Happy birthday, U.S. Marine Corps
Symbols are embodiments of ideas, beliefs and emotions that can unite us in a common cause. The military is rife with symbols — some obvious, like the U.S. flag, others less so.
Which brings me to this Ziploc Baggie of salt-and-pepper sand on my desk.
It arrived by post some months ago, boxed and double-bagged. I have carefully unzipped it only a few times, gritting volcanic, glittery crystals between fingertips, huffing in faint sea scent before sealing it up again.
But this is not a gift for me; it is for my dad, the Marine.
Today, the Marine Corps Birthday, and the day before Veterans Day, feels like the right time to give it to him.
Last winter, at the annual convention for the Colorado Press Association, Larry Ryckman of The Denver Post displayed his private collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. What a treat!
I lingered over Joe Rosenthal’s photo of five U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising an American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
David McClain, of Sterling, struck up a conversation with me. McClain, now retired, was a legendary newspaperman some four decades. He’s worked at newspapers in eight states and run strings of newspapers and radio stations.
He also flew helicopters in Vietnam during the war.
I told him my father, Jerry Mayne, served in Vietnam — three tours — and was in the Marine Corps 20 years.
“I have something for him. I’ll send it to you,” McClain said, adding that in 2007 he had been the New Mexico representative for the Department of Defense Joint Civilian Conference.
I’m familiar with these coveted civilian tours of areas of significance to the Armed Forces.
McClain toured the Pacific Command. While on Iwo Jima, he was allowed to scoop up some of the sand from the shore. Since then, he has shared his dwindling pile with Marines he encounters.
The box and Baggie of sand came with folded photocopies of columns McClain published after his tour:
“The compelling message I must share with my readers is that these are outstanding young men and women who serve our country,” McClain wrote. “They have a universal commitment to excellence. They are proud of what they do. They are dedicated to freedom, defense of America, to each other and to the greater goals of their duty assignments.”
He went on to write that Marine Capt. Binstock, a military information officer, had laid out the itinerary on the first day in Honolulu. The group of 36 civilians would go first to Guam, then Manila and Okinawa. They next would tour Iwo Jima on Nov. 10.
Iwo Jima, she said, is the second best place in the world for a Marine to be on the Marine Corps Birthday.
“What’s the first?” someone asked.
“Back in Iraq, fighting for freedom on the front lines” with her fellow Marines, she replied.
Happy Marine Corps Birthday to my dad and to all Marines. Semper fi. And happy Veterans Day to all the enlisted men and women who have put service to their country before their own needs.
In honor of Veterans Day, I asked Margie Wilson, owner of Grand Valley Books, 350 Main St., for her recommendations of military-related books.
“We have an extensive collection of military history at Grand Valley Books,” Wilson said. “Here are a few books about military history that I highly recommend:”
■ “The Things They Carried,” a novel by Tim O’Brien. This is often assigned reading for high school students’ Advanced Placement literature classes. The story is told in a meditative, introspective style, and is the poignant reminiscing of a Vietnam soldier. The theme that recurs is the fragility of life and the way that storytelling serves to wash the soul clean. There’s a quietness about Tim O’Brien’s telling of the soldier’s story that contrasts sharply with the horror of war, the endless background noise in battle that continues long past the battle’s end, and the healing that comes from remembering and articulating the memories. I give this one four stars.
■ “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin for a slant on the Civil War from the perspective of Abraham Lincoln and those who were on his team as well as his opposition.
■ Another favorite of mine in this genre is McKay Jenkins’ “The Last Ridge.” I’ve talked with McKay about his book, and he told me that his extensive interviews were the source of many untold anecdotes of the 10th Mountain Division. The training that took place near Leadville at Camp Hale is a part of Colorado’s culture, and while many of the 10th soldiers have passed away, a few still tell the stories at their yearly reunions. So many of the early developers of ski areas in Colorado and the Intermountain West were members of the 10th Mountain Division, and they came back to Colorado following World War II. Their bravery and incredible stamina in European alpine battles turned the tide of the war. Jenkins does a fine job detailing the battles in a readable way, and in telling the stories of these men from firsthand accounts.
The Daily Sentinel is giving U.S. flags — while supplies last — to veterans who show proof of service. These are large — 3 by 5 feet — beautiful flags with a pole and mounting bracket. Stop by our offices at 734 S. Seventh St. during business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and let us honor you.