Last week I saw an exhibit of photographs of the “Devil Dogs.” This week I met the Marines.
That’s because it’s Fleet Week in New York, and I spent a morning on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy as it sailed into New York harbor. My son, the patriot, is a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. He is a public-affairs officer assigned to work on Fleet Week. Needless to say, he wanted to give his mother the opportunity of getting up at four in the morning to take a helicopter out to the ship. I was game. (At least, I said I was game.)
But New York is experiencing the wettest, coldest spring in memory. We are right now in the midst of a slow-moving northeaster with a wind-chill factor that makes you think it is March instead of May. So the helicopter flight was cancelled so Mom could sleep till 6:30 and then catch a water taxi with the rest of the invitees. The lousy weather also derailed Secretary Rumsfeld’s plans to fly to the ship. And the flyover that was supposed to take place as the ship passed lower Manhattan was blown away as well.
Still the hours on the ship were, as my son assured me they would be, definitely worth it. “Big John’s” complex technology, which can facilitate 300 plane take-offs in a day from it enormous flight deck, is impressive. But it is spending time with the sailors and Marines on board that is most special. They are always polite–calling you “ma’am” at every opportunity–and very good humored.
When we arrived on board we were greeted by a bountiful brunch buffet. “Do you always eat so well?” I asked a woman officer who seemed to be in charge.
“Well, the presentation is usually a little different but the food is about the same, “she said.
“Scallops wrapped in bacon? Brie?”
“Noticed that, did you?” she grinned and winked. “Well, maybe we outdid ourselves a bit today.”
When I asked most of the sailors why they had joined the Navy, they said it was because the opportunities it had given them.
A woman officer who has 22 years of service told me she enlisted because “There was just nothing for me in the small town in Pennsylvania I come from. I made my parents sign the papers before I was even out of high school.” She hopes to stay in the Navy for 30 years because “I love it. I really love it.” Although she said, regretfully, she thought this would be her last assignment at sea.
Another young woman admitted there were challenges when men and women shipped out together. “There are good girls,” she said, “and there are wild girls. You learn a lot in the Navy. You learn to know yourself and how you want to behave.”
A young lieutenant who escorted me around the ship told me what he liked best: “You are always learning. You are always being briefed. It is a constant education. I’m not sure you can get that anywhere else.”
Although Marines are not assigned to the Kennedy they are on board during Fleet Week to explain how the armaments on display are used. Most are just back from Iraq and many fought in Fallujah.
Why had they become Marines?, I asked them. A few said they were from military families but most said they did it because they just wanted to be Marines.
“My parents were surprised. I am the first one in my family to join the military. They respected my decision and they are proud of me,” one young man told me. “But my mom was a basket-case all the time I was out there.” I can certainly understand.
Another said that he joined up when his life was a mess. ” I was in college and I was doing all the wrong things. I knew I had to turn my life around and I did.” He has been a Marine for almost ten years.
I told the Marines about the “Devil Dog” exhibit I had seen and about the picture of a severely wounded Sergeant Brad Kasal being carried out of “Hell House” in Fallujah, still holding his gun, after saving the life of another Marine. I also told them I had mistakenly described what he was carrying as a “revolver,” and was corrected by readers. They thought that was pretty funny, too.
What was Fallujah like? I asked a group of four very young, very shy young Marines. At first they didn’t answer. But then one spoke up: “You know when you are there you don’t think about your family or your home or even America. All you think about is each other. The other guys. Protecting each other,” he said. The others nodded in agreement.
These young men, our fiercest warriors, can be so open and candid. It is clear that fighting for them is not about hating an enemy but about caring for each other.
When I got on shore my son said, “What did you think? Was it okay, mom?”
More than okay, Lieutenant Blyth. Thanks for the chance to be on “Big John” for half a day, because being with those who fight on our behalf is really great–because they are.
–Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.