March 26, 2004
Commentary: 'a dying breed'

by Cpl. Clinton Firstbrook
Contributing Writer

While on the Metro one night something happened to me, which needs to be shared.

I was nonchalantly standing near the exit door, holding onto the railing and swaying back and forth like everyone else. Just a normal night on the Metro. Then as we stopped to pick up the next batch of passengers, I noticed an elderly gentlemen enter the car and sit down in the first row of seats.

At first he seemed like just another commuter, staring off into space thinking about distant memories. He reminded me of my grandpa. Slightly hunched over from years of strain, wrinkles lining his features and marking his age.

Even though faded and worn, I recognized the desert camouflage cover he wore over his brow. Upon glancing further, even more faded and worn away than the cover itself, an eagle, globe, and anchor could still be seen. A former Marine, or at least a supporter.

I went back to my own thoughts, but I was compelled to glance back his way. Without thinking I went over and introduced myself. He smiled and sat up a straightened his posture. I found out he was a former Marine, a World War II veteran.

We talked about our jobs and past duty stations. Even though my three-year career seemed boring compared to his, he listened intently to every word. While reminiscing it felt as if his stories had taken place only moments ago, for he seemed to recall every detail. We had talked for ten minutes or so when we arrived at our destination. Even as we exited the car we spoke of our exploits and my future plans with the Corps.

As we reached the top of the escalators our conversation came to an awkward silence. Instead of just saying goodbye, he said something that still echoes in my thoughts. "I really appreciate you stopping and talking to me. We're a dying breed, you know."

I nodded not knowing what to say in return. He seemed to understand and smiled.

In a smooth motion he held out his hand and instinctively mine came out to meet his. Then with what seemed to be a twinkle in his eye, he bid me farewell and we headed in opposite directions.

In the corner of my eye I saw as he turned and gave me a hardy, "Semper Fi." Moved, I gave him a good, "OORAH" in return. In the back of my mind I knew his response wasn't due to motivation like mine. It was the same reason why, even after 60 years, he found himself standing at the position of attention whenever he heard the Marine's Hymn.

I couldn't help but stand with my hands in my pockets and gaze at him as he slowly made his way through the night mist toward his destination, wherever it may be. I thought about the events he was a part of that we only learned about in school. My life was a mere blip on the radar compared to what he had accomplished. A few seconds later, I turned and headed for home.

Maybe there are other service members out there who can recall a similar story. Although stories like this may soon become a rarity, a memory only remembered when we flip through the history books they wrote. A forgotten memory because our World War II and Korea veterans are passing away. An average of 1,500 die each day nationwide. Men and women who sacrificed so much.

I'm not afraid to say his comment struck a cord under my Marine Corps suit of armor. Even as I write this, I have to pause and regain my concentration. The point of this submission is we wouldn't be here without these forgotten heroes. Like many other things we forget about what they accomplished and did for the world. So whenever you see someone wearing a veteran's cap or symbol, stop and say hello. They deserve it.