Each year when this day rolls around on the calendar, the reflections begin to roll in my mind's eye like a slide show of awe-inspiring images that passes too fast to absorb or describe.
It is not often that I can't put into words an idea, a thought, a picture. But I struggle very much with explaining how and why the Marine Corps meant and continues to mean so much in my life. And in the nation's life, as well.
One image keeps flashing into the memory bank, so I will start here. One cool, fall Quantico day in 1989, as I was running in formation with a group of officer candidates, the sun was breaking through the trees just so. The formation was moving right along at a brisk clip, with the rhythmic crunching of feet hitting the gravel in perfect unison to the cadence. The pounding feet of the formation seemed to get louder and louder. When the pounding became almost like thunder, it dawned on me, like the bright sun of the day that had just begun: It was simply magic. This Marine Corps magic makes the whole far greater than the sum of its ordinary parts like me. Magic. That's the only way to explain it, and I could explain it only because it happened to me.
Loyalty to each other. Loyalty to country. For most of us, loyalty to God. But ultimately, there was just a fear of letting down your fellow Marines, a complete refusal to ever let that happen. This is what drives the Marines. When this belief system takes hold and finds its way into the DNA, one has magically made the transformation to become a Marine. Ordinary young men and women ... living up to an extraordinary legacy.
Like a guardian warrior-angel, this legacy goes everywhere with the Marines. It taps them on their shoulders as they go about their duties large and small, reminding them to always be faithful to the Corps and the country it serves.
Remember those that have gone before. Remember the young men fighting their way up Suribachi through murderous fire. Remember Chapultepec. Remember Viet Nam. The nation forgot those young troops, but they did not forget the nation. Remember the Marines who for 230 years have quietly gone about their duties -- whether valiant or mundane -- and have done them with excellence and pride. It goes on and on.
Never forget. And never let them down. Stay faithful.
When comparing little ol' me to that legacy -- a legacy that Marines have beaten and drilled into them at either Recruit Training or OCS -- I have always felt small indeed. Yet, I have always felt tall in the company of fellow Marines.
I marvel at today's young Marines, too, fighting alongside brave young soldiers as a new generation of American warriors makes its mark on history. I should say I marvel, but then again I don't. They are proving what many of us know. The magic lives. And if you don't believe it, spend some time with them and have your faith in America restored. Or you could check with the enemy whom they are seeking, closing with, and destroying.
And one final note here. I want to take this occasion to thank all patriots, whether they be civilians or current/former members of other services, who share the Marines' commitment to this nation. This day is yours, too.
For the heart and soul of America continues to produce and inspire new generations of Marines ... to carry and then pass the torch.
Indeed, many nations have marines, but there is only one United States Marine Corps. Happy Birthday, Marines.