Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the United States Marine Corps. Museum in Quantico, VA. The curators of this nonprofit privately run museum have done an outstanding and stellar job of paying tribute to the U.S. Marines beginning with the Civil War.
As I walked through the many well composed campaigns of war, I reflected on my own family’s military history. My father proudly served in WWII. He was stationed out of Ford Ord, CA. Before he was ultimately shipped to New Guinea he spent some time in Hawaii. He was shipped out of Hawaii two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. My father received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. The story I remember as a child is that he covered a comrade with his own body and ended with shrapnel in his back that was never removed. Years ago, after Fort Ord was decommissioned as a military base, my father and I explored the boarded up areas that were once the commissary, enlisted barracks and the mess hall. I treasure that moment of being able to see an active military base during the 1940’s through my father’s eyes. Especially, since, as a young girl I did not appreciate hearing his war story’s over and over again. Today, I miss hearing those stories and realize it was his way of connecting with a time that meant a great deal to him. My father loved watching the old black and white WWII movies, and if there was any real footage he would always be looking for himself or someone he knew!
One of my brothers served in Vietnam; shipped out soon after graduating high school at the tender age of 18. My mother prayed for him two times a day every day. Praise God he came home physically. Unfortunately, to protesting America he did not come home a hero. It wasn’t until almost thirty years later we started hearing about PTSD. I now believe he suffered from this tragic disorder. In mid 2003 my brother had a dental infection, which could have been easily treated at the VA hospital, his only insurance at the time. However, my brother refused to be treated by any facility that had to do with the government. Even as my other brothers were taking him to the hospital because of an excruciating headache, caused by the dental infection, he was insistent on not being taken to the VA hospital. As Providence would have it, he was taken to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, CA and received the highest quality of care. Unfortunately, the dental infection had spread to his brain. He went into a coma and never woke up; another casualty of both war and PTSD.
Another brother enlisted in the Air Force toward the end of the Vietnam War; thankfully he was never called in to active duty. He was a “weekend warrior”. He served one weekend a month and two weeks a year. I’ll never forget the one thing he taught me that he learned in the Air Force; how to darn a sock over a light bulb! While holey socks are not darned in my house, it is a quick and easy way to repair holes, yes, I’ve tried the method!
The youngest of my brothers served in the Navy during the mid to late seventies. He was the ship’s yeoman on the USS Harry E. Yarnell, a guided missile frigate. It was coming up to his first Christmas in the Navy and word came home that he would not be able to come home for Christmas. We grew up in a large Italian family and spent every holiday together, this was simply unacceptable to me. So, at the most knowledgeable age of 13 and unbeknownst to anyone else, I wrote a letter to the ship’s Captain explaining why my brother must absolutely be home for Christmas and he was! It wasn’t until years later that I found out that as the ship’s yeoman my brother had to type the Captain’s response letter to me. I’m sure it was quite some time before he lived that one down!
I grew up as a child of the archaic air raid system left over from WWII. We would have air raid drills in school where we were instructed to duck under our desks and cover the back of our necks with clasped hands. These drills frightened me so! Coincidentally, my childhood home was in the flight path of aircraft inbound to NAS Moffett Field, CA (it will always be NAS to me!). Whenever I would see the mighty P3-Orion’s coming in, sometimes 3 or 4 at a time, I would run into my house and hide not realizing they were the good guys! Years later as I prayed to God for a husband, He faithfully answered that prayer and sent me one of the good guys! My husband served in the Navy for 15 years; spending most of that time at NAS Moffett Field. He was a P3-Orion Flight Engineer, flight instructor, ground school instructor and blue card check ride instructor.
As my reflection of my family’s military history ends, I have also arrived at the end of the USMC museum tour. The very last exhibit at the museum is dedicated to 9/11. There is a sheared piece of the Pentagon and a steel girder from ground zero that museum goers can touch and ponder. (My husband worked for United Airlines on Sept. 11, 2001 and was in contact with Flight 93 before it crashed in PA., but that is another blog for another time.) There was one story in particular that day that captivated me. It is the telling of Major Dan Pantaleo, who, after realizing what had just happened to the Pentagon, ran toward the Pentagon to help rescue those trapped inside. One of the USMC codes of conduct is to rescue people first and that is what Major Pantaleo did but during the ensuing days he kept looking up at the USMC flag that stood proudly and precariously on the damaged Pentagon. He wanted to rescue the flag and especially so since there were uncontained fires on the floors below the flag, which could eventually send the flag up in flames. Major Pantaleo talked a civilian crane operator in to allowing him to get into the crane utility cage and raise him to the flag. Their second attempt was a success and the flag was rescued. The rescued flag is currently on temporary display at the USMC museum.
As I left the museum I was filled with pride. Pride about being an American; pride in all branches of our great military; and pride in my fellow Countrymen. As I thought about the rescued Marine flag I realized, truly, no Marine was left behind.
This blog is dedicated to my Dad, my brothers, my husband, our VP-31 family and all the men and women who have and continue to serve this great Country. God bless you and God bless America!