An Outreach Program of MarineParents.com
I was getting a cup of coffee this morning and glanced at the calendar hanging on the wall, covering the spot where a wall-mounted phone used to hang. My wife, who is the keeper of all events and dates in our family, had printed the news that it was five years ago that our youngest Marine had returned home from Afghanistan.
Five years? Really? Could it be that long ago? In some ways it seems like it was only yesterday, but in others it seems like it was an age – and more – ago.
Waiting in the gym at Camp Lejeune were a host of family and friends, including brothers-in-arms who had been wounded during their deployment but were now there to welcome back their fellow Marines. They all -- the Marines fresh from the was and the walking wounded -- were the lucky ones. Ten others were there in spirit only, coming home on angel flights.
Waiting for our son were his mother, his kid sister and me, his father. His big brother could not be there but true to their relationship had texted several insults from Camp Pendleton, where he was stationed. Most importantly, waiting for him was his wife of nine months. When our son walked into the gym, she made a beeline for him, nearly bowling over two or three people. (That’s them in the photo above, moments after the first kiss.)
They had known each other since the sixth grade when they met at a church function. He told her that the new glasses she was wearing made her look like a guy. She responded by punching him. It was love at first sight.
Looking at that photo, his wife simply says, “We were such babies then.”
And yes, in a way they were. They already had accomplished much, and they would do even more in the following years. He was a radio operator in a rifle company of Marines and had just finished the second of three deployments (He also was in Iraq and on board ship in the Mediterranean during the Arab Spring). She had just finished nursing school and packed up their belongings and moved from Tennessee to a new home and a new job at a hospital in Jacksonville, NC.
What struck me then and now is they didn't think what they had done was all that unusual, at least not in their circle. Perhaps it wasn't. After all, they have Marine family and friends in Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, California and a few other places, who all accomplished similar feats over the years. They didn't think a challenge was too hard. They faced it, be it a tough deployment or the heart-aching lonliness and fear of a husband overseas in combat.
Granted, there were a few missteps along the way, but those were seen as challenges to be met and conquored, too. I suppose the point I want to make is this: I often read – or hear – people say our nation’s young people are soft, self-indulgent, spoiled. Maybe. Maybe. I do know, however, there is a group of young people who don’t fit that description. And for that I give thanks.
It could be that I’m an optimist, but whenever I hear people – especially in this political season – say that our nation isn’t great anymore, I scoff. Instead, I think of my son and his wife, who five years ago were just happy to be in one another’s arms again. They and their friends are the stuff our nation really is made up of and always has been: people who meet challenges and grow because of the experience.
Epilogue: my son and his wife have moved back to a small town in Tennessee near where they grew up. He’s a deputy sheriff and she’s an RN at the local hospital. They’re also parents of the world’s cutest and smartest two-year-old. (Yes, I’m prejudiced.) Our other Marine? He’s still in and serves as a drill instructor.