View Full Version : Holding onto traditions like Thanksgiving helps strengthen Marines’ ability to cope d

11-25-05, 08:37 AM
Comfort in customs: Holding onto traditions like Thanksgiving helps strengthen Marines’ ability to cope during wartime
The Patriot Ledger

In Iraq today, almost every Marine will sit down to a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Turkey, mashed potatoes, squash, stuffing, maybe a little pie.

But no matter how good things taste, the meal won’t quite match the sweet tradition that oozed from something they all ate two weeks ago: birthday cake.

‘‘On Nov. 10, the Marine Corps’ birthday, every Marine gets a piece of cake,’’ said Col. Ronald Johnson, a Duxbury native who is commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

‘‘No matter where in the world you are, you’ll get cake that day. If you’re in a foxhole, somebody will get something to you - or the Marines inside that foxhole will split a piece of cake in their rations, just to give it to each other,’’ he said.

The Marines Corps recognizes Nov. 10, 1775, as its founding date.

That such lengths are still taken to honor the date 230 years later says much about the sense of tradition that runs through the Marine Corps, not only on the service’s birthday but every day, Johnson said.

‘‘We hold very dearly our traditions.... Our uniforms, our mannerisms, the customs, the courtesies that we’ve grown up with, we hold close,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s kind of etched in your heart.’’

Johnson finished a second tour of duty in Iraq earlier this year, and is currently training troops at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He spoke to The Patriot Ledger at the Duxbury home of his parents, Herb and Rose Johnson, during a recent visit.

Johnson returns to Iraq in the spring. His 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is involved with providing security and stability in a country where both are difficult to come by.

Something that helps strengthen each Marine’s ability to cope and be successful in Iraq is the lore of Marines who have fought bravely in other battles and other wars, Johnson said.

‘‘It goes all the way back, that they never gave up. They never quit. So if you ever felt like just quitting or giving up, you just can’t. You never want to break the links,’’ he said.

Johnson feels that celebrating a tradition-laden holiday such as Thanksgiving is important for Marines in Iraq, as well as for service members everywhere.

‘‘It’s a real big thing. The military goes all out to make the day special. On Thanksgiving, everybody looks forward to sitting down to turkey. It just warms you up,’’ Johnson said.

‘‘I think there’s a camaraderie thing that you just can’t put into words. It’s a feeling that overcomes you, when you sit down at the table. It’s the feeling of having a little bit of America, a little bit of home, there that day.’’

For a commander, however, Thanksgiving and every other holiday during wartime is a potential disaster. Missions are still tended to as insurgents lurk.

‘‘You never want to lose a guy on a holiday - whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or something else - because I don’t ever want the families to have to remember that they lost a guy on that day,’’ Johnson said.

‘‘It’s something that runs in the back of your mind, something you think about,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a terrible thing to have your loved one get missed on a holiday.’’

Don Conkey may be reached at dconkey@ledger.com.