As is my nature, I can consider myself an authority on any subject while in command of the least bit of knowledge.
So, before I met my husband, who was Active Duty U.S.M.C., when we met, I thought I knew all about military sacrifice and service. After all, my father had left college when he was drafted into World War II. My parents waited to get married until after the war and when they did, someone gave my mother ration coupons so she could get a new pair of shoes for the wedding.
Then, when I was eighteen months old, my father was recalled into the Korean War, they put all of their possessions in storage, rented out our house, plopped me in the car and headed out to Travis Air Force Base in California for two years. Hearing this story regularly over the years, I thought I understood what it takes to be in the military, but I was wrong.
Underway on the open ocean during the Persian Gulf War, 1990.
The side of the USS Guam, an amphibious assault ship, now
retired, decommissioned 25 August 1998.
Before I moved to the Marine Corps Air Station when I got married, I was unaccustomed to understanding just how young our “forces in readiness” really are. Sure you have many older men and women, those thirty years and above, but so many kids join right out of high school, that when you ride through the Camp, you see mostly young men eighteen to twenty three along with a representation of similarly aged women, so the average age is about twenty one.
Twenty one? Are you kidding me? Most of the Marines one sees, representing our forces ready to deploy on short notice, are an average age of twenty one? The thought of all these young men and women, many with full blown families going to fight with uncertain futures, paralyzes me.
And, I haven’t even mentioned the separations involved when my husband’s Squadron went on “floats” or sailed out as part of a MEU or Military Expeditionary Unit of five Navy Ships, 2,000 Marines and a Squadron for air support. When that happened, we didn’t get to see each other for six months at a time. SIX MONTHS at at time. Think of it. I don’t know how I made it. And, yet, I still didn’t know what military sacrifice is.
USS Nassau as seen from the USS Guam in port.
Rota, Spain March 1991.
Last week, when I was an Election Judge serving in Maryland for the General Election on November 6, 2012, I finally learned what military sacrifice is.
I was verifying voter’s registrations as they came in the door to the voting area after standing in line, sometimes as long as two hours. An older gentleman in a companion chair, a chair with wheels that is meant to be pushed by a companion, rather than self propelled by the sitter as in a wheel chair, was pushed up to my table. Many were waiting.
With him being older, and having pushed my Dad around in a companion chair for a couple years before he died, I quietly assumed his was elderly rather than disabled. So, for something warm and quick to say, I said, “My husband’s a Marine, looking at that hat you must be a Marine, too.”
“Why, YES! I’m a Marine. My father was a Marine, my wife was a Marine and my son was a Marine. And they’re all DEAD.” Taken aback, I couldn’t let it end there.
Knowing my Dad was in WWII and his age, I said, “You were in World War II?”
“Yes. I got through that just fine. Wasn’t shot until Korea.”
“Shot. Oh my! You were shot?”
“Yeah, I was shot. Why do you think I’m sitting in this wheelchair?”
He liked me. I liked him and I said, “All these years?” meaning that he had been in a wheelchair all these years, since he was was thirty years old. He nodded and we locked eyes, and I knew what I had to do…
Somehow I found the voice to say the words while tearing up,
“Well, Semper Fi, Marine. Thank you for your service.”