Marine Training Doesn't Wear Off
*As appeared in Leatherneck magazine August 1993*
I've been out of the Corps a year longer than I was in (in four, out five),
and I still don't carry anything in my right hand, unless it's absolutely
necessary. After all, you never know when you'll have to salute someone.
"The Marines Hymn" still gives me cold chills, and a picture of Mount
Suribachi brings a tear to my eye.
I always stand at attention for the national anthem, with hand over my
heart. I don't put my hands in my pockets when walking, and walking in step
is a must.
A rack is still a rack (not for hanging hats), a head is still a head (not
the one on your shoulders), and the deck is still the deck (we're not
talking sailboats, either).
At the office, co-workers think I'm crazy, using terms like guard mail
(instead of interoffice correspondence), direct order (instead of
directive), and locked on (instead of understood). The task at hand is
always a "mission", and no mission is ever too tough.
Even the days aren't long enough. Not that I complain about a 9-to-5 job,
or working regular hours; I don't. But it seems that others - civilians -
are always complaining about how hard and/or horrible their work is. Get
real. Join the Marine Corps....
A headache, stomach ache, or cold might keep the average employee home.
Calling in sick, except in case of rare disease or disaster, is out of the
question for a Marine. Being late is equally unsat. (What's that? Ask a
The word "Sir" involuntarily rolls off my lip when addressing senior
management. Some think it's great; others don't care for it at all.
(Remember the first sergeant's cry? "Don't call me 'Sir', I work for a
living!") At any rate, I find myself explaining that it's "ingrained Marine
Corps training", which is always a door opener for further conversation.
Such a statement can also be beneficial during other interactions, such as
those with police officers. Fortunately, my experience in that area is
limited, but any mention of "Marine" is usually a good icebreaker and lead
in to conversation about the Corps. It seems that there's a mutual respect
between the Police and the Marines; many are Marines (former and reserve).
Not everyone can be a Marine, and if you are, say so. A Marine bumper
sticker in the window and dog tags hanging in the rearview mirror can also
go a long way.
Speaking of bumper stickers, have you ever noticed how many there are out
there? Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, proudly displayed on cars
and trucks from New York to California. Marines are everywhere.
And when they're not in their bumper-stickered vehicles, you can otherwise
spot them in their bright, red and gold USMC jackets, caps (not hats),
T-shirts, and other assorted accessories. But not all Marines are that
easily recognizable. Some garb is understated in in black, silver, green,
or camouflage. Designs range from a simple Marine Corps emblem, to the
Tasmanian Devil, or a leatherneck tattoo, to an elaborate display of Marine
weaponry. Sayings may include "Once a Marine, always a Marine", "Semper Fi"
(do or die), or any variation thereof. The words may be different, but the
theme is always "Marine".
Marines will proudly inform you, and anyone else who happens to be
listening, that they were in the Corps. Their comment may have no
connection with the present conversation or situation, at least not to the
common ear, but anything can, and will, rouse memories in a Marine.
You could be in a crowded doorway, taking refuge from a storm, and a
40-something gentleman tells you he doesn't need an umbrella because he was a
Marine, and compared to the monsoons in Southeast Asia or Okinawa, this
downpour is just a sprinkle.
Or the moving man mentions in passing that he developed strength and
endurance in the Corps. And there's the real estate agent, who points out,
with pride, his previous service, when you pass by the local Marine
From city to city, women in grocery lines and beauty parlors tell stories
about their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces who are, or were,
Marines. From barroom to bowling alleys, from boat to backyard barbecue,
fathers and grandfathers vividly recall life in the Corps to anyone who
Marines will seize any opportunity to volunteer information about their
adventures in the Corps. They may casually note their branch of service, or
unload an entire bag of sea stories. Fortunately, most folks don't mind
unless, that is, they find themselves in the company of two or more
Marines. In that case, they can forget getting in a word edgewise.
And remarkably, Marines always seem to find each other. In the midst of any
crowd, two leathernecks will somehow get together, and when they do, it's
an instant reunion. Forget formal introductions; these men are brothers.
Call it "Marine bonding".
I recently attended a business conference (not Marine related) and found
myself at a roundtable discussion. Actually, it was a luncheon, but the
conversation was supposed to be business. Somehow, someone mentioned
"Marine", and the gears immediately, and permanently changed. Another
gentleman, who also happened to be a Marine, wanted to know what battalion,
when, where served, with whom, how long. Of course, he too, was asked to
share his case history.
None of the other people at the table, who included a Navy corpsman, Army
sergeant major, and Air Force pilot, could compete. In fact they tried to
offer tidbits about their service, but a mere "Oh really?", or "That's
nice" was the only reaction they could get from the Marines. Interestingly,
the non-Marines didn't seem to be perturbed. They were too busy listening
to the sea stories.
Occurrences like these are not rare. In fact, they're probably the norm.
Esprit de corps transcends the barriers of time and space, religion and
race. A Marine is a Marine. Once a Marine, Always a Marine. It's training
you never outgrow, and a brotherhood you never forget.