When my oldest son was a young boy, he would dress-up in a white t-shirt and green camo pants and play soldier. He’d march out the backdoor with a pack over his shoulder and his bb gun, where he’d set up targets in the yard. The bb gun was far from the best. It was so cheaply made that you had to be on top of your target, in order to hit anything, but that never seemed to stop him. He’d spend hours in the yard and the edge of the neighboring woods, acting out an imaginary story in his head.
Later when he was in middle school and needed to write about someone who inspired him, he wrote about the Marines who fought at the Guadalcanal in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Each night as he discovered some new nugget of information about their brave, but deadly campaign, he’d come running into my bedroom and say, “hey dad, did you know?” and each time I was shocked by the information that he had collected and his glee in learning about the Marines who fought there.
In fact, I learned from him that the Guadalcanal Campaign ended Japanese expansion attempts and placed the Allies in a position of clear supremacy. The Allied victory was the first step in a long string of successes that eventually led to Japan’s surrender.
The writing on the wall
With those two experiences, my wife and I should have known that he would one day become a United States Marine. It was inevitable. I haven’t written much over the years about his service in the Marines and won’t include any specifics here — no rank or locations or anything identifying him — to protect him and his unit, but he’s always in our thoughts and prayers.
In recent weeks, with the horrible bombed out images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seemingly everywhere, I can’t help but think about him even more. It’s not just the news. It’s stilly things too. We think of him when it comes to picking something to watch on Netflix or one of the other streaming channels. I love a good action movie as much as the next guy. Give me a spy thriller anytime. A war movie or television series like Patton or Band of Brothers, no problem. But we tend to skip any war movies with too current of a plot. It’s not that it sends us running out of the room, we’d just rather not go there.
A different kind of transition
In any event, U.S. lawmakers and NATO so far have not been pulled into the Ukrainian war, but who knows what could happen. I certainly have empathy for the Ukrainian people and pray for them. I’ve heard some people make a strong case for increased American support for the Ukrainian cause. It’s a blog for another day.
However, whenever we’ve gotten together in the past with our son, my wife will always mention her concerns about whatever part of the world seems to be blowing up at the moment and seeming to be on the verge of war. She’ll tell him that she worries about him.
In the world of Marvel comics, whenever Dr. Bruce Banner gets angry, he transitions into The Incredible Hulk. When my wife mentions her concerns, here in the real world, I get to see an another altogether different metamorphous. My son’s face gets serious, his shoulder’s stiffen, and he takes on a completely different tone. He turns from an easy-going young man to a wise, stoic man of the world.
He’ll take a deep breath and then stand up and give his mother a long hug. When they separate from the hug, his next words will be respectful and considerate, but full of determination. “Mom that’s why we train so much, that’s why we work so hard, so we’re ready when we need to be.”
“Plus, we’re called to help, to protect. I’m doing what you taught me to do.”
And each time he’s given some version of that answer over the years, I find myself quickly wiping away a tear from the corner of my eye, before the two of them can see me. I’m emotional not because I’m scared. No, I’m find myself crying, because I couldn’t be prouder. My son, the same one that I used to watch out the back window running and playing in the yard, has morphed into a caring, focused hero of men.
Yes, my son is a United States Marine, and I couldn’t be prouder.