Just last week, I was in Los Angeles and had made a quick stop at a Starbucks to grab a coffee before a meeting. I saw a LAPD officer at the register ordering, so I darted over in an attempt to buy his coffee. He politely refused, but the cashier was on my side and we finally got him to accept the gesture. The Police Officer thanked me and I told him I was thankful for his service. We were both cordial with each other until I noticed an eagle, globe and anchor pin on his uniform pocket, it was the revered Marine Corps emblem. I pulled up my sleeve to display the “USMC” stencil tattoo on my arm. We both smiled and simultaneously said, “Semper Fi”. The cordial demeanor immediately transitioned to that of bonded brothers and we began to talk as if we had known each other for years. We stepped off to the side and had a great conversation, then we went on our separate ways. This is a very common encounter played out across the globe on any given day. When you become a Marine, you are in it for life.
I mention the above story because that bond that tied us to one another actually started 244 years ago today, in a small Philidelphia brewery called “Tun Tavern”. Yes, the Marine Corps was created in a bar! Big surprise, right? Since then, Marines have been the definition of combat prowess and lined the history books with an endless supply of victorious battles, from Tripoli to Iwo Jima. The Marine Corps could be summarized as, “No better friend, no worst enemy”.
I personally had a very “Marine Influenced” upbringing. Both my father and mother were U.S. Marines, both entering service in 1950. My parents named me after two of my dad’s Vietnam War buddies, LtCol. Charles Wilder and Col. Kermit Worley. My father’s brother (my uncle) was also a Marine. My brother’s father-in-law was a retired Marine SgtMaj and became a second father-figure to me. And to top it off, I was born on Marine Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. and visited almost every year until I was a teenager. However, my father, a Korea and Vietnam War veteran, was by far the greatest inspiration to me. He climbed the enlisted ranks and was given a battlefield commission in Vietnam. He made it to the rank of Captain before reverting back to his enlisted rank of Gunnery Sergeant. Then, he entered the Warrant Officer Program and finally retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 with a “Bursting Bomb”, identifying him as a revered “Marine Gunner”. When he retired in 1974, he was the last Marine Gunner in existence and actually retired the rank, until they brought it back into service in 1988.
Growing up I was enamored with my dad, the best man I’ve ever known. I use to think that if he’s the kind of man the Marine Corps makes, then I’m all in. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be like him. In 1988, I finally got my chance and it was off to Parris Island, S.C. After three months of hell on earth and proudly graduating from 3rd Battalion Hell Company, I earned the title, “Marine”. One of the most cherished moments of my life was when the Senior Drill Instructor dismissed our platoon from the parade deck and I immediately marched over to my dad, who was standing by the bleachers. I stepped in front of him, snapped to the position of attention and delivered a crisp hand salute, “Good afternoon Sir! Your son is now a Marine!” It was one of the few times I ever saw my dad tear up. To this day, I feel fortunate knowing that great man received my first salute. My mother and father have since passed away and both received funerals with full military honors. The beautiful sound of a bugler playing Taps always moved me, but when you hear it at your parent’s funerals it has an even more soul-piercing effect.
There is just something very special about Marines. I know I’m extremely biased, but just ask anyone. Even those in our sister services (Army, Navy and Air Force) will say the same. Now, they may add something like, “They’re special all right, they like to eat crayons”, or some other comment that a loving and jealous sibling would make. No doubt, Marines are a rare breed. Just look at Hollywood, they love to make movies about us and portray lead characters as Marines. I’ve included some of my favorites below. Do you recognize them? Do you have a favorite? Add them in the comments!
The Marine Corps is rich with history and tradition, and from the start, you are made to feel that it is part of you. This is one of my favorite things about the Marines, the traditions. Some of these traditions are painful, like earning your blood stripes or having your jump wings pinned on, but they are part of our rituals, and we honor them. Joining the Marines set me on a unique trajectory that forever defined and enriched my life. Even as a civilian overseas, I always felt a sense of pride when I would walk into an American Embassy and see a U.S. Marine standing tall to greet you. Marines truly are an Iconic symbol of our great nation. Not convinced? Take a look at who guards the White House, Camp David or transports the President of the United States by helicopter. You guessed it, The Marines!
Throughout this week and across the world, Marines will gather to celebrate the birth of their beloved Corps at hundreds of formal events known as the “Marine Corps Birthday Ball”, where they will reminisce about their service, pay homage to their history, observe sacred traditions and honor fallen brothers and sisters. One last thing, it is a long-standing tradition on November 10th for Marines to contact their old buddies and deliver that personal greeting, “Happy Birthday Marine”. It was special in my own family as it was the single day of the year where my parents and I all wished each other a happy birthday! So, in the spirit of 244 years of tradition, to my Mom and Dad, and all members of our beloved Corps, “Happy Birthday Marines and Semper Fidelis”!