SAN DIEGO -- Honor. Courage. Commitment.
These are the core values of the United States Marine Corps, and they are embodied by the young men who undergo basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Forty-two times a year, the depot hosts graduation ceremonies for young men who have volunteered to serve our country in a time of war and turmoil, who have volunteered to be challenged mentally and physically, who have volunteered to risk their very lives to protect all of ours.
Last Friday, 523 new Marines joined the ranks of the few and the proud. Among them was my youngest son, Private Ryan Scott Loftis.
To say that I am tremendously proud of my son would be an understatement. The truth is, it's impossible to say how proud I am. The words don't exist.
Friday's graduation marked a day that I knew was coming for almost exactly four years -- since the day in October 2011 when my oldest son, Ronnie, stood on that same parade deck on his own graduation day. I knew in my heart that day that Ryan would be following in his brother's footsteps.
I'm embarrassed to admit that when Ronnie told me that he planned to join the Marine Corps, I disagreed with his decision and told him so in very plain language. This was a young man who scored a 31 on his ACT, who could have gone to almost any college in the country. In my mind, this wasn't a young man who needed to join the military. That was for someone else's son, I told myself at the time.
I was wrong. What I came to realize was that while military service wasn't necessarily something my son needed, it was something he wanted. And it wasn't my place to interfere with that.
When Ryan announced nearly a year ago that he also would be enlisting, my reaction was much different. I knew that military service could be a very positive experience and I knew that it was Ryan's decision to make, on his own.
It was a privilege for me to return to MCRD San Diego for a second time. Just walking around the base, you get a very clear sense of the pride that our Marines take in themselves and their purpose. The Marine Corps' history and tradition are evident everywhere.
Thursday is Family Day at MCRD San Diego. As the name suggests, that's the day when families are reunited with their new Marines. After the Marines complete a three-mile "Moto Run" that ends with them standing in formation right in front of their families, they clean up and change into their "service Charlie" uniforms. They then line up in the "Liberty Formation" before being released to spend a few hours with their families.
After lunch on base and shopping at the post exchange, it's time for the Marines to return to their barracks. Normally that's the last you see of your Marine on Family Day, but one of the highlights of my visit actually was still to come.
As I sat on the steps of the depot theater, waiting for my hotel shuttle, a group of Marines in their combat utility uniforms ("cammies") emerged from their barracks and began marching toward the parking lot. They moved in perfect unison as they called out a cadence. The entire group seemed to be coming directly toward me and for a moment I thought they might march right up the steps. Then, in one fluid movement, the entire group turned on a dime to face their drill instructor. He barked out an order and every Marine in the formation immediately responded: "Yes, sir!" It was as if they spoke with one voice. Only when I saw the platoon flag with the number "3241" did I realize it was Ryan's platoon. I didn't see him, but it was an impressive sight, and I was pleased and proud that my son was a part of it.
The following day, Friday, was Graduation Day at MCRD. The day is almost anti-climactic; although this is the day that Marines graduate from basic training, they actually complete the transformation from recruit to Marine a week earlier, at the end of the Crucible.
Still, the graduation ceremony is filled with pomp and circumstance. My favorite moment, just as it did four years earlier, came when the commanding officer addressed the Marines on the parade deck.
"Good morning, Marines!" he said.
Five-hundred and 23 new Marines snapped to attention and saluted as they responded in one voice: "Good morning, sir!"
There are those among us who worry that young Americans are lazy, that they don't have a sense of purpose, that they don't understand honor, courage and commitment. That may be true for some, but after what I witnessed last week, I can assure you that there are still plenty of young Americans who understand those words very well. I am proud to say my sons are among them. I am proud to say: My sons are United States Marines!
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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.