A local mom contacted me asking if my family would like to contribute gift items for Marines graduating from boot camp whose families are unable to attend the ceremony. The Stand Alone Marines are a group of patriots that attend each graduation with the intent of never leaving a marine without a sense of family on that most important day. My interest was piqued and I looked up Parris Island graduation ceremonies to discover that these events happen almost weekly. When I looked at my calendar, I realized the only free graduation date I had for the next several months was THIS Friday, and it was already Tuesday.
Thursday morning I really began to ponder not just supplying items to say thank you and sending them, but actually bringing my whole family to the graduation. That afternoon, I met my husband at the mechanic’s (because that ol’ wagon of his is seriously on it’s last wheel). I casually mentioned my crazy-last-minute-road-trip-idea to him and he just stared blankly back at me. “I can’t. I have an appointment.” I grabbed his hand and prayed a one-liner…“Dear God, if you want us to go to Parris Island, please cancel David’s appointment.”
Twenty minutes later, the secretary called and said his appointment had just gotten rescheduled. He hung up the phone and said, “You scare me.”
I quickly texted the children and told them to gather all the sweaters, jackets, jeans and closed-toed shoes they could find (remember, we live in sunny South Florida!) and by the time David and I got home, Kristine had purchased road trip snacks, the kids had their blankies packed, and after dinner we just hit the road.
Now keep in mind, we had no contacts at Parris Island to help us find the Marines who had no family. We had no one we knew graduating. I simply wanted to put my hands on some kids who were willing to serve our country and tell them thank you. My grand plan involved taking them to BBQ or buying them a beer, but I really had no way of knowing what was in store.
By 5am, we rolled into Beaufort, South Carolina, hungry and still having had very little sleep. Some kiddos slept from 10:00pm till 2:00am, but for some reason everyone woke up at 2am and it became a traveling party laughing and singing while Stone (2) shouted “CHRISTMAS LIGHTS” at every 18-wheeler hauling down the road.
So we found a “Hi-Hop” (Courson’s name for IHOP) in Beaufort just a few miles from the base. Everyone still in pajamas and me with all the big girls still
in hair curlers, we ordered enough food for an army. As we fed our troops, a few young men from the base wandered in and we asked about the graduation and what to expect. After breakfast, David helped change the smaller kids into their clothes, and the big girls and I raided IHOP’s bathroom and came out looking Fahhbulous Dahhling. The waitress raised her one eyebrow at us probably wondering what kind of superman trick we just pulled in that restroom considering our lackluster appearance when we entered the premises. Never-you-mind. Now we go to the Marines.
As we drove into the base at 6:30am, dawn was breaking and the cold air had mists rising up from the water surrounding this hallowed ground. “We Make Marines” was proudly painted above the roadway greeting us… as did the multitudes of “Hoo-rahs” and men and women in fatigues running with rifles and climbing ropes. It was a sight to behold for sure. One young recruit was enduring a lambasting from his drill sergeant– push ups in the sand while his battalion looked on. Another group in formation and marching. Still more of them in varied stages of their routine…all giving us goose-bumps and swelling our hearts with pride and adoration. Oh the precious sight of youth willingly serving and sacrificing is one that never gets old. Glory.
We took our seats on the bleachers in 48 degree weather, waiting a solid two hours for the event to begin. Watching the parents and loved ones file in was humbling on a whole ‘nuther level. But when the Marine Corps band began to play their march, the Star Spangled Banner, and the announcer began to explain the history and significance of the varying aspects of the graduation, it hit me. These young men and women, all 451 of them, were willing to sacrifice on our behalf, their very lives. And when they were finally released into the anxiously awaiting arms of their loved ones, we all cried.
We waited for nearly an hour as the crowds dissipated and those few men left without loved ones gathered outside the barracks. Their GI bags in their arms and still donning their proud uniforms, they waited for the base’s bus to transport them to the airport for a long awaited 8 day leave. We wouldn’t be able to take them to lunch (base orders and Chick-Fil-A would have lunch ready for them at the airport– yeah CFA!) but we could spend some time encouraging them, hugging them, and thanking them.
My kiddos made quick work of introductions and thanks. I mostly sat back just in awe of the irony. I realized that it was two years ago to the date that my father had collapsed and subsequently died. I watched one tall lanky young man, imagining my father nearly 70 years ago as he stood on that same base, ready to serve. Ready to give. Ready for life…a newly minted man in a hard won uniform. Oh my heart broke and simultaneously swelled with love and joy. I didn’t even know that kind of emotion was possible.
One by one I asked them what their future position, aim or goal was in the corps. Almost a whisper, one precious son answered,”Uh…food services.”
“What?” I had barely heard his response…
“YOU MEAN YOU’RE GOING TO COOK FOR MY COUNTRYMEN?” I responded more than just a little enthusiastically! He began to beam. My heart soared and it was all I could do to not just grab him and kiss his servant-minded head! We chatted and laughed and I just kept marveling at what kind of a country we have that these young men would willingly serve in my stead and for the protection of my family…
O dear Lord…mercy me.
Finally the time came to load them onto the bus. The men and women who regularly serve these Stand Alone Marines had been busy passing out cookies and goody bags and gift cards and lots of love…but now we had to say goodbye. Thankfully I was given a moment with just the five of them on board that bus. I told them about my daddy and how much it meant to me on this special day to look into their eyes and see a legacy of love and service. Actually, my emotions got the best of me and I can barely recall what I said with shaking knees.
Folks, I just can’t say it enough. We live in the most awesome frickin’ country the world has ever known and if you don’t give thanks every single day for the freedoms you enjoy and realize that it comes at the cost of over 1.5 million lives lost willingly…then wake up.
Find a way.
To a vet.
To a serviceman.
In your prayers.
In any way you can.
Was it crazy to drive 18 people for 17 hours round trip in a 24-hour period for a graduation ceremony where we knew not a single soul? Absolutely. But they were all my sons and daughters. They were all my brothers and sisters. They are what gives me the ability to say and do everything I am able to. I dare you to make a trip like we did. Give some Stand Alone Marine, some precious serviceperson the benefit of family and heartfelt gratitude for enduring all they will on your behalf. You won’t regret a single moment of it and your children will have the mark of respect and honor indelibly etched on their hearts.
Here’s a tribute to the families willing to send off their loved ones to the Marines on our behalf: Sitting In A Sea of Parents.