Cumberland Times-News

Columns

March 8, 2014

If you can sleep well at night, here’s why

One of my companions excused herself and said she wanted to go to the toilet and wash her hands before our lunch arrived.

This restaurant is a replica of the tavern and brewery in Philadelphia where what would become the U.S. Marine Corps was conceived in 1775.

This is the Tun Tavern, I told her. It doesn’t have a toilet. It has a (little brown shack out back).

The food was good, as was the beer — and the company, for that matter.

I got out of bed at 5 a.m. in Keyser to be in Cumberland in time to get on the bus the Mountainside Detachment of the Marine Corps League was taking to Quantico, Va., home of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

This was my second trip to the museum. If you haven’t gone, you should. If you have gone, you should go again.

the first thing you notice is a tall spire that protrudes from the top of the building at an odd angle.

Most of those on the bus were aware that the angle of this spire matches the angle of the flagpole in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi during World War II.

This photo actually depicts the second flag raised on Iwo. Another photo by Louis Lowery shows the raising of the first flag, which was considerably smaller than the second flag.

The first time I went to the museum, it was the first flag that was on display. This time, the second flag was being shown. Both of them gave me cold chills. World-altering history has that effect on me.

Part of the Iwo display is a panel that has row upon row of small badges, one for each of the thousands of Americans who died in the battle. The docent showed one of my companions where to stand and where to aim when taking a photo of it. When viewed in the camera, the photo shows Mount Suribachi in the background. A neat optical trick.

If the members of Congress put as much consideration and intelligence into their work as the folks who conceived and designed this museum, we’d all be better off.

Walking through it is like navigating through a maze that takes you to different eras in the history of the Marine Corps. Just about the time you think you’re helplessly lost, you wind up back where you started and can go on to the next exhibit.

One room depicts a nighttime firefight in Korea. It’s cold in that room for a reason, but not as cold as the real thing would have been.

I pointed to one of the mannequins in a Korean-War era Marine combat uniform and the two canteens hanging from his belt.

How much good would those canteens do you, I asked my companions, in a place where water that’s poured out would freeze before it hit the ground?

I have no idea where that thought came from.

The docent who coached us on the Mount Suribachi display told us, “At least you could stick them in the fire and make some good hot coffee. You wouldn’t want to do that with one of the new plastic canteens.”

He also told me that USMC stands for “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.” I told him that MARINES stands for “My A** Rides In Naval Equipment, Sir.” (Marines often refer to the Navy as The World’s Biggest Taxi Service.)

The firebase exhibit in the Vietnam section wasn’t as hot or humid as it was the last time I visited. Too many tourists complained, as they apparently did about the frigidity of the Korean War exhibit.

You still enter the Vietnam firebase by walking out the aft end of a Chinook helicopter. There is a small round painting of a wolf’s head and the admonition to “GIVE A S**T” near the top of the tail section. Nobody can see it unless they make an effort to look, which I did. Not many other folks do. But then, I’m one of those who gives a s**t.

The Vietnam section has a shooting range where you can test your skills with an M-16 rifle that fires laser bursts instead of bullets.

A friend of mine who served in both Vietnam and Iraq scored a 99; one of his shots was just a hair outside the X-ring.

“I’ve still got it,” he said, showing me the target. He once showed me a panel of the Vietnam Memorial that holds the names of more than 70 of his buddies.

In the main gallery were several paintings of Marines who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’ve seen photos and artwork that date from the Civil War through today, and one thing strikes me: The faces all look the same. They’re the faces of young men and women who’ve grown old too soon.

I’m 66 now, and things don’t stay with me like they used to. I can’t remember much of what I did yesterday at the newspaper, but nearly a week later I can retrace in my mind almost every step I took at the Marine Corps museum.

My friends and I walked around a corner and saw a busted-up chunk of concrete and a twisted steel beam that were just sitting in the middle of the floor.

A small, plain sign said the concrete was salvaged from wreckage at the Pentagon, and the steel beam came from the rubble that once was part of the Twin Towers.

The sign said we were welcome to touch them and make a connection with those who were murdered (my word, not theirs) by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

I did so and felt the same thing I had earlier, when I looked at the tattered, faded flag that once flew over Iwo Jima.

The song, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” was adopted by the men and women who went to Vietnam.

I went to Washington for the 25th anniversary of The Wall and joined several hundred other folks in singing it — swaying in unison from side to side — when the Kingston Trio took the stage to present their version:

“Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing? Young girls picked them, every one ...  Where have all the young girls gone? Gone to young men, every one ... Where have all the young men gone? Gone for soldiers, every one ... Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards, every one ... Where have all the graveyards gone? Gone to flowers, every one.

“When will they ever learn?

“When will they ever learn?”

Maybe someday they will, but I doubt that I will live to see it.

Thank God for the United States Marine Corps ... and the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard.

There are different versions and debate as to who actually said it, but it goes like this:

“We sleep safely in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

Semper Fi. Welcome Home.

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