Making a difference
Out of town and staying in a hotel room, I awakened early one morning and made my way to the Starbucks that was open for business in the lobby. On the way, I passed a staff sergeant, a U.S. Marine, seated in the lobby, in his winter green uniform, working at a laptop and engrossed in whatever he was doing. I decided he looked too busy for me to interrupt him.
I ordered a large coffee, or whatever fancy name passes for “large” at Starbucks, from a very nice young Hispanic lady who, after handing me the cup, remarked on my windbreaker. I was wearing a bright red jacket with the Marine Corps emblem on it and the words, “Marine Corps League – Clyde Thomason Detachment 1325.”
She said, “You are a Marine!”
Understanding the truth that, by order of the Commandant, there is no such thing as a former Marine and, even though my active duty service ended in 1973, I replied, “I am!”
She smiled broadly and said, “My cousin is a Marine.”
She went on to tell me how, from a small boy, all he ever wanted to do was be a Marine. After high school, he enlisted and was shipped off to boot camp in California. “He was so proud to wear the uniform of a Marine,” she said, beaming. It changed his life, she said. He went away a boy and came home a man, she said. The change in him was evident and significant, she said.
She shared with unabashed pride how he served three combat tours, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. I was caught up in the pride she had for her cousin and we talked about what he did there and how he felt that he was part of something bigger than himself—that he was doing something good for somebody.
“I never saw him so proud,” she said.
“How is he doing?” I asked. “Where is he now?”
Her smile faded only a bit when she said, “He was killed on his third tour.”
I was totally unprepared. I wanted to say something ... anything that would help ... but I was speechless. She, however, continued to talk.
“What comforts all of us is that he gave his life doing something he truly believed in. He was prepared to give his life for his country. He told us that so many times. He died doing what he wanted to do. He died doing something that mattered.”
Finally, the line grew as new customers came so I took the coffee and headed back to the room. On the way, I saw the young staff sergeant, a fit and tough looking man in his late 20s still hard at work. As I got closer, I saw the campaign ribbons he wore. He too, had been to the desert wars. I stopped in front of him and cleared my throat.
As he looked up, I said, “Staff sergeant, I don’t want to interrupt what you’re doing, but ...” He noticed my windbreaker and immediately stood up and extended his hand.
I took his hand and said, “I just wanted to say ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for all you’ve done and will do. Thank you for your sacrifices and thank you for your service.”
He smiled and quietly replied, “Thank you, sir.”
“Semper Fi,” I said, squeezing his firm grip one more time.
“Oorah,” he said in that way that Marines do.
In the elevator, I punched a button and, with a throat almost too tight to breathe, stopped between the floors to shed a couple of tears before I went back to the room.
Tears for the loss of a proud U.S. Marine. Tears for the loss of a son, a cousin, a brave young man I never met. Tears for all the loss of life and limb that have been and that will come again. And tears of pride at being a very small part of such a great tradition.
President Ronald Reagan said, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”
The lady at Starbucks would agree.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]