Saturday, October 16, 2010

We'll always have Parris Island...

"I believe we've begun our descent," remarked Mrs. Hall. "Um-uh" said Mr. Hall, without looking up from his reading. "That's what happens when you pull up on the spoilers; the aircraft has all the flight ratio of a filing cabinet." Mrs. Hall had long reconciled herself to the fact that flying with a former pilot at your side was not the carefree experience that flying alone tended to be. The flight into Charlotte was a pleasant one and the Halls secured their rented wheels. Since airline fares seemed, in Mrs. H.'s opinion, to be derived from some arcane whimsy unrelated to logic, it actually cost less to fly into NC and drive the remainder of the way in to Beaufort, than to try and find a connecting flight. And, as Mr. Hall noted, it allowed him to more freedom than the city shuttles would have.
Master Chris drove up in his new convertible and picked up Mistress Colleen at the Savannah airport; from there they drove down to meet the Halls, at a charming little tiki bar named Gilligan's where they could finally toast and congratulate Colleen on her 21st birthday. "What would you like; you may have whatever you choose," though Mrs. Hall already knew what she wanted. "I'd like a Cosmo, please!" she said, and drinks appeared all around, except for Chris, who was the designated driver that evening. Happy Birthday was cheerfully (if not tunefully) sung and the little band proceeded to get reacquainted.
The festivities were short-lived; everyone went back to their hotels to rest up because the following day was Family Day at Parris Island. Graduations are a weekly occurrence in this little town and the locals have come to not only accept the streaming crowds of strangers, but to profit mightily by it. Plenty of literature could be found around town, hawking all manner of buses, brunches and souvenirs by the boatload. Ignoring all but the advice of the shopkeeps who warned them of traffic jams starting early, the Halls rose ahead of the sun and headed out to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, dressed in gold to support his battalion, around 5:15 am. They sailed through the gates and found some great seats on the primarily empty bleachers. "That's because there's really no reason to be here before 7:00 am" griped Chris, rubbing his eyes. Then, out of the early morning light, they saw 500 or so dark shapes running over the parade deck, with reflective belts shining in the dark. Colleen held up a sign she had brought and the other families cheered. The new graduates made a loop around the deck and then started down the main street. The crowds went nuts.
That fun having lasted about a half an hour, the Halls decided that it was definitely time for a fresh infusion of caffeine. The kids went off to look around before the troops were to be brought back in and presented. They reconvened in the All-Weather Facility at 9:00 am. Mrs. Hall scored some terrific seats right on the floor next to the officers, and when the Battalion Commander addressed the crowd, he was practically shouting at them. The band played, the colors were presented and then, before they knew it- the young men of the 2nd Battalion were released for day liberty with their families. There was a moment or two of total chaos as the moms and dads made a mad dash on to the floor to find their own, and the Halls were no exception. Finding Ian, amongst all the other exactly dressed identical crewcuts, they dragged the poor child out, confused and dazed, and hugged him to pieces.
Any concern Mrs. Hall may have had about Ian being tongue-tied was immediately dispelled; you couldn't stop him. It was clear he was so very excited about everything that had occurred and been introduced to him at Parris Island, that it was his intention to tell them all of it in the first hour of their meeting. A tour of his squad bay was first on the list, followed by a walking tour of the buildings and training grounds. Where the recruits battled with pugel sticks, the sand fleas and mosquitoes ate the little band alive, leaving Chris a mess of welts and scratch marks. The infamous yellow footprints, the first terrifying memory of thousands of new recruits, lay in front of the processing center. Ian, dressed now to leave Parris Island, showed them where he stood when he arrived.
Liberty only lasted til 3:00; Ian was dispatched back to his command and the Halls headed out to dinner. "I really doubt we have to be back here at the crack of dawn again tomorrow," yawned Chris, as he ferried Colleen back to their hotel. "We'll get there early and save you a spot." said Mrs. Hall. And it was a good thing they did; Friday morning, the stands were filled by 7:00 am and the graduation ceremony wasn't until 9:00. Families chatted and swapped stories; across the parade deck, a small cadre of Marines raised the flag in front of a hall, and without prompting or motion, the crowd as a whole silently rose and gave respect. It was just one, in a morning of many, moving moments.
The Marine Band lead the men in, they paraded around the field to the cheers of the families and stood at attention. After the convocation, the band played a Sousa favorite and then delighted the crowd with a swinging version of "Nothing Could Be Finer Than To Be In Carolina". Honors were given, the bulldog mascot awakened and paraded out and the Marine Hymn performed. Then suddenly, just like that, it was over. The commanding officer released the men and the crowds poured across the fields, mobbing their sons, shaking their hands and squeezing them senseless. All the work, all the sweat and toil, all the discipline and anguish gone- what had seemed like a lifetime was really done and finished, and Marine greeted Marine, man to man, as one.

The Halls helped Ian collect all his gear. Mrs. Hall heard several graduates express the same thought as Ian, "I have no idea how to get off this island..." But they managed to work their way through the crowd and head back to town. Mr. and Mrs. Hall decided to treat the new Marine to a favorite indulgence of his; McDonald's Angus Swiss and Mushroom burger with fries, but Chris and Colleen headed in the other direction. They headed off to Hilton Head to check out the beach and some fresh seafood indulgences of their own.
It has sometimes been said that this country does not properly respect its servicemen, but Master Ian, (and Master Chris found this to be true as well), travelling in uniform, was treated quite well, and when it came to fly out back home, a kind stranger offered his seat in first class to the young graduate, and the airline followed suit by allowing the Halls to join him there as well, for the duration of the flight. Their bags were checked as priority luggage and where ever they went, folks would come up to shake his hand and say thank you. It warmed the Halls' hearts to see it so.
Welcome home to Master Ian, and kudos to you for a job well done.

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