- “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”
This article is going to be a little long and will have taken some time to type out by the time it’s published, but it’s something that I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for awhile. I’ll do it in 2 parts.
Being proud of what is on the chest, however, (those medals and ribbons earned) be it mine or yours, is what I want to talk about in this blog post and the next.
My belief in God and those shoulders belonging to the giants that we walk on being the true foundation of my story and pillars of strength.
There are a lot of bits and pieces of where I came from, where I’m at now, and where I want to go with my life scattered throughout and in various portions of this blog, but as it relates to the entire idea behind it, the message, and how it all got started hasn’t been made as clear as I can possibly make it – until now…
Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome is a personal project and mission; it’s about awareness through education, breaking the stigma associated with ptsd, it’s about my story, and it’s about yours. It’s about believing again, hope, and a sense of purpose. It’s about recovery and it’s about being proud of who you are – ptsd is not who we are.
I, personally, am a military veteran and there’s no greater or more honorable deed that can be accomplished in one’s life than that of serving your country and defending this great land of ours known as the United States of America against her enemies. Regardless of the branch of service we signed up for, the uniform worn, color of our skin, or our overall background we are ALL brothers and sisters with the same color of blood to prove it. I chose to be a Marine, and I’ll die one too – proudly.
Growing up I both respected and admired my father greatly, I loved him deeply. The mystery behind his own medals and scars was something that gave me great pause and helped develop my curiosity about the military – I was extremely impressionable and at a very early age.
I was a pretty normal little boy that loved to play “Army”, with G.I. Joe’s, and with plastic army men. I also wanted and needed my dad’s attention, love and affection.
My father is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War – he was a combat engineer and assigned to the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and saw his fair share of the horrors that war has to offer. He never talked about it. It wasn’t until after I experienced combat myself that I forgave my dad for not giving me the kind of attention and love that I begged for as a child (as his son) and deserved.
He deserved to be welcomed home properly and not spat upon…
He worked hard, and we never hurt for anything – perhaps love was missing in action but so was parts of my dad, but I didn’t know that then – he loved us with everything he had that was locked up inside of him.
When he was gone, or out of town on a job site, I would go through his things. His Army stuff. I found his dog tags, ribbons, badges, and unit patches – I would hold them as if I wasn’t worthy enough to be doing so – scared he’d find out.
He was so very proud of this very large hard cover black book with the logo of the First Cavalry Division on it – on it read in big bold yellowish gold letters “First Team”. This was, in essence, my first real story book as a child and I’m not kidding about that. One of my first tattoos after I joined the Marines was in his honor, in his brothers honor, the number of Vietnam War casualties based on the impact of that book. I would cry about, for, and with him but he never knew that. He was my hero.
I did not grow up in a dysfunctional family, I grew up in an atmosphere that has kept this country functional in the form of freedom since it’s birth – He represented that to me.
I remember when I got this tattoo at an ink parlor just outside the gates of Camp Lejeune, NC – in Jacksonville. The tattoo artist was a Vietnam Veteran himself and a former Navy Corpsman that went by “Doc”. I sat down in the chair at the ripe old age of 19 and told him what I wanted, more importantly why, and the question of how much was it going to cost?
He looked at me with this stare that seemingly lasted forever, then he said: “Freedom isn’t free my young friend and baby brother, but this tattoo is going to be…”
The price of the tattoo had already been paid in full, by blood, as far as he was concerned.
As my interest increased in what it meant to serve your country as a kid I discovered that there was a list of great Americans that fought that I was related to and served on my dad’s side of the family.
I had a great, great uncle that fought at Belleau Wood as an infantryman with the 2nd Infantry Division – an Army Division that was awarded the French Croix de guerre three times and entitles serving members of the 2nd ID and those regiments that were part of it at the time to wear a special lanyard called a fourragere in commemoration. This includes the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments.
I was able to meet this hero before he died – another great honor that I’ll never forget.
My great uncle Gene, my grandfather’s brother. He served in the U.S. Navy and aboard two ships during WWII that were both massively damaged and sustained a lot of casualties by the Japanese – he lived to tell about it.
The below picture, from left to right, is of my grandfather (think of the Randy Travis song “He Walked on Water” ), my great uncle Gene, and my great, great grandfather. A few good men are pictured here.
By the time I was 13 it had become clear enough that I had an obligation to serve my country.
In Part 2 I’ll wrap this whole thing up and start with my step-father who fought in the Korean War and was awarded the Purple Heart. Hopefully by then you’ll understand why I wrote this 2 part blog mini series and how it may help you make sense out of your own life – there’s no shame in going to war and returning with ptsd.