Today is the Marine Corps 245th birthday, and our family is proud to have been a part of this force for over fifty years. People who know me personally know that we are a Marine family. My husband (looking very spiffy in his dress blues for eternity), myself, our son Cole, my brother David, Tom’s brother Gene, our nephew Josh, and last, but not least, our grandson, PFC Nathanial Cushman, fresh out of boot camp, carrying on the tradition.
People often ask me what I did in the Marines, thinking that I would have been a formidable warrior, single handedly taking on the Republic of North Vietnam, but not true. I was a First Lieutenant, a disbursing officer, and I paid the Marines returning from Vietnam, and I can tell you truthfully, they were mighty glad to see me. We paid in cash (no debit cards and few credit cards in those days, and the U.S. government wasn’t about to give me check-signing authority! Alas.) I met the airplanes at what is now John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, with huge suitcases of money to pay the 200 Marines exiting the plane several times a week. Two armed sergeants guarded me and the cash, but they, like Barney Fife, had no bullets, I later learned. The Marines were on their way home to see wives, girlfriends, parents, and whoever else was in their tribe. Some had not been paid much during their entire thirteen months in Vietnam, and I felt honored to pay them for doing their patriotic duty. Mostly they were glad to be home and proud of their service in the Corps.
Tom was a CH-46 helicopter pilot, mostly ferrying supplies in and out of Vietnam. He flew off a ship, the USS Iwo Jima. We both wrote each other every day, and he learned of the birth of Elizabeth via a Red Cross telegram, three days after she made her appearance. We only phoned each other twice, on Christmas and again in January, when she was hospitalized. Somehow, we survived our thirteen-month separation, and it probably made our marriage stronger.
My three years in the Corps gave me a lot of tools for living my life. I learned discipline, patience, fair-mindedness, and to listen. I gained an appreciation and respect for others, and we made life-long friends. I learned to pay attention to detail (no Marine wants to be short-changed even one measly penny on his or her pay). We each had a job, vastly different from each other’s, but we both played significant roles within the Marine Corps. My husband and I were officers, and now our grandson is a PFC and apparently his current job is to run and exercise, but he’s eighteen and it suits him fine. He is learning the same things I did, and those valuable lessons will stay with him his entire life, as they did for me.
Happy 245th, Marines. Semper Fi.
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