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Once a Marine, Always a Marine

When there was a loud thunderstorm, my Dad would come into my childhood bedroom and make sure I was well-covered by his old gray U.S. Marine Corps blanket. He would remind me that if anything bad ever happened while I was sleeping, four Marines were ready to jump out of the blanket to rescue me. I believed this for a long time.

Perhaps it wasn’t typical to grow up in a house where your Dad kept his WWII rifle in the closet or played his Marine Corps songs tape cassette at full volume while driving his car with you in the backseat and where you were told the best days of your Dad’s life were at Parris Island, but that was my experience as the daughter of a Marine.

On this Veterans Day I want to honor my Dad, now 91. Once a Marine, Always a Marine.



My Dad enlisted in the Marines at age 18, the day after Pearl Harbor. To hear him tell it, WWII didn’t really begin until he got there. He served for nearly four years on the battleship the U.S.S. South Dakota; a ship which did two tours in the South Pacific with one visit in between to the northern Atlantic Ocean with the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow.

He saw battle in places called Nuku’afola, the Savo Islands and Tarawa. How do I know this? Not from him. He told us very little about his actual days at war. Even when we would watch WWII movies together such as “Tora, Tora, Tora”, he would not share details of what it what it was like to be a soldier in the middle of a war. He responded to our questions with vague statements like “It was very loud” or “It was very hot” and we had to be content with that.

His days as a Marine influenced his entire way of life. He is a decision maker and takes command easily. He also does not take no for an answer. Ever. When my mom collapsed into a coma following a surgical “mishap” at a famous big city cancer hospital, the guard at the door of the ICU told my Dad that my Mom could have visitors for only 5 minutes every hour. I think my Dad’s response was something along the lines of “B-shit, you tried to kill her once. We won’t let you kill her again. We will come and go as often as we please.” The guard stepped aside.

So my Dad organized the troops, my Mom’s brothers, his brother, my sister and other family and friends to be on duty by her bedside in the ICU. He created a schedule, two of us a time, 12 hours on, 12 hours off. We rotated shifts. No exemptions. If he could have brought in a Marine Corps color guard to stand by her bedside, he would have done that too. And when my Mom died, he grieved deeply but silently. We saw him weep at her funeral but he pulled himself together as soon as we noticed.

He brought his Marine sense of order into the law firm he founded in 1952. In the years he managed the firm it was run like a battleship, so he would tell us. The chain of command was very clear. The management committee, in his opinion, consisted of him and his yellow lined legal pad. It didn’t stay that way for long but I imagine those early days of discipline are what led to the firm’s success, then and now.

His belief in pain management was another artifact of his Marine days. When my sister and I needed to have a splinter taken out of a big toe or a painful cut on the knee bandaged, he would give us a bullet – literally – a bullet – to bite down on. I didn’t take him up on his offer.

And his tastes in food were also shaped by his Marine years. He will not willingly eat rice or pineapple or anything that vaguely tastes reminiscent of the South Pacific. When my daughter, his eldest grandchild, insisted on Thai food for her 12 year old birthday dinner, he went along and ate little. But Marine-like, he stuck through it without complaining.

A few years ago we went with my Dad and stepmother to the Marine Corps Barracks, the oldest active post in the United States, here at 8th and I Streets in Washington DC, to see the Friday Evening Parade. The reviewing stands were filled with fellow Marines, all wearing caps naming the war in which they fought. We watched the Marines march, the band play and the colors being lowered as the sun set. It was very moving for us but for my Dad and his fellow veterans it was more than moving. This was an experience that only they shared.

My Dad is a true representative of what Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation” in his 1998 book. They grew up in the great depression, they signed up to fight because it was the right thing to do and they never bragged about their sacrifice. His was not a generation of whiners or excuse makers. They took personal responsibility for their actions and did what was needed. What they experienced in war made them mature beyond their years. So maybe my Dad does not want to tell us what he experienced but we can and should honor what he and his fellow Veterans did without knowing the details.

Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper Fidelis.



Read more from Nancy Wolf on her blog, Witty Worried and Wolf


Nancy Wolf

Nancy L. Wolf writes about parenting, family life, higher education and mental health from the perspective of someone who has seen it all and still has a strong sense of humor. She practiced law for 30 plus years while raising 2 now adult kids and has been married for 36 years to a wonderfully tolerant man. Now semi-retired, but hardly retiring, she helps parents of young adults with mental health challenges through and "parents of young adults who struggle" on facebook. In her spare time, Nancy is a volunteer college advisor with a in Wash DC, a group that helps low-income kids get to college and on the board of NAMI Montgomery County She relishes being the most opinionated member of her book club, sticks to advanced beginner classes in pilates and regularly cleans up after two unruly rescue terriers. And did I mention that Nancy is a new grandma? Photos of her adorable grandson are available upon request.

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Koji Kanemoto

Wednesday 12th of November 2014

A most moving story, so wonderfully told. I know of a number of Marines.... from the current day to those who endured battle in the Pacific like your dad. I think they all come from great yet different generations... but they will always be Marines.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Tuesday 11th of November 2014

Really nice post Nancy. I can just see your father as he has marched through his life. Great portrayal of him, his values and what he tried to teach his children. Thank you for sharing it. And by the way, my Dad, who served in the Philippines, never liked my Toyota. He didn't say much. But I just knew. And I knew why.

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