Some months ago, a United States Marine Corps career officer of my acquaintance observed that, for a foreigner, for a civilian, and for a woman, I seem to have enjoyed the company of a quite a number of United States Marines in my life. And he’s right. (To be clear, I always call them “United States Marines” to distinguish them from the real ones. Ducks! Joke! Kidding! Please!).
I’m not quite sure how to describe my relationship with my United States Marines, but, like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” Perhaps Malvolio comes closest to expressing it in the second act of Twelfth Night, when he says about greatness that some are born to it, some achieve it, and some have it thrust upon them. I think that’s it. I wasn’t born to them, I didn’t achieve them, but absent any conscious action on my part, here they are. God knows from whence they come, but they do. And, most of the time, I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.
As is often the case, this story starts with my dad, who had enormous respect for the USMC. I have always assumed that this had something to do with his exploits during WWII, which traversed the theater from North Africa to Italy to the Middle East and beyond (what he had to say about US Army General Mark Clark, with whose troops he marched into Rome on June 5, 1944, I can’t recount here without having to redact myself severely, always a painful and rather perverse exercise). But perhaps part of Dad’s appreciation was also the USMC motto, “Semper Fidelis” which is very similar to his own regimental motto, “Loyauté M’Oblige” (“My Loyalty Binds Me”). Good old Dad. He lived that out every day of his life.
The United States Marine to whom I committed my life on July 24, 1981 is, of course, Mr. Right (pictured above). Not a career Marine. But my Marine. One who volunteered and did his bit. While in the Reserves, he attained his PhD in English Language and Linguistics, and served in a distinguished capacity as a university professor for the next several decades. We still enjoy the company and society of many of his students, and are invited to their weddings, and we celebrate the birth and christenings of their children, and are a part of their lives. As my favorite USMC career officer might say, “the world needs good university professors, and good [fill in the appropriate professional position] just as much as it needs good Marines.” I do confess, though, that less that four months after I got married, I was a bit baffled by Mr. Right’s disappearance on a particular date, with a couple of his buddies (“Flosnick” was one, can’t remember the other), for some sort of “birthday celebration.” As I recall, he didn’t exactly come home that night. Oops. That may have been the point where I began to realize that this whole “US Marine” thing was bigger than I was. And, perhaps, still is). Nevertheless, more than 37 years later, “We Persist.” Semper Fidelis.
(A couple of other things I’ve had to learn about the USMC experience, over the past forty-odd years, is that it breaks all the rules of the time-space continuum, and that the laws of physics simply don’t apply. The further one pulls away from it, the larger it looms in the rear-view mirror, and the longer one is removed from it, the more of one’s time and memory it occupies. There are days I really do believe that SGT E.J. Kritz, God rest his soul, had more of an influence on the formation of Mr. Right’s character in a few short months, than his sainted mother ever did during the course of her entire life (and she was certainly no wallflower or shrinking violet in her own right).
Once I threw in my lot with Mr. Right, I inherited his friends. And unlike me, who moved around so much in my childhood that I don’t have many friends remaining from my early life, Mr. Right is lucky enough to have maintained friendships from grade school and high school through the present day. And some of those friends are Marines.
One of them is Jim Smith (that’s actually his name, not messing. He’s one of over 31,000 ‘Jim Smiths’ in the United States today. I bet more than one of them is a Marine).
Earlier this week, Mr. Right and I had the pleasure of lunching with Jim, whose role in our family over the years has been that of a beloved brother, and a favorite uncle. As I might have anticipated (and fortunately for my own peace of mind, I did, which explains the beer) conversation soon turned to the good old days, and with that the inevitable reminiscing and one-upmanship between the “California Marine” Jim (who’d moved to Utah after high-school, and who trained at Camp Pendleton), and the “Parris Island Marine” Mr. Right (a life-long Pittsburgher). All stories I’ve heard before. Much fun was had by all. The final result, as always, was an honorable tie and we all shook hands before going our separate ways.
After I’d been introduced to Mr. Righs stable of friends early in our married life, I think the next Marine I ran across was “Steve.” Steve was brought in at a very senior administrative level of Mr. Right’s university, and so was considerably above Mr. Right in the food chain and hierarchy.
Steve seemed like a nice enough fellow. And, you know, Marine.
So, there we were, one evening, after a nice dinner, and the three of us went back to Steve’s apartment (he had just moved to Pittsburgh, and hadn’t yet bought a house). Mr. Right excused himself for a few minutes, and came back to find me circling the dining room table, trying to decide if my next move would be to stab Steve in the eye with the fork I was holding in my left hand, or whether I should just deliver a swift knee to his crotch and end the matter right there.
What happened next was that I thought, for the only time in my life, and for one glorious, halcyon moment, I was going to be treated to the sight of two men (United States Marines, yet) fighting over me. But reason prevailed, and after some strong words, we left, Steve was still alive, and Mr. Right kept his job. Win-win, I suppose. But, sigh, a missed opportunity and a bit of a disappointment, I’ve always thought.
Steve didn’t last long, and was gone from Pittsburgh, soon after. Not much missed, either, as I understand it. Oh well.
In January of 1990 I took a job in the IT department of the local community hospital and quickly found out that both my fellow managers, “Jack” and “Roger” were, you guessed it, United States Marines. (I can’t remember how I found this out, but I’ll just say there’s an element of the same sort of thing as the joke that goes, “Q: How can you tell if the person you’re talking to is a vegan? A: You don’t have to. He’ll tell you himself.” Although I don’t think Marines are quite as bad as vegans that way. (One of) the other things that fascinates me about Marines is how they can sniff each other out. Fill a room with 500 men, none of whom has ever met any of the others, and if two of them are United States Marines, they’ll find each other in under five minutes flat. Trust me. I’ve seen it, times without number. It never fails. The only remotely analogous thing I’ve seen in women is with nurses. They have almost the same ability. But not quite.)
Jack and Roger could not have been more different. Jack was tall, laconic, and quietly efficient. Roger was hyperactive, short and wiry. And all Marine. I knew that if Roger had my back, I’d be completely safe, no matter what.
Which is why, on the day I fired the most hostile employee it’s ever been my misfortune to manage, Roger was in the room with me, Jack was standing outside the door, the hospital police were in the lobby of the building, and the local police were outside in the street. He went quietly, but I was nervous going in and out of the building for months. A little more than a year after I fired him, he slit the throats of his wife, his father-in-law, his sister-in-law, and his two-year old niece. He was apprehended at LaGuardia airport, about to board the plane back to Pakistan with his two young sons. This was on September 11, 1999. Go figure. He’s still on death row in Ohio.
I will be forever grateful that Roger and Jack were with me on that day. My Marines.
A year or so later, I was hiring for a position with my desktop support group, and “Will,” a Marine applied. He had less experience that a couple of the other applicants, but had, as they say, “the look in his eye,” and an impressive personal story. Upon leaving the Corps, he’d taken a job with the telephone company just down the road in West Virginia, had, at the same time, completed a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and had designed and built, his own home, only about a mile down the road from me. He’d married a local farmer’s daughter (Will’s family was originally from the Midwest somewhere), he worshiped the ground she walked on, and the two of them seemed blissfully content.
He did brilliantly in the series of interviews for the job, and I hired him. And he bore out my faith in his potential, becoming a valued member of my team, and the “go-to” person for analysis, problem-solving, and innovative “think outside the box” solutions. In pretty short order, he was promoted to local area network support, and continued to rack up the paper credentials while combining them with a boots-on-the-ground, rational, and real-world common sense, and when I retired in 2007, I thought that, between the wonderful person who was selected to replace me, and Will, I was leaving the hospital, and my team, in the best hands possible.
A year after I left, I received a tearful, middle-of-the-night phone call from my successor. Her friend had been listening to the police scanner (yes, I live in the sort of place, where folks do things like that), and had heard mention of a shooting at Will’s address. Reports were that at least one person was deceased. And my friends were very concerned.
As they were right to be. Will and his wife were both dead. The very earliest reports were that Will, perhaps, had killed his wife and then shot himself. I simply would not believe that “my Marine,” could have done that, and as things turned out, I was correct. His wife was the shooter, killing Will as he slept, and then turning the gun on herself.
The next few days were among the most shocking, grueling, and harrowing I have ever lived through, and I simply cannot imagine the pain of both their families, pain which I am sure is present to this day and will be into the future. This is a small community, and people know, love and support each other through times like this. I still grieve the loss of both those lovely people, and the sad and unaddressed circumstances that drove one of them to such dire straits. Semper Fi, Will. I’ll always believe.
“Gordon” was a Marine who came into my life through marriage, and who is, without much regret on my part, no longer in it much at all. When Mr. Right is talking about Gordon, and wanting to describe him to polite society, he calls him “henpecked.” I understand that the official USMC terminology for such a male is somewhat different, and not suitable for Ricochet. Meow. Gordon violates one of my own fundamental rules of combat (which I freely admit I make up as I go along sometimes, but this one is pretty well set in stone): Gordon may have been able to fight. But he couldn’t stand. And his inability, or his refusal, to do so led to untold heartache and misery for those I love. I do not consider Gordon to have been a good Marine. In my estimation, good Marines stand.
The last Marine I’d like to tell you about, whose presence in my life is almost inexpressibly precious to me, is a small person who has no trouble standing, at all. She stands taller than almost any other, every single day. She never flinches or fails. She never disappoints. She is a bulwark against depression, anxiety, and panic. She is righteous. She is an outstanding Marine. And Mr. Right and I love both her to bits.
In case it’s not clear to everyone who I’m talking about here, I’m looking right at you, @nandapanjandrum. Thank you for being, and standing, and staying, my friend. I hope it’s for life. Kindred spirits. Semper Fidelis.
Those are the stories of a representative sampling, but by no means all of, the United States Marines in my life, so many of whom have been there at the most important, the happiest, the most frightening, and the most tragic of times. All of you have affected me. And I think all of you have, one way or another, perhaps in unexpected and not-always-obvious ways, made me a better person for having known you.
I wish you all a Happy 243rd Birthday. I thank you for you service. I welcome you home. And I pray that you rest in peace. (All those of you who’ve watched my six at one time or another (you know who you are), thanks for that, too. I’ll never forget.) Steve, I hope you got yourself sorted out. Gordon, I hope someone gifts you with a spine for Christmas. Good luck to all of you. God Bless.
As for the relatively few of you I haven’t run across yet, I’m pretty sure it’s just a matter of time. Hang in there. Your day will come.
**A few names have been changed. No facts have, though. Glory be.