Big Yellow Footprints, 244 Years of Tradition, and Poppies

IMG_0147[1]This weekend we in this house will celebrate a triduum of history rich in tradition through MarshFox’ service in the great institution of the United States Marine Corps. There will be much eating, drinking, smoking of cigars, and Oorahing throughout the next few days. To my new civilian neighbors, sorry, not sorry.

It was thirty-one years ago today that my husband stepped out of the big yellow footprints he’d stepped into in August, 1988, having earned the title of United States Marine and graduated from the living hell otherwise known as recruit training via Parris Island, SC. I wasn’t there that day, as we wouldn’t meet until some years later, but I’ve heard the stories. Many, many, many, many, many times. I believe my favorite tale of woe from recruit training he relays is that time he was let loose during the last week before graduation to his own devices and, after not having a donut for thirteen weeks, stopped at the donut joint he’d passed every day for the past couple of months and ate and ate and ate…until he literally made himself sick. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him eat a donut during our entire courtship and marriage. Wonder why? That’ll learn ya, crayon eater!

Another story he tells concerns the big event tomorrow. You see, MarshFox graduated into the full ranks of the Devil Dogs the day before the Marine Corps birthday. How cool is that?! He had the chance to stay over one more night and celebrate in high style, but he tells to this day he was just ready to get the hell off that sand flea, mosquito infested island and go home for a few days. And that is what he did, fleeing as fast as his mom’s car could take him across the bridge to the mainland. He’s never said he regretted that move, but I think on some levels he might wish he’d thought that through a little more thoroughly at times. Of course, I can understand his stance at the time after being the last in line to chow for thirteen weeks because he was the shortest and never having finished a complete meal in all that time because of that. When the DI was done, you were done, and more often than not, MarshFox was caught up in snatching a few bites off his tray on the way to the door to keep up the with DI who was already finished eating. No wonder he inhales his meals to this day. And no wonder he fled that day in search of the first restaurant they could find and stop at on his way home for leave.

THE Ball…I’ve taken to emphasizing it like that. THE Ball. Because let’s face it…it’s the mother of them all, the premier military pomp and circumstance.

Tomorrow, 244 years ago, Captain Samuel Nicholas and Captain Robert Mullan formed up the first muster of the Marine Corps through a recruiting effort at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. And the Corps has been going full steam ahead ever since. (By the by, I had to correct a very prestigious organization who should know better as they promote history awareness as to their premature posting of the birthday being today, which it absolutely is not. It is not November 9. It is November 10. They teach it in Marine Wifing 101. So, I know. A sidebar, no Marine would do anything prematurely, trust me on this!)

So, the event of the year…THE Ball. Oh. My. Gravy, my lovelies! Pomp and circumstance actually don’t do it justice. If you’ve never attended, and you know someone who knows someone who knows someone and they invite you, do yourself a favor and go. The ceremony will leave you in tears as all the rich tradition comes into play with the passing on of knowledge through a symbolic piece of the official birthday cake from the oldest Marine present to the youngest present. You’ll hear the Commandant’s speech. The playing of the National Anthem and the Marine Corps Hymn. Sometimes there is a uniform display presenting uniforms from as far back as the American Revolution. There will be between three and five courses at dinner, and the drink will flow like rain from above. All that is followed by raucous dancing that normally gets the attention of the entire neighborhood in which THE Ball is being held. Sometimes, the authorities are involved, which no one wants, particularly the command hosting, but it can happen.

Some of my fondest memories from THE Balls of Balls Past…

Fort Leonard Wood, 1997. The uniform parade. I will never as long as I draw breath forget the majesty of watching the uniform parade play out. The lights were dimmed and the narrator took the podium. And as he was recounting the history of Marine Corps battles past, a Marine in period dress would make his way around the ballroom as if engaged in active combat. Chills and goosebumps, my dears. So. Powerful. That was my very first Ball and I shall never forget it.

Okinawa, 1998. I rode home in the Officer on Duty’s vehicle. The venue was only a few blocks from our apartment, but by the time we left the building all the cabs were gone for the night. I think it was well after 2ish in the morning. I had imbibed a wee too much and was faced with quite a walk. As we were contemplating this predicament and MarshFox was deciding if he was indeed upright enough to carry me that far, the Duty pulled up on his appointed rounds and instructed his driver to see me home safely in his Humvee while he checked that things were secure at the venue for the evening. After our arrival home, MarshFox took me up on the rooftop of our apartment building and we danced in the moonlight, so carefree and in love. Definitely memorable.

Portland, Oregon, 2015. I met a Devil Dog who’d served in World War II who was well into his nineties and was having a grand old time challenging the junior enlisted to a contest of who could do the most push-ups. Honestly, I do believe that old Devil Dog could have put them all to shame. In fact, he claimed to still be in good enough shape to pull a third-class PFT. I was so very appreciative of having met a living piece of Marine Corps history that night and hearing his stories of storming beaches, drinking like a pirate, swearing, and, sadly, of the comrades he’d lost over the years…


Many people mistake Veterans Day, which is November 11, Monday this year, with Memorial Day. I see many organizations and private civilians posting about poppies this time of year, but the truth is, those should be reserved for Memorial Day when we honor our fallen. On Veterans Day, we celebrate all those of all branches of service who served and are still living. These are the living pieces of military history we all need to engage and learn from. These men and women are well-springs of information that if not passed on will be lost. These are the people who guarded the door against the wolf and are still here with us, many whom have injuries we cannot see, but are there nonetheless. These few were and are tasked with protecting the freedoms of the many. They and their families make sacrifices so few understand or can fathom. They are strength in dark times buoying us all up against all enemies foreign and domestic. And I’m proud to say I’m married to one of these special individuals.

This Veterans Day, don’t offer up poppies, find a veteran and offer them a handshake, a hug, a heartfelt thanks.

To all those celebrating THE Ball in the coming days and weeks, be safe, have fun, and Semper Fi!

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