First, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege of being around the military, a “grunt” is an infantryman. If you don’t know what an infantryman is, look it up; then find one and thank them. I don’t care if they’re a veteran or active duty, thank them.
I had the fortune of attending Richmond’s Welcome Home Our Heroes Parade on May 19 and amid the bands and the ROTC groups and the Veterans groups, there came about dozen or so marchers carrying large photographs, about 3’ x 4’ of Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors who weren’t lucky enough to make it home. The most sobering thing about the photos was the promise and the pride in their eyes. Below their photo, their name and hometown, many of them local to this area. Above their photo, their date of birth and their date of death. It didn’t take a lot of calculating to figure that most of them never made it to their 21st birthday.
After the parade, I had the chance to spend some time chatting with a young Marine from Queens, NY, who is stationed at Camp Lejeune – Home of The World’s Largest Amphibious Base and Home of Marine Expeditionary Forces in Readines. When I asked him what his MOS was (that’s Military Occupational Specialty), he proudly said, “I’m a Grunt.” As someone who grew up just outside of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC, I know a thing or two about young grunts. When I was sneaking into the clubs at the ripe old age of 17, specifically, The Chateau Madrid, I thought I’d gone to hell. I went to High School. All the boys there had hair. The only men in the Chateau with hair were playing in the band; were former Marines who decided they were never going to cut their hair again; or they were in the Navy. The Marines did not have hair.
Jacksonville was also home to Camp Geiger, where the Marine Corps School of Infantry is located – and it just so happens that Geiger is almost within spitting distance of The Chateau. Is it any wonder the place was always crawling with them?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first encounter. There we were, three girls, under legal age, drinking Malt Duck and listening to the band, when here come these two Marines with their pitcher of beer pulling up a couple of chairs and parking themselves at our table. Really? I was dumbfounded – and more than a little naïve about social interaction with the non-natives. My two friends, who by this time were old hats at the Chateau scene, were trying to think of some genteel way to get rid of the two interlopers and while they were whispering and debating something befitting Scarlett O’Hara, I just looked at the two marines and said, “Excuse me, but I don’t recall asking you to sit here.” And so it began.
For the next few years, through high school and the first year of college and summer breaks the Chateau was our getaway at night. And during that time, I met a lot of Marines and a lot of Navy Corpsmen and the occasional Squid (look it up). And it didn’t take long to figure out that the grunts were really not much older than me. Most of them came straight out of high school, left their moms and dads and their girls back home, and were just trying to fit in the best that they could.
Speaking to that young man today, just kind of brought it all back. He had his girlfriend with him, a girl from Richmond, whom he’d met through a buddy in the Marine Corps. He had a few months left, then was getting out and planned to go to Rutgers. They were just kids. Both of them. As an Infantryman, he could have been one of those photographs and she could have been a young girl whose life would have never been the same.
So, gentlemen, for the dances, for the beers, for the foosball, for the laughs, for all the great stories and memories I have tucked away, I thank you. But most of all, I thank you for doing the hardest job in the Armed Forces. I thank you for keeping us safe and for your willingness to sacrifice your life in service to our country. I can think of nothing nobler.
Semper Fi, Marines, Semper Fi