Semper Fi


Night comes early in November. The sun sets far south and the shadows are long. Not as long as your memories.

Tomorrow is your birthday. Not the one you were born on, but the one that saved your life. You were sixteen. You falsified your birth certificate so you could join. You could do that in those days, before computers.

The recruiter looked at you, and then at your paperwork. “You even shave yet?”

You didn’t want to lie, so you didn’t answer.

And a week later, there you were. Boot camp.

Hurt like hell. But you remember their names. The drill instructors and the boots you trained with. Johnson. Podeski. Moulet. Garcia. Fredericks. If you thought about it, you could probably still remember your rifle’s serial number.

You were a boy when you joined, and a man when you came out. You went home, and your dad, while he was sober anyway, was proud.

Your mother cried. Worried about you being killed in a place with a name she couldn’t pronounce. She kissed you, though. For luck she said.

When you got to Korea, the whole country was full of strange sounding names. You hated the smell of it all. Kimchi smelled like death to you, and so did the battlefields.

You did your part. Never told anyone who wasn’t a Marine how many you killed, or how close you came to dying. Not even your wife, God rest her soul.

And when you came home, you found her. At a dance. She couldn’t take her eyes off your uniform and you wondered if she even saw past it to see you.

She did. And you married her the next year.

When the time came for Viet Nam, she begged you not to go. You explained it didn’t work that way and you went to another country of strange sounding names.

When you got home, she nursed you off the heroin, and never asked questions. And you never offered answers.

You got out, then. The wars had changed. Too many politicians. Too many children on the battlefield. Too many women dying.

But you never gave up your uniform. Every November 10, you go into your room and made sure it still fit. And when you look in the mirror, for a moment, you see the eyes of that sixteen-year-old. And you say, “Happy birthday, Marine.”

And you know the uniform is only a symbol, and that the Marine lives on, every day, every move you make.

When you take the uniform off, you hum about the halls of Montezuma, and as you put the lid on the box, you whisper, “Semper Fi.”

And you are exactly that. Always faithful. Even when it hurts. Even in the long nights of November. Even alone.

© 2018 Leland Dirks

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  1. Well Tania you did it again, you brought back what I had packed away. The faces change, the wars change but the story is basically the same. Thank you for remembering.
    Today I am older and my uniform doesn’t fit either. My eyes tear up when I raise a glass to those I lost. And I still chringe at the homecoming that my friends and brothers in arms experienced.
    Every night I lay in my bed and my mind goes back to the past and I hear the voices of my mates, the calls for wives girlfriends. I feel the heat of the jungle, the fear, and the darkness, hearing the soft breathing of your friend next to you.
    People will say that they remember your service, and thank you, yet still, they have not learned the lessons that mant paid dearly for.

    1. Thank you, happysailor1, you went through a lot, my hubby experienced some terrible things in one part of the world…..I remember in Germany we put yellow Roses around the trees for the mens homecoming from another altercanation…I guess we will never know really what you all experienced….Thank you for your service. I will never forget.

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