Saturday, July 26, 2008

Marine Corp Reunion - Quantico, A Lesson In Respect

I have mentioned before attending a recent reunion of my late father's Marine Corp Battalion, held on the Marine base in Quantico, VA. There is not much left of Company A these days, and fewer still of them are capable of traveling. The bond that these men and their families still share after over 60 years however is absolutely amazing to behold.  As I was to discover however, this was not the only thing that would amaze me during this brief visit however, and I would like to share a few of the weekend's events:

The Marine Corp Museum: I have already posted on this subject, as the link shows, but let me reiterate for anyone who can manage to get south of Washington DC for a day, you will find this well worth your while.

Arlington Cemetery: Though better known as the home of Robert E Lee, Arlington was originally the mansion constructed on the property by George Washington's adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Curtis. Robert E Lee became part of the story here when he married their daughter (and his distant cousin Mary Anna Randolf Curtis), but you can read more about all of this here

Our visit here was to pay homage to Colonel Peck (only a captain then), the leader of this battalion during its service in World War II. Even though I had never met him in life, it was impossible not to see someone exceptional and to get to know him through his wife, daughter, and the men that served under him. It was likewise impossible not to begin to understand something of the true meaning of service and sacrifice while strolling this hallowed ground. So many lives cut short while serving something far greater than themselves and so many as well, who returned at the natural end of their days to be with those with whom they had served. Only someone with no heart could fail to be moved.

The Evening Parade: We were privileged as well to get tickets to see the Evening Parade at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I in Washington. This is the original Marine Corp Barracks, and was built in 1801. There are a number of amazing facts surrounding this barracks (available through the link), but I was struck by the fact that even the bricks that make up these barracks were made by Marines. I was likewise struck by the members of "The President's Own", the Marine Corp Band and the Drum and Bugle Corp who performed (every one of which is a college graduate and a professional musician); and the members of Alpha and Bravo Company who marched. One of the young men who explained the evening's events to us (looking as if he was not yet old enough to shave) had served before in Bravo Company; but had just returned to it from a tour in Iraq, something which he had volunteered for as soon as it became available and hoped for yet again.

Marine Corp Base - Quantico: We were fortunate to be staying at a hotel right in the middle of the Marine Corp Base in Quantico, VA. (Oh sure they let the FBI and the DEA put some facilities there as well, but make no mistake people, this is a Marine Corp operation.) It was amazing to me to watch the true respect with which the current crop of Marines treated the veterans I accompanied. While taking breaks outside near the reunion banner, it was rare that one of these men wasn't asked about their experiences in the Pacific, the landings that they made, and the meaning of the term "Lost Battalion". 

Even a wedding group that was also at the hotel paused in the haste of their preparations to speak with us and introduce the entire wedding party. Every Marine that we met was routinely helpful, courteous, and respectful (heck, they even let our group off on a speeding violation while returning one evening). Our final dinner together at the Officer's Club, surrounded by the memorabilia of many wars was a wonderful experience and fitting tribute to those I was lucky enough to be with.

This is not to say that this trip did not hold some disappointments. Some of those at the last reunion had passed in last year (including my father). Some were in ill health and were unable to attend. Some are just not able to get around without great difficulty which makes these events more challenging than they should be for those who have served. These men and these families treasure each other though, and vowed this year to continue until simply no one can make it any longer. I expect that there will indeed be reunions to come. It is difficult to grasp or impede the resolve of Marines.

I must make note of a rather serious personal disappointment during this trip. Seeing so many Marines is such fighting trim (there was a Marathon going on the weekend that we were there), made looking in the mirror every morning a rather grim experience. Thank Goodness that I don't spend much time shaving or I might never have found the strength to stop cowering in embarrassment and leave the room. I will be going into training soon to attend the next reunion.


Ruth said...

Tim, I'm very proud of your article about the reunion. I can't get over the respect these young Marines show the WWII guys. I contacted Lance Cpl. Tooker's family to say they should be so proud of that young Marine. They were so pleased. Mom

Tim Higgins said...

Now that ladies and gentlemen, is a comment...