November 26, 2022

COLUMN: Happy birthday, Marines

As today is the 247th Marine Corps birthday, I figured it appropriate to speak on my experience with the men and women who make up the Corps.

In January 2014, my husband Patrick boarded a plane to San Diego with only the clothes on his back, his ID and a small notebook of phone numbers.

At the time, we had just celebrated one year of dating, and I wondered how I would go 88 days without my boyfriend as he completed basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

For the next 13 weeks, we communicated only via letters, and if you’d seen his handwriting, you’d understand my struggle. Each letter was like a puzzle, using context clues to figure out what he was trying to say.

I took my first airplane ride to see him graduate that April. He came home with us for 10 days before reporting back to California for infantry school.

Over the next eight years, the Marine Corps transitioned in my mind from an organization to a group of people.

The highlight of the year for any Marine is the Marine Corps Birthday, Nov. 10. Every year, every company organizes a Marine Corps Ball where the service men and women celebrate history, camaraderie and character. There’s also a fair bit of drinking, if you’d believe it.

My first ball was in 2014. We were young, new and he barely knew anyone yet. But the Marine, Jake, sitting at our table was also new - this was his first ball as well.

Jake jumped right in to talk to me while Patrick was volunteered to do cake duty. Coincidentally, his girlfriend and I went to the same college nearly three hours away from where we were.

As it would turn out, they would get married. I gave a speech at their wedding. We were both bridesmaids in each other’s weddings.

Every year, every family day, every ball, I would meet more Marines. At some point they stopped being Marines and started being family.

When my husband found out a friend he went to infantry school with had killed himself, it was Jake he reached out to for comfort.

For the next several hours, Marine after Marine called Patrick, talking him through it, making sure he was OK and just being there for him. Jake had called them to action to be there, and they were.

Patrick’s second year in the service, he met a Marine named John. Patrick and John could not be more different.

As Patrick was in the reserves while he completed college, he had training once a month in Madison and for two weeks in the summer.

During the winter, trainings were inside, but in March and October, they were still outside - it was Patrick’s least favorite times of the year. They slept outside in icy rain, below freezing temperatures and biting wind.

Somewhere between digging fighting holes and huddling together for warmth, John became the person Patrick needed to get him through the trainings.

Even though it was Patrick who spent the majority of the time with them, the Marines became a family to both of us.

Tanner tells the best stories, making everyone laugh. Dylan is a Chicago Bears fan just like Patrick - something they suffer through together. Ray is a Green Bay Packers fan, but we still like him. Connor makes everyone feel welcome.

Conor and Jake stepped up to be “flower Marines” at our wedding after COVID kept our flower girls from being able to attend.

Patrick passed his ability to fall asleep anytime anywhere to James. There are so many Marines that mean so much to each of us; I could go on and on.

The Marine Corps is the only branch of the military founded in a bar, and isn’t that reminiscent of men I’ve come to know and love.

On Nov. 10, 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned Samuel Nicholas to raise two Battalions of Marines. That day, Nicholas went to Tun Tavern and appointed Robert Mullan, the tavern proprietor at the time, the honor of becoming the first U.S. Marine recruiter.

Though Patrick is no longer active in the Marine Corps, he will still raise a drink and celebrate his second birthday.

After we were married, we walked through a sword arch of Marines. As we reached the end, Jake lowered his sword to stop us. “A kiss for passage,” he said. After we complied, they let us through. “Welcome to the Marine Corps,” he said to me.

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.