Today and tomorrow, I’m doing reconnaissance of a sort, albeit not of an opposing force. I’m looking for information that will help me understand my father better.
After spending seven years as his caregiver, I thought I had Dad figured out. But almost two years since his death, I remain curious. I was so busy caregiving that I missed the window when he could have answered my questions.
How did he become the gracious man I knew in old age? After hurdling heart disease to support his family, raise four children and be there for my mother during her final illness, he could finally relax. With his fighting years behind him — in the literal and figurative sense — I thought perhaps he returned to the person he was when young. Smart and sensitive, he had been the middle child who empathized with others, particularly his mother, who bore the brunt of his father’s criticisms. His career in the Marine Corps, I thought, explained his emotional distance when I was growing up, his command presence at home.
I’m rethinking that. Watching my brother’s taped 2003 conversation with him, I was struck by my father’s expression when he described the personal connection a leader must have with the troops for whom he is responsible. In his memory, he was back in 1941, soon to be commissioned second lieutenant, preparing to lead men in war. He was 24.
Then I read a passage in General Victor Krulak’s book, First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. “Brute,” as he was known, gave his take on the brotherhood of the Marines. It is embodied, he suggested, in a section of the Marine Corps Manual written by General John A. Lejeune in 1921 called “Relations Between Officers and Enlisted Marines.” In six short subsections, Gen. Lejeune laid out what officers must do to preserve the “spirit of comradeship and brotherhood” that came out of WWI. I saw my father in this:
b. Teacher and scholar — The relation between officer and enlisted men should in no sense be that of a superior and inferior nor of master and servant, but rather that of teacher and scholar. In fact, it should partake of the nature of the relation between father and son, to the extent that officers, especially commanding officers, are responsible for the physical, mental and moral welfare, as well as the discipline and military training of the young men under their command who are serving the nation in the Corps.
At the end of the passage, Gen. Krulak noted this:
“This warm and human example of soldierly philosophy, in addition to its enduring wisdom, implies a lesson for anyone who aspires to lead men. In it, General Lejeune uses the term officer ten times, the term men ten times, and leadership or leader three times, but he never used the more sterile terms persons, personnel, supervision or management at all. Lejeune knew he was talking about warm, living human beings.”
Seems my father didn’t leave the Marine Corps behind at all. Perhaps it taught him to be a better man, a better father, the one he never had.
Click here to read General Lejeune’s order in its entirety. It remains in the Marine Corps Manual nearly 100 years later.