For those who have followed, my transition from being an Active Duty Marine for over 9 years – to becoming a constructive member of society as a civilian – has been quite the life experience in and of itself. The more time passes, the more it seems that a lot of the transition friction comes from the disbelief that I no longer wear the uniform. It is so shocking because I never thought I’d feel that way. However, last night, I got to experience my first Marine Corps Birthday celebration, cake cutting, and honoring of traditions, as a civilian – amongst a group of Brother-Strangers, also known as Marine Veterans.
It was quite the experience, to sit, stand, talk, drink, embrace, listen, share stories, see memories relived through story, and generations of traditions right in front of me. The group has no “official” affiliation, it simply has a commitment to meeting once a year, to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday, and started with the traditions of a group of Marines from Woodside, Queens. Of which, even within the same elementary school, has reared two Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients, Navy Cross, Bronze Stars, and more. The Woodside neighborhood has more military awards than any zip code in the Nation, or so I was taught last night. I invite Malcolm Gladwell to add to this neighborhood to his studies as a lost chapter to his book “Outliers”. This group of Marines has extended its annual celebration to anyone who has felt the brim of a campaign cover on the bridge of their nose.
The event took place at a great, Marine-Veteran owned Italian restaurant in Chelsea, Manhattan. The event coordinated by another Marine Businessman. There was a Marine Birthday Cake, The reading of John A. Lejeune’s Birthday Message, reading of the Commandant’s Birthday Message, we honored the MIA/POW table, taps was played, and amongst grown men, tears were wiped away. More stories were shared, connections made, and help offered. As once, and as always: Marines looking out for the Marine to their right and to their left.
I had only met 2 out of the 20 or so Marines there. All serving from the Korean War, to just returning from the War on Terror in Afghanistan. There were two, father-son, Marine-legacies across generations. I should have never been as surprised as I was, but for a brief period of one evening, I felt at home amongst would be “strangers”. I should have never been surprised… they were never strangers, they were my brothers. They were, and forever will be – Marines.