Saturday, November 12, 2011
God, the Marines and a 10 Year Old Boy
Almost sixteen years ago, Sir Knight and I were blessed with a wonderful little boy. Master Hand Grenade was perfect, but when he was 8 days old an unexpected illness left him compromised. After spending a week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, his prognosis was dim. We was never to see, walk or hear. He would be plagued with seizures and there was not much of a chance of him ever living a normal life. God had other plans.
We did our best to raise our son like the rest of our children. We expected things from him. We taught him to love God, his family and his country. As he grew, we saw a distinctively warrior mentality developing in him. I don't mean that he wanted to do battle with us, but instinctively he wanted to protect the innocent. He was willing to stand in the gap between good and evil. And in his four year old mind, that meant that he had to be a Marine. Not Army. Not Air Force. Not Navy. There was nothing on his horizon but the Marine Corp.
Wanting to encourage our son, but knowing his limitations, we told him that God might have other ways for him to serve. We told him that God had called him to be a warrior, not for the Marines, but for God himself. Hand Grenade would soak this information in, enveloped in the knowledge that God had given him the spirit of a warrior, yet never losing his affinity for the United States Marine Corp.
All of Hand Grenades play revolved around being a Marine. He would dress up in camouflage (always 3 sizes too big), crawl through the trees on his stomach and shoot imaginary bad guys. He would arrange troops (rocks and sticks) in mock battles making sure that the Marines always proved victorious. He had me buzz cut his hair, making sure that I left the appropriate "helmet pad" and always strove to be "high and tight".
The older Hand Grenade became, the more certain we were that he would never be able to enter the Marine Corp. He had the heart of a Marine, but his hearing loss and involuntary movements would make him ineligible to stand with his brothers in the Corp. He was undeterred. He knew that one day the Marines would see him for what he was - a fellow Marine, and they would have no choice but to accept him as one of their own.
One day, when Hand Grenade was 10 years old, his childhood faith in the Marine Corp bore fruit. Hand Grenade was helping his Grandpa haul rifles into a gun show to set up a table, when they crossed paths with a retired Marine, arrayed in his uniform. Hand Grenade immediately grew tall, pulled his hand out of his pocket and saluted the Marine with a respectful "Sir". The Marine smiled down at the little boy in grubby BDU's, hands shaking and said, "Carry On". Hand Grenade beamed, as if the Lord himself had bestowed a blessing on him.
During the course of the gun show, Hand Grenade's grandfather had an opportunity to talk with that Marine. He told him about the little boy with the heart of a Marine, but whose body would never cooperate with him to reach his goal. He told him about Hand Grenade's tenacity. His persistence in overcoming every obstacle. He told him about a little boy that didn't have the word "quit" in his vocabulary. He told him about a child who was a natural born warrior - who would always stand between the innocent and evil, no matter what the cost.
As they talked, the Marine's eyes began to gleam. While the grandfather spoke of his great love for his grandson, an idea was born in the mind of the Marine. This Marine, this man of honor, would do what Marines do - he would stand up for the innocent. He saw, in this little boy, the soul of a Marine, and, as it was in his power to do something, he acted.
About two weeks after the gun show, that Marine Corp. Lance Corporal (retired) called. He spoke of meeting Hand Grenade and his grandfather and he wanted to have a ceremony at our home to induct Master Hand Grenade into the Marine Corp. Excitedly (without telling Master Hand Grenade) plans were made. We washed and ironed Hand Grenade's best BDU's, gave him a fresh buzz cut and called my folks so that they could make plans to be here.
The appointed day arrived. Electricity filled the air, although Master Hand Grenade had no idea why. Slowly, a car drove up our driveway, depositing a retired Marine, in full dress blues, at our front door. Master Hand Grenade opened the door and his excitement was palpable. He immediately recognized the Marine from the gun show and saluted without hesitation. After explaining the situation to Master Hand Grenade, the Marine proceeded to hold an induction ceremony for our son. As Hand Grenade stood at attention, he was inducted in the United States Marine Corp as an Honorary Marine with the rank of Lance Corporal. He was presented with a certificate documenting his induction, along with a cake bearing the Marine symbol - the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Other Marines, hearing about a 10 year old boy that was really one of theirs, contributed to this occasion. One sent a DI hat (from WWII) another sent his Marine Corp ring. BDU's, packs, bricks of .22 - gifts just came flooding from the trunk of the Marine's car. Never before has a 10 year old boy overflowed with such grateful thanksgiving.
The next year, when Hand Grenade was 11, he (and our family) was invited to be the guest of honor at the Marine Corp ball (in Montana). The Marines payed for our trip, donated our lodging (the hotel was owned by a former Marine) and even presented Master Hand Grenade with a beautiful, refinished .22 rifle. As he stood, side by side, with a Marine recently returned from Iraq, his induction into the brotherhood was complete. The Marine leaned down, whispered some pearl of wisdom into Master Hand Grenade's ear and Hand Grenade squared his shoulders, turned on his heal to face the Marine and saluted. In a moment of abandon, the two Marines embraced - one fresh from the field of battle, the other readying himself for a battle of a completely different nature.
Over the years, the Marines have come into our lives to bless us and enrich us many times over. They have never forgotten that little 10 year old boy. He is one of theirs. They stand by their creed "Leave no man behind". Not only did they make a little boy theirs, they have never left him behind.
Master Hand Grenade is now almost 16. He is tall and straight. He has the bearing of a Marine, although he will never be one. He is as earnest about standing between the innocent and evil as he was when he was 10. He is more of a warrior now than ever, but he has a new understanding that we battle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. And, he is still a Marine.
This year, our family was once again invited to be guests at the Marine Corp Ball. As Hand Grenade walked into the room, he was met by Marines in dress blues, clapping his back and shaking his hand. The hugged his shoulders and called him son. He stood tall, looked them squarely in the eyes, and knew he was home.
Thank you. All the veterans of our armed forces, I salute you. Not only do you protect our way of life, you honor and protect what is most important to us - our families. You are what is best in us.