As Veteran's Day is approaching I'd like to share one particular story about my favorite servicemember, a Marine who happens to also be my son. This was written in May 2014 on the occasion of his becoming a Marine, and given his EGA - the Eagle Globe & Anchor emblem of the U.S. Marine Corps. the memory is as vivid today as it was then...
Last Thursday morning, I was at Camp Pendleton. As a member of the military I was granted the special privilege of witnessing my son achieve something truly remarkable; earn the title of United States Marine.
Over the final hilltop, in a long ridge line of undulating peaks and valleys - known as The Grim Reaper - 150 young men of Alpha Company from The Recruit Training Battalion crested the final height at precisely 0600. They had been up since 0330 to begin the 9 mile hike, with full battle gear, helmet and rifle, to complete the final part of the Crucible; three days and two nights of constant exercises and training that is the culmination of Marine Basic Training.
Recruits perform team-building exercises reinforcing the warrior ethos. Teamwork is stressed, as the majority of tasks are impossible without it; each group must succeed or fail as a whole, requiring them to aid their fellow recruit(s) if they struggle in the accomplishment of the given mission. Recruits are lucky to get a total of 4 hours sleep a night, and are given just 2 meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) to ration out over the three days. In this particular week, Alpha Co. experienced temperatures reaching 100 degrees over most of the daylight hours. Even for a fit 18 year old, it’s easy for him to sweat out all the electrolytes in his body if he doesn't stay hydrated; it’s a supreme physical, mental and moral challenge that few ever attempt, and it furnishes the a rock-bottom sense of the capacity to endure and overcome the challenges a Marine will face in serving his country.
At the end of those three days awaits the final assault of the Grim Reaper; at the last summit, waiting for each recruit is the prize: a piece of metal the size of a silver dollar, that is the emblem of their new profession; the eagle, globe and anchor, or EGA. When each recruit receives it, they have entered the brotherhood that demanded total focus, commitment, and dedication to achieve over 12 weeks of basic training; each man has become and is henceforward always known as a Marine.
There were no bedraggled bodies or bowed heads on this morning. As they appeared upon that summit in three columns of silently intent young men, each platoon stopped at their assigned spot, stowed their gear at the edge of the clearing behind their ranks, and lined up in exact order; in complete, electric silence. The senior Drill Instructor presented the company to the battalion commander, who had been chatting with me a few minutes before, and the ceremony began. It was simple, and it was brief. At one point the Sr. Drill Instructor had the company fall out and form a semicircle around him. Without a word, the ranks melded into a closely formed body of young men kneeling and looking up expectedly at the man whose word had been the law governing every action for three months. Even now, in their exhaustion and triumph, every face registered total focus and discipline. One of those faces was my son.
I had seen him in the second row of Platoon 1013; had he seen me? I wasn’t sure. He looked well. There was no lack of focus on that lean face, belonging to an incredibly unique and gifted person that was also an interchangeable member of a fighting unit.
The Sr. DI told them they had completed their training, and told them “Well Done” He asked them if they were ready to become Marines. “Yes sir” came the reply, with no false enthusiasm or any hint of tiredness; it was steady and even and true.
“Very carefully, return to your ranks”, he said. Even now he and all of his staff were looking after the recruits; knowing that these young men were at their physical limit. Without a word the semicircle dissolved back into exact ordered ranks. The staff DI’s stepped forward, and began to go down the first row of each platoon, placing the prized emblem in each Marine’s hand, shaking a hand, gripping a shoulder, saying a few well chosen words that were meant for that man alone, and conveying the authentic respect that can only be earned.
The young captain from battalion headquarters that had assigned himself to my care now said, 'Ok sir, now let’s go see your son get his EGA'. We stepped toward the platoon in silence, as though in a cathedral. He was the fourth man in the second row. His DI, SGT Smith, shook his hand. I didn’t catch what was said, but whatever it was made it even tougher for him to maintain his composure. His hand came out, and the EGA was put in it. Job’s done, I thought; everything is now changed.
The young captain again: ‘Go tell your son how proud you are of him'.
I stepped forward, between the ranks, stopped and turned in front of him. I will never forget looking at my son’s face and feeling the complete and mutual joy, pride, and love that passed between us. My son had fully realized his potential, and broken wide open his expectations of himself and of the world around him, and I had been given the privilege of witnessing the ultimate moment.
I shook his hand - the one with the EGA clasped within it - and did what the young captain had suggested. “Thank you sir”, came the correct reply. This was not a time for scooping my boy up in my arms, as much as I wanted to. I was not about to disturb what was happening around or within us. I told him I would see him again soon, and congratulated him, and then moved on. I was content, and my son understood.
Later my son moved off with his platoon to receive a briefing, and soon after take up his pack and hike out another three miles to the Chow Hall before breaking his fast… what a sense of humor the Marines have. I wasn’t about to disturb the proceedings, so I took my leave with a last look over my shoulder to see that young Marine standing with his new brothers. Later that week he formally graduated from basic training, but the day he got his EGA will live in my memory forever.
Wooden Boats for Veterans (EIN 46-4194065) a nonprofit private foundation, was founded by combat veterans and sailors dedicated to enriching veterans’ lives. We have served and we have a passion for restoring and sailing boats.
Our long-term strategy to deliver a prolonged impact to veterans includes building community in the Bay and Delta regions through wooden boat restoration projects and sail training, ultimately leading to a capstone voyage to Hawaii.
To find out how you can be involved, visit us at www.vetsboats.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vetsboats.org/