Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Memories of Wars Past

Today is December the seventh. A day that brings to mind for many of us grainy newsreel visions of sunken ships burning on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row and Franklin Roosevelt’s speech to Congress.

And it does for me as well, but I also have other thoughts about a different Dec. 7 in the recesses of my memory. Twenty years ago today I set off from Camp Lejeune, N.C., as part of a small band of Marines.

We stole this sign from the beach at Camp Lejeune.
Yes, we Marines can be ironic when we want to.

We were the advance party of our battalion, leading the way overseas. Destination: Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia. It was into an uncertain future we flew - a couple of days later it turns out. We had some oversized equipment that required a C-5 Galaxy, one of the largest planes in the world. So big in fact, the cargo bay is longer than the Wright Brother’s first flight. So we waited for our plane.

And waited.

Much of the time we while were cooling our heels at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., was spent outside. In the rain. Dealing with the thousand and one details that need to be dealt with before heading into the unknown. And, as with any military operation, there was also a lot of sitting around doing nothing and trying to figure out how to steal the things needed but didn't have from either the Marine air wing or, better yet, the Air Force.

You might think doing nothing would be a good thing, but it’s not. Your mind wanders. Wanders to thoughts of what might happen when you get to where you’re going. All of us had gas masks with us and some of us, the ones Gunny Mike trusted, also had live ammo. Not all of us, believe me, I wouldn’t have trusted a couple of those guys with a loaded water pistol, let alone an M-16 with live rounds. But the NCOs from my platoon were all solid guys and we all had a couple or three full magazines.

In a way, though, it was kinda … exciting. Yes, we were headed to a potential (and eventual) war zone to battle a megalomaniacal tyrant who, at the time, did indeed have chemical and biological weapons. And, yes, war is a bad thing.

But we were Marines. We were 18, 19, 20-something years old and this is what we’d signed up for. Young men and women may join the Army, Navy or Air Force for many reasons: “adventure,” “job training” or “college funds,” but Marines are cut from a different bolt of cloth. While we may not yet have reached Heinlein’s “Everybody fights” credo, Marines really do believe in the concept of “Every Marine is a rifleman.”

We didn’t know exactly what we were heading for, but we had 215 years of history backing us up as we went.

Speaking of fighting, the one memorable event from our time at Cherry Point came the night after we’d finished up all of our prep work and before we got on the plane. After working our asses off for days in the rain, Gunny Mike finally let us have on-base liberty that last night. Much to his everlasting regret, we went to the club.

Before the night was over Gunny Mike visited both the MP lock-up and the ER. The first to bail two guys out, and the second to pick up another guy who was having a MP's German shepherd removed from his arm. Ah the things that happen when you combine ground pounders, air wing types and beer. Lots and lots of beer.

Our battle cry for the next week was, “Hey Gunny, is the club off limits?”

Over the next couple of months I think I’ll revisit more these memories. Christmas and New Years in Saudi. The terror of the dreaded “Ratch” (this is funny rather than scary). January 17. Spades played under a red-filtered light. The most honest game of Monopoly in history.

There are others, and as they come to me I’ll write about them. But for today, I’ll look back on my own personal history with a bit of pride in what I did. Also, I’ll take a moment to think about the soldiers, sailors, airmen and those beautiful creatures we call Marines who have gone and who are still in harm’s way today.

May they all return home safe and sound.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the right word(s) are- congratulations, well done? How about thank you.

Anonymous said...

thank you for your service. words will never be enough, but thank you.

J. Robert said...

Mmmmm.... Tobasco Sauce!

Liebchen said...

I like your stories. They give me pride goosebumps.

They also put a lot in perspective.

FoggyDew said...

heartbreaker - thank you works just fine.

firecracker - you're welcome.

J. Robert - Huh?!:?#? Tabasco?

Liebchen - that's a good thing, right? Not something you have to get checked? ;)

Just so folks know, I didn't write this looking for thanks or attaboys. I did it because I happen to have a head for numbers and dates (ask anyone who knows me, it can drive people nuts) and today, obviously, sticks out and I wanted to share my story.

magnolia said...

amen. may they all come home safe and soon.

suicide_blond said...

you know... i used to spend a LOT of holidays / time at cherry point...
thank you love..for your service...

suicide_blond said...

oh and ps..
any marine that can spell monomaniacal is a man i can hang out with...

Mr. J said...

Thanks for your service, and thanks for the comment on my Iwo Jima photo. I gather that memorial has a bit more meaning to a Marine than a civilian like me. Keep an eye out for good clouds. We've been (photographically) blessed with them this winter.