Marine Training Doesn't Wear Off

As appeared in Leatherneck magazine August 1993

I've been out of the Corps a year longer than I was in (in four, out five), and I still don't carry anything in my right hand, unless it's absolutely necessary. After all, you never know when you'll have to salute someone.

"The Marines Hymn" still gives me cold chills, and a picture of Mount Suribachi brings a tear to my eye.

I always stand at attention for the national anthem, with hand over my heart. I don't put my hands in my pockets when walking, and walking in step is a must.

A rack is still a rack (not for hanging hats), a head is still a head (not the one on your shoulders), and the deck is still the deck (we're not talking sailboats, either).

At the office, co-workers think I'm crazy, using terms like guard mail (instead of interoffice correspondence), direct order (instead of directive), and locked on (instead of understood). The task at hand is always a "mission", and no mission is ever too tough.

Even the days aren't long enough. Not that I complain about a 9-to-5 job, or working regular hours; I don't. But it seems that others - civilians - are always complaining about how hard and/or horrible their work is. Get real. Join the Marine Corps....

A headache, stomachache, or cold might keep the average employee home. Calling in sick, except in case of rare disease or disaster is out of the question for a Marine. Being late is equally unsat. (What's that? Ask a Marine.)

The word "Sir" involuntarily rolls off my lip when addressing senior management. Some think it's great; others don't care for it at all. (Remember the first sergeant's cry? "Don't call me 'Sir', I work for a living!") At any rate, I find myself explaining that it's "ingrained Marine Corps training", which is always a door opener for further conversation.

Such a statement can also be beneficial during other interactions, such as those with police officers. Fortunately, my experience in that area is limited, but any mention of "Marine" is usually a good icebreaker and lead in to conversation about the Corps. It seems that there's a mutual respect between the Police and the Marines; many are Marines (former and reserve). Not everyone can be a Marine, and if you are, say so. A Marine bumper sticker in the window and dog tags hanging in the rearview mirror can also go a long way.

Speaking of bumper stickers, have you ever noticed how many there are out there/ Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, proudly displayed on cars and trucks from New York to California. Marines are everywhere.

And when they're not in their bumper-stickered vehicles, you can otherwise spot them in their bright, red and gold USMC jackets, caps (not hats), T-shirts, and other assorted accessories. But not all Marines are that easily recognizable. Some garb is understated in black, silver, green, or camouflage. Designs range from a simple Marine Corps emblem, to the Tasmanian Devil, or a leatherneck tattoo, to an elaborate display of Marine weaponry. Sayings may include "Once a Marine, always a Marine", "Semper Fi" (do or die), or any variation thereof. The words may be different, but the theme is always "Marine".

Marines will proudly inform you, and anyone else who happens to be listening that they were in the Corps. Their comment may have no connection with the present conversation or situation, at least not to the common ear, but anything can, and will, rouse memories in a Marine.

You could be in a crowded doorway, taking refuge from a storm, and a 40-something gentleman tells you he doesn't need an umbrella because he was a Marine, and compared to the monsoons in Southeast Asia or Okinawa, this downpour is just a sprinkle.

Or the moving man mentions in passing that he developed strength and endurance in the Corps. And there's the real estate agent, who points out, with pride, his previous service, when you pass by the local Marine monument.

From city to city, women in grocery lines and beauty parlors tell stories about their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces who are, or were, Marines. From barroom to bowling alleys, from boat to backyard barbecue, fathers and grandfathers vividly recall life in the Corps to anyone who will listen.

Marines will seize any opportunity to volunteer information about their adventures in the Corps. They may casually note their branch of service, or unload an entire bag of sea stories. Fortunately, most folks don't mind unless, that is, they find themselves in the company of two or more Marines. In that case, they can forget getting in a word edgewise.

And remarkably, Marines always seem to find each other. In the midst of any crowd, two leathernecks will somehow get together, and when they do, it's an instant reunion. Forget formal introductions; these men are brothers. Call it "Marine bonding".

I recently attended a business conference (not Marine related) and found myself at a round table discussion. Actually, it was a luncheon, but the conversation was supposed to be business. Somehow, someone mentioned "Marine", and the gears immediately and permanently changed. Another gentleman, who also happened to be a Marine, wanted to know what battalion, when, where served, with whom, how long. Of course, he too, was asked to share his case history.

None of the other people at the table, who included a Navy corpsman, Army sergeant major, and Air Force pilot, could compete. In fact they tried to offer tidbits about their service, but a mere "Oh really?", or "That's nice" was the only reaction they could get from the Marines. Interestingly, the non Marines didn't seem to be perturbed. They were too busy listening to the sea stories.

Occurrences like these are not rare. In fact, they're probably the norm. Esprit de Corps transcends the barriers of time and space, religion and race. A Marine is a Marine. Once a Marine, Always a Marine. It's training you never outgrow, and a brotherhood you never forget.

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