Veterans Day – Semper Fi

Today is Veterans Day. It is celebrated on the eleventh day of the eleventh month; the day also marks the remembrance of end of the First World War. There is no coincidence.

Private Robert N. Watkins, USMC, my dad

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

As a young child, there were two topics, which I constantly read – World War II and football. I could not read enough or learn enough about the war. I was fascinated, and I still am intrigued by history. My dad helped foster this learning and I remember watching Patton at the Palms Theater in third grade. At the time, I thought it was a great movie. I have watched it many times since and have the soundtrack in my music library.  I am listening to it as I write this morning. I still think it is a great movie about a great man, who like many was flawed, but did what was needed when it was needed most.

Yesterday was my birthday, but it was also the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. I remember my dad telling me he was proud that I was born on the Marine Corps birthday because he was a marine, always a marine. I know he was proud for other reasons, too. The Continental Congress established the Marine Corps in 1775 to help protect our young navy’s ships. Their mission has expanded dramatically since and the marines are often our nation’s first responders when there is trouble brewing around the world. My dad was proud to have been a marine and he credits his service for helping him through tough times and defining who he was. As a young child, I didn’t hear the stories, but growing up I would hear a mention here a mention there of his time as a marine. Often, it was mentioned when I remarked that life was not fair or about some other minor injustice. It wasn’t until much later in my life, when I was in college, that dad explained why his marine experience was so important to who became as an adult. Like many of us, my dad reached a crossroads in life where the very core his identity was challenged: beliefs, values, determination, and perhaps, even self-worth. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1954 and served honorably until 1956. He never served overseas or in a conflict, but he was ready like countless others when our nation called. All marines believe, once a marine, always a marine and he served our country as citizen until his passing in 2009.

My dad’s recruit company’s graduation picture, MCRD, Paris Island, South Carolina. Can you find him?

The Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi means always faithful, always loyal and it defines a marine, always. As complex as my relationship with my dad was, I believe he was always faithful, always loyal to me, and my two brothers. When he passed away in 2009, it was a difficult time for me, for all of us. He was cremated and the following summer, 2010, my brothers and Julie, our stepmother, traveled to France to spread his ashes in the woods near the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in northern France. B and I visited the cemetery with him and Julie in 1997 during a visit to France. Though he did not serve in the First World War, he found it a peaceful place where he could spend eternity with his beloved France and Marine Corps. I do, too.

Someday, I will go back to France and drive out to visit and pay my respects, again. Not far from the wood’s edge where dad rests, lie over two thousand marines who died in 1918 advancing freedom and liberty helping to bring the First World War to a close. It is a peaceful place. In the meantime, I can close my eyes and remember our visit and as if, it was yesterday and think dad’s legacy to me.

I called Julie last week and asked if she had dad’s Marine pictures and they were in my hands two days later. I wanted them for the Operation Military Kids wall at my school and dad peers out into the hallway with other fathers, grandfathers, moms, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives who are proudly serving or who have served our country, when she has called.

Today is gonna be a great day, I know it. I have a lot on my plate. It’s November and it’s busy, but there is always time to pause, give thanks, and remember.

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Making the Days Count, one day, one memory, one moment at a time.

Please join me in thanking our veterans for their service to our country. Semper Fi.

5 thoughts on “Veterans Day – Semper Fi

  1. Semper Fi, My Friend. I didn’t know your Father was a Marine. Once a Marine Family, Always a Marine Family. My Father and both my brothers were Marines. It is something to be proud of…”Land of the Free because of the Brave.” As you know, my Father passed away this past September. His Service, on October 4th, included the Marine Corp Color Guard…we have the flag, the Thanks of a Grateful Nation, and I cried through Taps…but I was also VERY proud. What would the United States of America be without our Vets? BTW – Happy Birthday, too, Clayton.

    1. Happy birthday – I am open with my students about my age, but then their parents and I are close in age and I feel it helps me relate to the parents, and the kids. I think the parents appreciate seeing an older teacher in the classroom, it helps them feel more comfortable …….. nonetheless, when I start acting my age that’ll be the time to worry! good luck with your Survivor application!

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