You know, it's very difficult to type with tears in your eyes.
Friday, 4 September 2009 was a very meaningful day in this household: our son came home a United States Marine. His mom and I bade him goodbye on 8 June and he endured three months of the Marines' tender mercies meted out by the Corps' fiercest members, their Drill Instructors. He took their best shots, the yelling, the discipline, the 0400 wake-ups, the incessant PT (with IT for indiscretions), the endless drill, the training, and the monastic existence in the middle of downtown San Diego.
This past Friday, we family and friends of five hundred and fifty-two of the nation's best, roughest, finest young men, assembled in the reviewing stand in front of the MCRD/SD parade ground and watched them pass in review for the final time of their 13-week training. Each young man, their D.I.s, their NCOs, and their officers flawless in the execution of that awesome display.
I was an officer in the United States Air Force and no stranger to military pomp, circumstance, and ceremony. Yet, the sight of the Battalion Commander greeting Fox Company and having these 552 young men snap to attention from parade rest and -- in perfect unison -- reply, "Good morning, Sir! Ooh-rah!" made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. As that cry echoed across the grinder, there were audible gasps of awe in the stands.
We were, to say the least, blown away.
Afterwards, I got to greet my Marine and gave him the longest hug I have in all of his 19 years. It was of necessity, to hide the tears of joy I was shedding to have him back with me -- if only for 10 days leave. I did not want to ever let him go.
To sum it all up, he did well -- qualified Rifle Expert with a 310 (top 10 in his platoon), earned PFC, and was made a squad leader. Those who know the USMC knows that, like everything in the in the Corps, these are earned, not given. As proud of him as I am, however, I am proud for the honor of having been allowed to join the "Marine Family" as they like to call it. The Marine Corps does not just take your son from you, they make a great effort to involve the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, wives, and sweethearts in the life of the Marine. Your son or daughter is told "once a Marine, always a Marine" and, lovingly and respectfully, they extend that feeling to the family and friends as well.
It is an honor I accept and will treasure for the rest of my life.
So, while the joy at having my son come back to me suffused my thoughts, that evening when we returned home, I read about Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard and wept inconsolably. Here was a another young Marine who was going to return to his father and mother -- yet under far sadder circumstances.
Joshua Bernard was killed in action in Afghanistan on 14 August 2009. He is now a townsmen of a stiller town.
This tragedy -- as bitter as any loss of our dear, beloved fighting men and women in combat -- became controversial because an embedded photographer caught Joshua's last moments on camera. And, while his father (a retired Marine) pleaded with AP to refrain from publishing the photograph, the sensationalistic, headline-grabbing people with that organization, disregarded Sergeant Bernard's wishes and splashed the image all over the internet. Predictably, the creeps over at Huffpo and on the left side of the aisle rattled on insensitively about supporting the troops but that it was necessary to show the brutality of war and all of that. Elsewhere, the debate raged about privacy versus the public's right to know; all of those self-righteous, self-serving, holier than thou opinions, trampling on the simple dignity of a father's grief and a brave Marine's tragic death.
I will link to no articles nor post any pictures of Lance Corporal Bernard because to do so, would eventually run you into that awful, tasteless photograph of this brave Marine's last moments. If you want to read about this controversy, then you Google it yourself.
And, if you do, you will come across Joshua Bernard's recruit training graduation picture (the standard one all boots have taken during their 13 weeks) and you will see what a handsome, kind, and gentle young man Joshua Bernard must have been and what a sweet, kind, and innocent face that young man had.
I stared into five hundred and fifty-two of them last Friday morning, and the tears have still not stopped.
God Bless Joshua, God bless his father and Mother, God bless the Marines, God bless our fighting men and women, God bless the United States of America..
..and God damn the AP!