Cheers and Tears

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Going to Parris Island, SC to watch my grandson Mack graduate from the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp is a memory I will always cherish. On August 5, he officially became a U.S. Marine with the 1st Battalion Charlie Co. PLT 1054 after successfully completing The Crucible, a grueling and intense 54-hour event that tests recruits physically and psychologically on limited sleep, the final challenge of their training.

Mack had just turned 18 when he decided to join the Marines and left for boot camp on Mother’s Day with just the clothes on his back, his driver’s license and $20 in his pocket. His mom, my daughter Melissa, was terrified for him. Writing letters was the only way to communicate with him for three months, so you can imagine how excited we all were to see him again.

Family Day began with a Motivational Run at 7am and was our first opportunity to see our Marine. It was very hot and humid and our emotions were high. Proud families, many wearing T-shirts that identified their Marine, lined the roadside and cheered as they passed us. Tears began to flow when we spotted Mack. After the Liberty Ceremony at the Peatross Parade Deck, the new Marines were at liberty to spend the day with their families. It was very emotional to watch Mack hug his mom and all of his family members – and more tears flowed.

Graduation Day was held on Friday morning. While waiting for the outdoor ceremony to begin, the sky turned dark and rain began to fall so the ceremony was moved indoors. Not thinking that we might need an umbrella, we all got soaking wet! It was an honor to watch as the proud young men and women, dressed in uniform, marched in. The announcement of each platoon was met with wild cheers and applause. The somber ceremony was very moving, starting with words from the Commander of Troops.

After the ceremony, we went to the barracks to get Mack’s bags. He introduced us to some of the other Marines. One introduced his parents to Mack, telling them that he would have never made it through boot camp without Mack’s support (proud moment). After having lunch with another Marine and his family, we were ready for the long drive back home to Michigan – an opportunity to hear about Mack’s boot camp experiences. Some were funny and some were not very pleasant. Some of them were very intense, especially when he shared the trials he faced going through The Crucible and how ecstatic he was when he realized he had made it; he was no longer a recruit – he was a Marine.

In the letters he wrote from boot camp, all Mack talked about was the food he wanted to eat when he got home. On the drive home, the first thing he ate was a McDonald’s cheeseburger. He said he couldn’t wait to get home to enjoy some of his mom’s home-cooked meals.

After ten days of liberty and a whirlwind of activity, Mack boarded a plane and left for Camp LeJeune, NC to continue his training. A transformation occurred in my grandson that was amazing to see. He left for boot camp as a teenager, somewhat nervous and a little scared. He came back tanned and muscled, standing tall, proud and confident. He had overcome many fears, developed great faith and was prepared to face his new life as a U.S. Marine.

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