The Marine Corps was, is, and will always be a barbarian tribe
“The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Today is the Marine Corps birthday. 248 years ago, a few ass-kickers in a Philadelphia bar hatched one of the great hair brained schemes in history. They formed two battalions of Marines with a tiny budget and a huge chip on their shoulders – a chip that remains on every Marine's shoulder to this day. Without any research whatsoever, I figure it all went down like this.
After finishing his beer and calling for another, Sam Nichols turned to his buddies and said, “Look fellas, I know we’re not even a country yet, but I was thinking… the Army’s up in Boston laying siege, bragging about Bunker Hill, getting all the glory… let’s just start our own thing down here in Philly. Sure, we have no money and we'll beg the army for gear, but who cares, we'll be Marines. And we’ll make up for all that material poverty with a barbarian vigor and fanatical fellowship those redcoats will never forget. In fact, we’ll become so fanatical some people might think we're a religious cult… and every November 10th hereafter will be our great Pagan Holiday -- but with even more booze, rituals, and shenanigans. So who’s with me?!”
Loud cheers soon led to even louder grunts, and on that night the Marine Corps was born.
Forget a religious cult, the Marine Corps was, is, and will always be a barbarian tribe. From the time I entered this crazy tribe, I felt like I had temporarily escaped civilization. My wife still can’t believe that my office hut at Camp Pendleton lacked any sort of phone technology. I explained I didn’t need a phone because I always had a Marine posted outside my hatch -- a “runner” we called them. I’d give this 18 year old Marine an order, he’d repeat it back to me, and then he’d take off running towards the barracks, the motor pool, the armory, or the chow hall to find my Gunnery Sergeant and pass along my orders. After that, the Marine would run back to my office, knock on my hatch, and deliver any follow-on information from Gunny. I'd respond, and back the Marine would go, running to wherever directed.
All of this happened nearly everyday along the Southern California coast... in 2002! After all, we were taught early in our career that "a messenger is always the most reliable [that is, uncorrupted] form of communication." But that's not really why we used a runner. We used a runner because we liked using a runner. We liked doing things the old way, and I'm telling you, no other Marine officer or senior enlisted in that battalion batted an eye about it -- because they liked living the old way too.
From age 23 to 30, I lived more on the edge of civilization. Along with other Marines, we ventured to the ends of the earth, countries I'd never visit... countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and a few other "stans." We lived in fighting holes without bathing for a month. We ate chow that had been sitting in warehouses for decades. We didn't care, we knew we were young and this was our one chance to turn back the clock and escape the safety, comfort, and malaise of civilization. Our once chance to live like savages. No one was ever pale, no one sat behind a computer, and no one ever felt alone.
To this day, some of my best friends remain the Marines I served with, those I lived the old way with. So I’ll close out this piece, illuminating the lasting bonds I made in the Corps by describing one contingent of Marines I still call brothers.
The four of us met as young infantry lieutenants, deployed overseas together, and were among the first wave of Marines to land in Afghanistan in 2001. Eventually we all left the service, moved away from one another, attended grad schools, started new careers, got married, and except for me, had kids.
Each October or November, the four of us reunite in a different American city for three nights. Even though we could, we never get separate hotel rooms; we always double up, the same two guys to a room. And if we’re lucky, our adjacent hotel rooms connect with an adjoining door to maximize the ball-busting and shit talking. When we’re together, we tell the same jokes and stories, and like it that way. We walk the city’s backstreets and boulevards, talking endlessly while visiting bookstores, museums, monuments, parks, restaurants, and bars.
On our third and final night together, we huddle around the hotel bar or restaurant like coffee house radicals and exchange books with grins. Each man passes out three copies of his favorite book for that year. With books stacked high on the bar, we take turns describing our chosen book, reading a favorite passage with animated delight – all while the bartender pours another round, shaking his head.
When we read from our books, wonder passes restraint and suddenly we're young Marines again. Suddenly, the four of us are back in the field, laying across the hood of a Humvee, our backs against the windshield, talking beneath the stars. Suddenly, we’re barbarians again, living the old way, gathered in fellowship.
When we finally say our goodbyes after three days together, we hug and always say, “I love you.”
Long live Marine Corps fellowship. Without it, I wouldn’t have these three barbarians – and many others like them – in my life.
Semper Fi and Happy Birthday, Marines.