11 October, 2006

USO Vignette

Yesterday was a very busy day, with over 300 Marines passing through in just the morning hours. They used the facilities to change into their Class A uniforms before reporting for SOI/MCT (post-boot camp training).

Into the middle of this swarm of new 19 and 20-year-old Marines walked a smallish and dignified man of at least 80 or so. He approached the desk on slow but steady feet, carefully set down his small bag to the left, and wordlessly signed in as he handed me an ID card that identified him as a retired lieutenant general. He then commented on the number of people in the room, so I told him they were headed to SOI/MCT.

As I asked how I could help him, a young Marine stepped up on his left to sign in. The elder turned and looked kindly at the youngster. "Here son," he said quietly, as he reached up with slightly-clumsy but gentle hands to tuck the errant tip of an epaulet on the younger man's uniform under the collar. The young Marine simply said, "Thank you, sir," as a frail hand lingered on his shoulder for just a heartbeat longer than was necessary.

The Lt. General just stood there as the young man returned to signing in, a self-contained quietness about him. His expression was what I first interpreted as "a little lost," as he calmly glanced around the room, so I started to describe the facilities available to him (computers, etc). He smiled kindly at me for a moment, but I soon realized he wasn't interested. It then hit me: he was a Marine, and he was standing there simply enjoying being in the middle of so many young Marines again. A small smile flitted across his face as he took in the vibrant busyness swirling around him, and I could've sworn that for a moment he was somewhere else.

But then the young Marine finished signing in and stepped away. The Lt. General reached past where the youngster had just stood, retrieving his own bag. "There's coffee and pastries around the corner; make yourself at home," I said. He smiled as he turned away and I resisted the urge to pry, "I'm just here to check something on the computer."

And so, having momentarily conquered the divides of time and space, the generations returned to their respective positions at opposite ends of the warrior's path... and I felt rather like a peeping tom.