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The air was completely still as we gazed down upon the football field. The sound of rifles clicking, and feet moving emanated throughout the stadium, as there was no sound to be heard from anywhere else. Once again The United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon was performing their routine with top level precision. This sort of focus and perfection only comes by hours upon hours of practice and drilling. I sat there in awe as one of the fortunate members of the crowd who got to see this amazing performance.
This fantastic opportunity was presented to me by a man by the name of Frank Sokol. He is a rather shorter man, with tanned skin, and clean cut hair that was graying through and through. This man is no ordinary man. He is a retired Master Sergeant of the United States Marine Corps, and he is the Detachment Commandant of the Marine Corps League branch 494, a group of retired devil dogs who raise money for veterans and other causes that benefit service men and women. I jumped at the opportunity and was anxiously waiting to go to see what it was all about.
When you really need to get somewhere on time, it always seems that every force in the universe makes it its sole responsibility to make sure you are not. My Dad and I happened to have that experience on our way to finding the tour bus that afternoon, and we got lost as my mom was frantically trying to give us directions over the phone. I was getting frustrated and cursing out loud as I was trying to work the maps on an iPhone while, my mom was yelling in my ear. We dealt with everything from a semi truck crash, to an old person talking on the cell phone going thirty-five miles per hour in a fifty zone. Finally, luck seemed to be on our side as we managed to find the bus just before they left without us. I was thinking to myself, that if this is the way our day started out, this can’t be a good omen. We got onto the bus, and it had the sort of disinfectant smell with a mix of a pungent odor of whatever tour group used the bus before we had. Everyone was nice to us though, and Frank talked to Dad and me the whole way up. He talked about all sorts of things that dealt with being in the service, such as where he had been stationed, and the things he had seen while being there. He even pointed out people on the bus who had fought at Iwo Jima, and men who had at one time been Drill Instructors. Even at an old age, those guys looked like they could eat nails for breakfast with no problem.
It was a cool August day and finally at long last, we got off the bus with a light breeze welcoming us to Marion High School, home of the Cardinals. We then headed to the football stadium, which was an average high school football field with some open area around it, along with a concession stand underneath which had people lined it all the time to buy some sort of food or drink for gratification. What I saw when we finally got to the open area made me speechless. There were Marines everywhere; there were weapons, vehicles, pull up bars, and contests. There were so many things to look at, I didn’t know where to start. Naturally, I thought the machine guns might be a good choice so we headed over there. After being told that if I pointed them at anyone I would never see the light of day until I was forty years old, I was allowed to hold the pride and joy of the Marine Corps, an M-16 rifle, an M29 SAW machine gun, and an M-19 pistol. The weapons were heavier than I expected them to be; nonetheless, I looked really cool. Apart from a BB gun at Camp Fitch I had never held weapons like these. We also went over and examined the assault vehicles. There was a Humvee that was about the most impenetrable thing on wheels I had ever seen. It was armored to the hilt and the parts I could see out of were covered in a bullet resistant plastic that was not one but two layers thick. It also had the capability to have weapons attached to the roof, and could be driven on almost any terrain.
At last it was time for the main presentation, and so we found our seats with the rest of the group, and once again Frank made it a point to sit next to us, which at the time I didn’t understand why. His idea was well intentioned and planned because the moment the show started; he was explaining everything about the Marines on the field, from why the uniforms were the way they were, to why Marines have different nicknames. Marines in past generations even had a different saying then the Marines do now, current Marines say, “Oorah!” when something good happens, or they are about to start a mission. Marines from the Vietnam era used to say, “Gung ho,” which is Chinese translating to enthusiastic and dedicated, something a Marine has to be at all times.
The Commandant’s Own Marine Band began their performance, and what a show it was. As music rang throughout the stadium I had a shiver down my spine; the tone and the clarity of the band as a whole made me really appreciate that a marching band can really sound that spectacular. After they had finally finished and were marching off the field. In unison the crowd stood up an applauded them with some much enthusiasm; I knew the crowd thought that what they had seen was a superior performance.
Then the Poolees, waiting to be in the “pool” of people who are shipped off to boot camp whether it is at Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California walked onto the field. They then took their oath to defend their country and to obey the orders of all those appointed over them. This was a moment I will never forget, because there were 200 teenagers standing on the football field, and this is the largest group to be sworn in at one time in Marine Corps history. I had the privilege to witness a life changing moment for these men and women.
It was all I could do to not bounce in my seat, with the excitement and anticipation I was feeling, for what I knew what was about to begin. After the Poolees trudged off the field, too which the old drill instructors said they’d have them moving in formation if it was them down there, the final presentation of the night was about to commence. From out of nowhere we saw the 24 Marines in dress whites with rifles and bayonets march out onto the field, and not one word was uttered. These Marines were rigid as they marched in sync not one step out of place; they all came to a halt in perfect unison, and then started to do their routine. They performed moves with a rifle, that if anyone else tried, they’d have stuck themselves or dropped it. Then the rifle inspector, a Gunnery Sergeant, walked out onto the field and moved toward the first Marine. He then stood at attention, the Marine handed over his rifle and the Gunnery Sergeant checked it to make sure the rifle was in perfect condition. He then tossed it backwards arched it over his head and the rifles owner caught and popped back into attention without even flinching. The Gunny then walked down the field, sometimes skipping Marines, sometimes inspecting them.
As the Gunnery Sergeant was walking down the line, out of the blue one of the Marines tossed his rifle towards the him. The Gunnery Sergeant kept walking, caught the rifle, inspected it, and tossed it to another Marine, who at the same time had thrown his original rifle to the Marine who was down the line perfectly arching the heads of the Marines in between them. I have never seen something so perfectly executed in my entire life. I had goose bumps as they performed move after move flawlessly, without a single fault as far as I could see. Through a discussion with the Marines, I learned that they practice ten hours a day every day to make sure their performance is nothing short of perfection.
After the show we got to go down onto the field, and talked to the members of the band and the Silent Platoon. Frank went around thanking the Marines for serving their country, and I walked around and struck up conversations with a few random members, including a tuba player. They were nothing like I had expected them to be, these Marines, so called “jarheads” acted with the utmost respect for the civilians, and answered all of my questions truthfully, and with an intelligent response. Some even took time to ask me questions about who I was, and what I wanted to do with my life. To say I was impressed with these guys would be an understatement, and meeting those Marines, will be something I never forget.
Our group finally trudged our way back onto the tour bus, and we began the long journey home. Although I was tired due to the long day, I was exhilarated by all the things I had seen and done. As I sat next to my Dad on the way home, I thought to myself, what would it be like to be a Marine? Do I have what it takes to be one of the few and the proud? To this day I still ponder that very same question, and still haven’t reached a final conclusion, but I feel that it may come soon.