The whole time that I was getting ready to leave for my meeting this morning, I was rehearsing what I would say in my mind. Everything sounded wrong. Then I put on my just-ironed white blouse. Too sheer. Put a tank underneath it. Tied a colorful scarf around my shoulders. Untied it. Did it a different way.
I was representing my Dad to his contemporary counterpart and I had to get it right to meet the Executive Officer of the Corps’ oldest post.
Having allowed for traffic, I arrived at 8th and I about a half hour early and pulled into one of the diagonal parking spots. Turned off the car.
I heard a trumpet fanfare. Sounded like the Marine Corps band. I thought perhaps one of the restaurants across the street was piping it outside to appeal to the tourists. Then the music stopped. Started again. Stopped again. The same musical phrase was repeated several times in a row.
I got out of the car and looked behind me. Between the two-story brick buildings, past the tidy painted iron fence, I could see the edge of reviewing stands. That’s the parade ground, I realized, the one in Dad’s black and white pictures of the evening parade.
The Marine Corps band was practicing outside at the very moment I arrived.
Entering the gate on 8th, I parked as directed alongside the parade ground, next to the building marked “Center House,” and “Bachelor’s Quarters.” Immediately, a precisely-pressed Marine approached me. It was LtC. Garnett, the current Exec Officer of Marine Barracks.
We entered Center House, which functions – as it did in my Dad’s day – as the reception area for visitors and Marine officers. LtC. Garnett stowed his tan cap in the slots provided for that purpose in the entry. He ushered me into a room with two large leather couches that faced each other. He asked if I had memories of my Dad’s service there, and I explained that I was born while Dad and Mom were stationed in Canada, just a few months before my Dad assumed his role as XO. I said that Dad had some wonderful experiences, experiences I was sure he was having, too, as one wasn’t asked to serve as XO unless someone wanted you there.
He explained that he had served in Afghanistan as Executive Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Division. When his Commanding Officer of the 8th was appointed Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks, he asked LtC. Garnett to come with him.
I pulled out my book of photos, worried that I would bore him – the equivalent of inflicting your home movies on a stranger.
He pointed out that the grass on the parade ground, which doubled as a baseball field in my Dad’s time, now had to be maintained perfectly. The evening parade, now a tradition for more than 50 years, was started while Gen. Leonard Chapman was Commanding Officer of the Barracks, and the same format and traditions persist today. In some of the photos, there is a tree, which the Lt. Colonel explained was the ceremonial tree. It had died of a virus, and a post and sign about it still serve as the dividing line between the south and north viewing stands. Guests of the post are seated just to its south.
“This is like royalty,” he said, looking at the officers in Dad’s photos, many of whom had legendary careers in the Marines.
When we got to photos of men holding silver mugs, standing in front of a wall of mugs, he said, “That’s here. That’s the drum room.”
On a brief tour of Center House, he explained that it’s still the gathering place on Friday nights. The drum room has an ample number of beer taps. Each of the officers assigned to the Barracks have a mug associated with their position, and on the far side of the mug is engraved the names of those who have held it in recent years. When room for names is exhausted, the mug is retired. He explained that, when the building was renovated in the 70s, the mugs were sent to Quantico with the intent of returning them following the renovation. Unfortunately, they were lost and never restored to the Barracks.
I said several times that I didn’t want to take too much of his time. He explained, smiling, “This is part of what we do. This is the legacy of the Marines.”
He said that he hoped that some day his son would be interested in learning more about his father’s experience at Marine Barracks. His son, now three, was born while he was in Afghanistan.
I noted that it was my mother’s decision to come east to marry Dad, and that she sent him a telegram to that effect not long after Pearl Harbor.
“She was a pretty strong woman,” I commented. He smiled. “I guess we attract strong women,” he said, smiling. He had asked his wife to follow him on one of his deployments prior to Afghanistan. “She said she’d go… with a ring on her finger,” he noted.
After covering a few logistics, he walked me out to the car.
“I bet your Dad is up there organizing things in heaven,” he said. I replied, “Mom got there first and I’m sure she had it all under control.”
As I approached the car, the Marine Corps Band had just come to the finale of the song that always reduced Dad to tears: “Glory, glory, hallelujah, His Truth is marching on.” Dad said he cried because it reminded him of all of the good men he knew, men that died in the War. We ended Dad’s memorial with the Mormon Tabernacle choir version.
The way the Marines play it, it ends with what seems to be the final chord, but after a pause, it crescendos in slow pulses, a half step higher, and another half step, and another half – again and again, until finally the trumpets blare in a massive, perfect chord. The air vibrates as the echo dies away.
It felt like Dad had arranged it, just for me.
2 responses to “Tracing My Father’s Footsteps”
Wow, what an experience! Not one I could have imagined, to be received like that. Made me cry.