Sense of Purpose

It’s 0710 on a Monday morning, and I’m about to cry.

The past few days have completely exhausted me. Last Thursday we were in Torrance, California, for their Armed Forces Day Celebration. The oldest celebration recognized by the government as an official observance, and one of only six in the country that is sponsored by a city, after 44 years they have it down. Our concert Friday night was observed by generals and admirals from every branch of the Armed Forces, and very well received by all. Saturday we were the featured unit in the parade, so not only did we lead off the parade, but we also played a post-parade show, also well received.

Upon returning to Twentynine Palms — early, because of last-minute scheduling circumstances, we met families and played to honor returning troops. We were working until 3 AM Sunday morning, and then again from 6 AM until 11 PM Sunday, and started again this morning at 6 AM.

It’s incredibly motivating and moving to witness the arrival of troops when they return from deployment. Families and friends come out, bearing flags, signs, and posters, to cheer for the troops as they arrive. The band plays patriotic music. The feeling is one of relief almost — “they’re not completely safe until they’re home again.” The phrase of the day is “Welcome Home,” the traditional greeting for returning troops.

Some members of my unit are disappointed that the Marines aren’t paying attention to us. After all, we’re here for them, right? Some can’t believe they aren’t standing at the position of attention when we play Anchors Aweigh (the song of the U.S. Navy) or the Marine’s Hymn (the song of the U.S. Marines) as dictated by official customs and courtesies. I must admit, this affected me as well, but understood that the Marines have been through so much that we can probably afford to let it slide.

These attitudes promote a feeling of unimportance; “if they don’t care that we’re here, why do we bother?” For me, it’s enough to see the faces on the Marines and their families as they’re reunited after many months. The feeling is even stronger when random Marines come up to us after we finish the ceremony and say “Thank You”.

This morning, as I said earlier, I’m fighting to hold back tears. Eleven Marines pulled up in a large passenger van (yesterday they were coming in 5 and 6 school buses at a time), met by a smattering of family and friends. They smiled, greeted, and hugged each other as they were brought back together after many months apart. They started moving to their cars to go home and get some hard-earned rest. One Marine was just standing there, watching and listening as we played. As we finished the Marine’s Hymn, he began to shake everyone’s hand and thanking us for coming out. I had experienced this at least six times already. Just another job. What happened next caught me off guard.

This Corporal walked up to me, shook my hand, and said to those of us standing there, “You guys [in the band] rock in my book. You’re the only ones who came out to see me.”

Recall my post from the other day — talking about the importance of what I do for the Marines, and whether it makes me a Marine. The Marines I’ve met over the past few days — the same ones you’ve seen on the news storming through Baghdad — seem to think it does.

Author: Matthew

U.S. Marine Corps officer living in North Carolina. The views expressed here are my own, and are in no way intended to represent the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense or any of its components.

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