A marvelous glimpse of U.S. Marine Corps life occurs each September on the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. A massive Marine expo titled "Modern-Day Marines" showcases the incredible technology and firepower today's soldiers employ on the battlefront.
Future warriors, members of the Young Marines — an ROTC-like program that teaches Marine discipline and service, preparing future officers and leaders — gawk over the firearms, robotics and computer technology. Current Marines stroll through the exhibits with equal zeal, while their leaders and buyers collect intel on innovations that can save soldiers' lives in battle.
A sizeable number of retired vets also stroll in, marveling over current Marine life as they point and joke about how differently a Marine is supplied today while sharing a brief glimpse or two into "the old days."
But the disparity in technology appears to be the only true difference between old and young Marines. It was most evident the day before the showcase during a golf tournament and auction to benefit the Wounded Warrior Foundation and to raise scholarship funds for the Young Marines. The experience was moving, as officers in all their variety from varying branches of the military arrived. But this was the Marines' day, as generals on down, with post commanders and retirees, proudly wearing their caps and shouting "Ourah!!!" at any mention of the corps.
These men are proud Marines, and proud of their Marine heritage which dates back to 1775, and rightly so. Even during the War of 1812, the toughest fighting squad — next to Joshua Barney's Flotillamen — was a group known simply as "Miller's Marines."
As the golfers moseyed in from the greens, the retired vets posted their golf scores on the board and then gathered around tables to talk. While current leaders remained tight-lipped, there was no shortage of opinions or wisdom from the veterans. And the topics on their minds? It wasn't sports scores or movies or popular media darlings. They were doing what they had done for a lifetime: assessing the news, gathering intel and discussing strategic political and military options they no longer had the power to implement. The conversations fascinated this fly on the wall as they discussed places that still seem strange to most of us, but hot spots that had clearly been on their radar for many years.
Their faces were emotion-filled. They were deeply invested in these corners of the world where their young comrades-in-arms were serving or might serve one day. Some had children and grandchildren deployed there, and clearly, they were on their minds this day.
They talked about God and about country as if the two were unseverable appendages to one another. They knew the Bible and saw a clear connection between events written there and our circumstances today. These men of different nationalities and, likely, of many different faiths see their service as an extension of their personal faith, and they see their defense of America as a defense of Christianity in a world becoming increasingly negative toward Christians.
A highlight of one day ocurred when three sisters of a Marine killed at the 1983 bombing in Beirut came to participate in the launch of a scholarship named for their slain brother. Several were also Marines themselves, and they wept over the ache of their loss as well as the pride that his memory would be honored in such a manner. It was an honor to be at this ceremony and to see steeled, battle-scarred brothers-in-arms from every branch of the service shed a tear or two as well. It reminded me of something Colin Powell once said, about how no one works harder for peace than a soldier.
There are so few of the World War II generation of military heroes left. Most say little about their own experiences. They had fought hoping to spare their children and grandchildren from being required to stand on similar hellish lines. Now all they can do is shake their heads, postulate and mourn a sad truth — that children of many generations would likely be called to stand on that line.
For the rest of us, beneficiaries of past and current sacrifices, a debt of immense gratitude is owed. And the currency with which it is paid? To remember — gratefully.
Hug a soldier today. Better yet, thank one.
Laurie LC Lewis is the author of seven published novels, including her popular War of 1812 series, Free Men and Dreamers. She recently released "In God Is Our Trust." Her website is at www.laurielclewis.com.