do you? DO YOU?! NOW YOU WILL TASTE TRUE POWER! “ They were living out the fantasies of the victim. “One day I’ll learn karate and teach you all a lesson.” (Although as I type this, it occurs to me that maybe if more kids enlisted, we’d have fewer Columbines.)
Those guys. Those guys sucked. Those guys became the thing they hated. Those guys, with their ridiculous high and tight haircuts. Those guys would get into deliberate fights just to prove how tough they were, how less-weak, all thanks to the miracle of the USMC. Those guys are the reason why I was prejudiced against jarheads.
But then something happened. My wife and I moved to New Bern, North Carolina in 2001. We got down there literally the week after 9/11 to start a new life. Holy shit, was that scary. New Bern happens to be about twenty or so minutes up the road from Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, and about forty or so minutes from both New River MCAS and Camp Lejeune. We were right in the middle of Marine Country as it was ramping up to full deployment mode. It was nuts, especially to a lifelong civilian from the Midwest. I must also admit that the atmosphere was fairly exciting. You just haven’t lived until you’ve found yourself at the Taco Bell drive-through in Havelock, NC trying to shout your chalupas order over the deafening roar of the Harrier hovering in mid-air half a mile away.
During that time, I started making friends with various folks, either through my work in radio or socially though roller hockey and surfing. And I was shocked…SHOCKED! to discover that many of these folks were actual active-duty Marines. And they were…well, they were awesome. Hell, even the retired (de-commissioned is a better word, as they were always going to be Marines) USMC guys at work were amazing. Funny, smart, confident, disciplined. I was welcomed into some of their circles, playing roller hockey outdoors aboard MCAS New River while Cobras and Ospreys flew overhead. Spending Thanksgivings aboard MCAS Cherry Point. Attending Carolina Hurricane games in Raleigh and minor league baseball in Kinston. Eating at Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning after a night of boozing it up. Kegstands at a party at the off-base civilian lodgings of some young Marines. (They pooled their housing allowance for a two-room apartment to save the rest for video games, stereos, and yes, beer.) I made some lifelong friends during my time in NC, and it’s safe to say that at least half of them were/are Marines.
I’ve learned some things. The first is that it is absolutely ludicrous to base your judgment of any group on the behavior of a select few. I’m frankly embarrassed by the prejudicial views of my youth. I was no better than the racist who points at the TV any time a black man is shown in cuffs and hisses “Goddam blacks. Fuckin’ let ‘em kill each other.” Or another recent example, where I called someone out on Facebook for asserting that all Muslims are terrorists that hate Christianity. I asked him how many actual Muslims he knew. His reply? “I don’t need to know any, because I can see what they do with my own eyes.” I shake my head at this type of idiot. I would shake my head at my own ignorant, adolescent stupidity.
That being said, here’s another generalization. Hockey people and Marines are the groups that I’ve encountered that have the highest percentage of all-around superiority. True greatness. Stout hearts, loyalty, courage, generosity, compassion, strength, intelligence…all of it. Sure, there are going to be turds in any subset. I know some hockey guys that have failed humanity again and again. But most of them are stand-up men and women. Same thing for Marines. There will always be that asshole wearing his cover out of uniform in the hopes that a civilian will ask “were you in the Marines?” But there will also be a staff sergeant in civilian clothes asking the stranger, a woman at her wits’ end with two screaming kids and a flat tire, where she keeps her jack as he strips off his blazer and opens the trunk.
I guess this was all my way of apologizing. Of saying “Sorry, Marines, that I ever doubted you.” I will never again. Thank you for your service, Devil Dogs. And Happy Birthday. Semper Fi. Oo-rah.
That is all. Carry on.