Our son, David, a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, called from Camp Pendleton, California, to tell us, his parents, that his unit was being deployed “into the country,” although he was not permitted to disclose to us where exactly he was headed. We already knew, of course, having been prepared gradually and most considerately in a letter from his commanding officer.
Was it the end of a journey, or the beginning, or maybe the end of a beginning? He had enlisted in the Reserve a little over a year ago, over our strenuous objections. How could the youngest son of two former peaceniks do this to us? Had he really thought this through, or had the superficial allure of the spiffy dress blues worn by the recruiter clouded his vision? “It’s something I always wanted to do,” he explained to his parents, who were previously completely oblivious of this lifelong dream. Had we been so blind, or was he delusional?
“You know what they teach you at Parris Island? They teach you how to kill people,” I announced, with all the paternal bluster I could summon up. “As far as as I know, you have never even gotten into a fight in your life.” It was true. David was a healer, not a fighter. A peacemaker, headed off to boot camp. It made no sense at all.
Senseless or not, off he went, to enjoy the tender mercies of some of the toughest immediate superiors on earth—the drill instructors of Parris Island. In ways that we cannot understand, he loved it. We visited for the graduation. During his brief liberty the day before graduation, we toured those parts of the base mere mortals such as ourselves are permitted to visit. Other newly minted Marines would shout out to me as they passed, “Good afternoon, Sir!” Platoons of more junior recruits—younger by the almost infinite time period of six or eight weeks spent on the Island—passed marching or jogging in cadence, their limbs as perfectly coordinated as the legs of a millipede, keeping time to the singsong chant of their sergeant. David helpfully pointed out to us their numerous technical flaws, invisible to us but painfully obvious to someone who had mastered that level of training.
We now proudly sport Marine Corps bumper stickers and decals on our cars, and fly the red and gold flag from the front porch. Complete strangers–often Marines (one is never a former Marine)—stop us to talk and to wish us well, promising to keep us in their prayers. David will serve in a military action that his parents still oppose—with all the support any parent could give any child. His Marine family will watch his back when we can’t. One journey ends and another begins. We have all grown through the experience. We all must travel our own journey. He has shown us how. He is our hero.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.