It's Black Monday, Penelope's is closed. But the kids at Starbucks have created such an appeal that I have no hesitation spending an hour or two or three there crafting this week's write. Robin, the manager, and her assistant Barb have created a great place to visit friends or ponder ideas.
I've burned enough brain cells attempting to rationalize why once again I must write this week's column on Memorial Day. I even received e-mail from a reader asking, "Dr. Joe, why not write something different on Memorial Day?"
I thought deeply about his inquiry; Anita Brenner has already addressed the issue in her column, so what do I hope to accomplish? Will it make a difference in the lives of readers whether or not they attend the ceremony? Does it help the nation and the lost soldiers? Do my words promote peace? Will the memory of J.P. Blecksmith and Todd Bryant linger any closer to our hearts? Are my words merely a door to lock out the ghost of Vietnam? Do I write for the soldiers who can no longer speak?
If I were to guess, I'd say yes to all of the above. There's a compulsiveness that consumes my will and directs me to such thoughts. So, here's a story that as far as I'm concerned defines the method of my madness.
When I was a young lieutenant in Vietnam, I'd often visit the battalion aid station to cheer up convalescing Marines and pass out treats that I had stolen from Army supply areas. After a short visit, it's customary among Marines to conclude our dialogue with, "Semper Fi Marine" meaning always faithful. It's from the Latin, Semper Fidelis. It's the motto of the Corps, but can be traced back to 16th century England.
One afternoon a young Marine asked me, "Sir, do you know what Semper Fi means?"
"Corporal, I studied Latin for four years; of course I know what it means, always faithful!"
"Sir, it means a lot more than that," he said.
He went on to explain that the real meaning lies in the belief that regardless of circumstance no Marine would ever desert him or any other Marine. Or for that matter, any brother or sister of arms in time of need.
"Sir, it's our code; it's our honor," he said.
That evening I wrote his words in my journal titled "1970" and highlighted, "Always Faithful is our code of honor."
So, dear reader, allow me to respond to your inquiry.
I have no choice but to write these thoughts. I write them for you, for me, and for those who can longer speak. I took an oath to bear true allegiance to both the living and the dead and not desert them, no matter what the circumstance. Always faithful is my code of honor. Thus, writing these words to ensure the continuance of their memory is necessary for my salvation. I cannot speak for you; however, in John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields," we are given the same challenge that the young Private Ryan (Matt Damon) was given by Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) before he succumbed from his wounds: "Earn this!" Subsequently, in the words of McCrae we are admonished not to forget the lost soldiers, "If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders field."
I have vivid memories of the young Marine and his interpretation of Semper Fidelis. Maybe it was the tattoo that he wore on his arm. Chiseled under the Eagle Globe and Anchor it read, "Death Before Dishonor." It was the alchemy of that moment that imprinted the importance of never leaving anyone behind, even if you hold them only in your memory.
And so, my dear reader, I must always be faithful and write these thoughts.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun