2/2 81s Reunion 2009

This page describes a "mini-platoon" reunion held with some of the Marines from my unit.

The picture above is of mortarman Marines from a previous era at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

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Legend has it that on November 10, 1775, a bunch of fellows got together at Tun Tavern and the United States Marine Corps was born.

Fast forward 215 years to Desert Shield. On December 18, 1990, a 747 carried my 81mm mortar platoon to Saudi Arabia. Our group of Marines initially set up at Camp 15 then got sent to the field, in this case, the Rock Quary, on Decmeber 31. Every week or so, our platoon moved closer to the Saudi/Kuwaiti border in preparation for an attack on Saddam Hussein's forces, which occupied Kuwait. On January 17, 1991, the air war began, turning Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm. Then on February 24, 1991, the ground war began. Our battalion, 2/2, led the 6th Marines into Kuwait, serving as the front and center battalion of a nine battalion First Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) attack through the minefield. On February 28, a mere 100 hours after the ground offense began, a cease fire was declared. Mission accomplished! On April 11, 2/2 returned to the states.

After the Gulf War, veterans of 2/2, Weapons Company, 81mm Mortar Platoon went our separate ways. Some of us managed to keep in touch, largely in part to the efforts of B. Loats. Folks talked about having a reunion at various times but for several years, none occurred.
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Friday, March 6, 2009Open accordion icon
My former squad leader, Mike B., flew out to Pennsylvania for business then drove down to Baltimore to meet Will C. and me. The three of us served in the same platoon but my time with Will did not overlap so this was the first time we met. But he and Mike went way back.

The time for talk was over. Mike proposed that we just have a reunion and hope that people show up. In some ways, it was Tun Tavern all over again but this time, the Marine Corps wasn't born...in a way, it was re-born if you believe "once a Marine, always a Marine." And this time it wasn't Tun Tavern but the tavern (bar) at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian barbeque restaurant located by the scenic Baltimore Inner Harbor.

After dinner and drinks, we walked to the ESPN Zone for more drinks. We reminisced about old times. After years of saying how we ought to have an 81s platoon 2/2 reunion, we decided it was time. The reunion would take place on the weekend closest to the Marine Corps Birthday in 2009, near the area where Will and I live, in Baltimore, Maryland.
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 Saturday, March 7, 2009

National Museum of the Marine CorpsOpen accordion icon
Mike spent the next day with me and Will went his separate way. The two of us did a little scouting of things to do for our platoon reunion.

We visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps. It opened in 2006 and has been a big hit with Marines, former Marines, and families of Marines. You can get guided tours, see some short films, and learn all about the various campaigns in which Marines have fought. I highly recommend this museum for yourselves, spouses, and children. If you only make time for one activity (other than seeing your former platoon-mates), then this is it.

I recommend allotting at least two hours to see the museum.
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Globe and LaurelOpen accordion icon
If you visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps, then you'll have to make time to eat and drink at the Globe and Laurel Restaurant which is just down the street from the museum. This place is owned by Major Rick Spooner. According to Mike,
Spooner is a retired Marine who took Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa and subsequently participated in the occupation of Japan itself as a rifleman with 2/8. He went on to do lots of other things in the Corps including [serving in] Korea as a [staff non-commissioned officer] SNCO and [in] Vietnam as a Major. Since 1968, he and his family have operated the Globe and Laurel Restaurant, regarded by many as the modern day Tun Tavern, not far from the gates of Quantico. Major Spooner is usually present at the Globe and Laurel as he was when Saki and I visited. He wrote the novel The Spirit of Semper Fidelis. I bought a copy of it at the bar and he was happy to sign it for me...One of the docents from the National Marine Corps Museum tipped me off to the idea that, while Major Spooner takes pains to point out the book is fictional, it doesn't take long to figure out which character portrays the good Major himself.
Mike and I with the Major
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 Friday, November 6, 2009

Advance partyOpen accordion icon
Will C. and Anthony "Mate" M. checked in at the Holiday Inn Express near the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport. The motel was less than two miles from my house which made it easy to hook up. They spent part of the afternoon looking for Dave and Busters at the Arundel Mills Mall but never found it.

I picked them up and we went to dinner at the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company in Historic Ellicott City. The town was founded in 1772. According to Wikipedia - Ellicott City,
Ellicott City is listed amongst America's most affluent communities and is located in Howard County, the third wealthiest county in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hence, Will, Mate, and I fit right in...and no, Will and I don't live in Howard County.

Bill P., one of the Howard County Marine Corps League officers, is part owner of the Brewing Company. Unfortunately, he wasn't there when we visited. But we saw his Mameluke Sword hanging above the bar. Bill is a former infantry platoon commander from 1/1. His restaurant/bar is an old restored hardware store. With an assortment of foods like venison, buffalo, and alligator, along with several home brews, it was a nice place for a bunch of old Marines to visit.

After dinner, Will, Mate, and I walked around town. The sky was clear but it was as cold at a well digger's ass. Much different than Mate's Atlanta weather.

Our next stop was the Rumor Mill Restaurant and Fusion Bar. We stopped for drinks but I think Mate and I were just as eager to just go in and warm up. That place (and many of the places on that side of the street), was built on top of a creek...one that flows into the Patapsco River.

We called Mike and found out that his plane was on time, and he was on his way up from the Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. Though BWI is much closer to my place and Baltimore, Mike scored the mother of all airline deals: two Delta Airlines round trip tickets from San Francisco for $321!

Will, Mate, and I drove to my local grocery store to pick up items for tomorrow's breakfast. Just as we pulled onto my street, Mike and his girlfriend, Suzanne, were walking up my driveway. Perfect timing!

Mike and Suzanne hadn't eaten so we all went to TGI Fridays in my town. We talked about old times. Though we all served in the same platoon, Mike was the only one who knew us all. Will and Mate left the unit shortly before I arrived, hence, I was hearing some of their stories for the first time. Will made me laugh until I cried. I honestly can't remember the last time I laughed that hard. Suzanne never met Will, Mate, or me so this was all new for her. If nothing else, I'm sure we kept her entertained.

Will and Mate went back to their motel. Mike and Suzanne slept in my basement. Had I known our numbers would be so small and that I'd have one housemate move out a week prior with the other out for the weekend, I would have invited everyone to crash at my house. More reunion attendees would have been nice but like Mike says, a small unit is more mobile. At only four, we decided we should call ourselved the "Advance Party."

We needed our rest...we had big plans for tomorrow.
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 Saturday, November 7, 2009

Return to the museumOpen accordion icon
Will and Mate showed up at my place at 0900. Motivated Mate wore a jersey with the number "81" in big letters to show his enthusiasm.

The two of them along with Mike, Suzanne, and I ate a pancake, egg, and sausage breakfast that I prepared. I rarely cook for others so this was a big deal.
Eating breakfast at my house

I put out my photo album of Gulf War photos along with the 2/2 Gulf War book given to those of us who stuck around a bit after returning from Kuwait. They brought back memories. Too see my Gulf War photos, go to USMC - Saki.

With our bellies full, we went to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the same place Mike and I visited on March 7, 2009. The weather was clear so photo ops on the building as well as out in front were easy. Below from left to right are Will, Mate, Mike, and me.
Group pic in front of the museum building with Eagle, Globe, and Anchor symbol

The building was designed to resemble the famous flag raising at Mount Suribachi. Interestingly, the construction company Mate works for built the museum. I told him he should use the weekend as a tax writeoff.
Group pic in front of the flag raising section of the museum building

When a Marine or former Marine enters the museum for the first time, they are often awestruck. Mate and Will looked like two kids in a candy store.
Mate and Will in the museum, looking awestruck

We started in the boot camp section where Will and Mate stood on the yellow footprints and I sat in the barber's chair...when's the last time I sat in one of those?
Me sitting in a barber's chair

We saw the new internal frame packs and got to stand in a booth that has speakers all around so one can get the feel of having drill instructors yelling from all sides.

A tour wasn't scheduled to start for awhile but we managed to finagle one by talking to docent Bill Peters. All the docents are former Marines and they love it when reunion groups come to the museum. He introduced us to Frank Matthews, a former Marine who was part of the Iwo Jima invasion. From left to right below are Bill, Mike, Frank, Mate, Will, and me.
Docents and our group at the museum

It was an honor to meet Frank and tell him that 2/2 was the first unit to do a landing at the island since the original invasion. Unfortunately, I was not in the unit back then. Our personalized tour was better than a regular tour because Bill tailored things to our level of knowledge. Most of the groups are full of civilians so rather than focus on what it takes to be a Marine, he spoke to us about things that we might not know.

For example, in the Korean War gallery, there was a Toosie Roll wrapper lying in the fake snow by one of the Marine manequins. Bill told us that "Tootsie Roll" was used as the radio code word when requesting 60mm mortar shells, in order to prevent the Chinese from knowing when the American troops were low on ammunition. One such message, however, was translated literally and cases of Tootsie Rolls were airdropped to the Marines battling their way out of the Chosin Reservoir in the winter of 1950. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as the Marines soon discovered that Toosie Rolls were the only food they could thaw in the 30 below zero temperatures. They could tuck the candy in their uniforms and it would stay soft enough to eat. The sugar gave them energy and the chewing satisfied their hunger. While fighting their way out of the reservoir, there were literally thousands of Tootsie Roll wrappers scattered over North Korea.

We watched a film about the Marine Corps at a little movie theater in the museum. One of the featured Marines in the film is Retired Colonel Wesley L. Fox. The Colonel spoke to my class at non-commissioned officer (NCO) School in Quantico.
Lieutenant Wesley L. Fox led Company A, 9th Marines, in fierce fighting near Lang Ha on 22 February 1969. His Marines collided with an entrenced [North Vietnamese Army] NVA force protecting a major munitions stockpile. Because dense foliage and bad weather limited air and artillery support, Company A destroyed its foe the old fashioned way, using small arms and grenades to kill more than 100 NVA regulars. Though twice wounded, Fox remained in command. He received the Medal of Honor.
- from museum sign

It would be an understatement to say that the place is huge. One could easily spend hours there and take photos until your camera shooting finger is sore.
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The four of us at the back of an amphibious vehicle
Ready to debark.
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The four of us around a mortar gun pit
"Half load...fire!"
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Paintings of Marines struck down in the prime of their life while serving abroad
Painting of Marine heroes.

In the museum store, I saw a replica of the famous Iwo Jima flag raising...but made out of Legos! Some memorabilia was purchased...including something that would later save Mate from an angry mob.
Iwo Jima flag raising made of Legos

We took a walk upstairs and looked at some of the Norman Rockwell artwork from the WWII era. Taking the high ground gave us a good vantage point for some of the displays either hanging or down below.
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A bird's eye view of an amphibious landing
Amphibious landing.
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Old Corps plane.
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Marine in plane aiming machine gun
Airwing gunner.

The museum has a cafeteria and a bar called Tun Tavern, which Mike points out below.We wondered why nobody has built a Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. It seems like it would get a lot of business from old, salty jarheads. According to Wikipedia - Tun Tavern, the original burned down in 1781 and in addition to being recognized as the birthplace of the Marine Corps, it is also regarded as the "birthplace of Masonic teachings in America."
Mike pointing to Tun Tavern sign
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Return to the Globe and LaurelOpen accordion icon
Our next stop was the Globe and Laurel Restaurant where we had drinks and appetizers.
The four of us in front of the Globe and Laurel

I found the bacon cheese waffle fries delicious. This place is the perfect hangout for a bunch of former devil dogs.
The four of us at the Globe and Laurel bar

We saw the proprietor, retired Marine Major Rick Spooner, who Mike and I met on March 7, 2009.
Will, Mate, and the Major
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AnnapolisOpen accordion icon
Mike, Suzanne, and I went back to my place while Will and Mate did their own thing. My girlfriend, Norma came over, then the four of us went to dinner in Annapolis. We ate at Carrol's Creek Waterfront Restaurant.

Next, we took the water taxi across the river to the historic side of Annapolis. We walked near the Naval Academy, then to Middleton Tavern, a bar and restaurant that was built in 1750. We drank upstairs while a pianist played tunes from the 1970s. Mike and I would sometimes sing along as we often sang during the Gulf War in the Humvee or around the fire once the war ended.

Mike, Suzanne, Norma, and I walked around Annapolis and saw the state capitol building. According to Wikipedia - Annapolis, Annapolis was incorporated as a city in 1708. From 1783 to 1784, it was the capitol of the United States.

Mike and I talked about a phenomena known as "pee shivers" (aka "piss quivers"). It is something I'd never known of by name but have experienced. According to an old website that describes post-micturition convulsion syndrome, 83% of males and 58% of females have experienced it too.

The water taxi quit running by the time we were ready to leave so we walked about a mile back to the car. Our little stroll would be a good warmup for tomorrow.
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 Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tri-State HikeOpen accordion icon
Will and Mate drove to New York to visit Courtney B., a fellow Marine from 81s. They met him at his place of work then drove him home, catching up on old times. Upon leaving, they caught some heavy NYC traffic. They drove to Philadelphia to see the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys play football. There were several fist fights. Mate wore his Dallas Cowboys jersey but also his new USMC knit cap (purchased at the museum store the day prior) which he claims kept the crazy Eagles fans at bay. To their delight, Dallas won.

Mike, Suzanne, Norma, and I did a little hike. It is one I've led before which I call the Tri-State Hike.

Starting in Virginia, we crossed over the 383-mile long Potomac River which separates Virginia from Maryland. Who actually controls the river?
For 400 years, Maryland and Virginia have disputed control of the Potomac and its North Branch, since both states' original colonial charters grant the entire river rather than half of it as is normally the case with boundary rivers. A Special Master appointed by Supreme Court to investigate recommended the case be settled in favor of Virginia, citing the language in the 1785 Compact and the 1877 Award. On December 9, 2003, the Court agreed in a 7-2 decision.
- from Wikipedia - Potomac River

We saw some kayakers. This section of the Potomac is known for having some fairly easy whitewater sections. Notice how short the boat is? That's what we call a "play boat" since it turns on a time and can be rolled easily.
Whitewater kayaker in rapids

We walked on part of the 184.5-mile long Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath. This path was created along with an adjacent canal so that horses could pull barges from Washington D.C. to Ohio. The Marine Band played at the opening of the canal on July 4, 1828, attended by John Quincy Adams. But the project only made it to Cumberland, Maryland before it was deemed obsolete by a relatively new invention for the day...the railroad.

The four of us climbed to Maryland Heights.
Rocky overlook at Maryland Heights

From the overlook, I pointed out features below with Harpers Ferry behind me.
Me pointing down to something with Harpers Ferry in the background

We could see the mighty Potomac River which flows from the northwest. This part separates Maryland from West Virginia.
Potomac River

Here's Norma and me with Harpers Ferry behind. The 180 degree view almost certainly makes the overlook from the Heights one of the most photographed places in Maryland.
Norma and I at Maryland Heights with Harpers Ferry behind

This is Mike and Suzanne with the Potomac River and C&O Towpath
Looking down on Mike and Suzanne with the Potomac River and C&O Towpath

...and this is them with my camera pointed east.
Mike and Suzanne with the Potomac River behind

I don't know how long people have made the journey to this vista but it has been since at least 1861 as some graffiti carved in stone indicates.
Rock with graffiti

The trails on which we walked were some of the same that Civil War troops once humped so they could position their big guns to protect the nearby armory. One such artillery piece was the 9-inch Dahlgren gun weighing 9,700 pounds and capable of hurling a 100-pound shell over two miles. By comparison, our 81mm mortars seemed tiny.

After climbing down from Maryland Heights, we walked again on the towpath, passing an old-fashioned big front-wheeled bicycle near one of the canal locks.
Modern version of old-fashioned bicycle with trailer in tow

Again, we crossed the Potomac River, venturing into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Harpers Ferry is where the Marines fought against abolitionist John Brown in his attempt to take the town armory on October 18, 1859. Do you remember John Brown? If not, dust off and look at the covers of your old Kansas albums. Brown took hostages, who were later freed when the Marines stormed the Harpers Ferry firehouse. Eighty-six Marines under First Lieutenant Israel Green and Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee eventually captured Brown who was later hung for treason against the state of Virginia, the murder of five proslavery Southerners, and inciting a slave insurrection. This was one of the events that sparked the Civil War.

Having worked up an appetite, we caught a late lunch at a the Armory Pub, 109 Potomac Street, then walked around the town a bit, passing Saint Peter's Roman Catholic Church, built in 1833.

We walked on the Appalachian Trail, stopping along the way at Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson once stood in 1783.

Crossing over the Shenandoah River, we returned to Virginia. Then, continuing along the Appalachian Trail, Norma took us on an 800-foot climb. It was getting dark. Time to put on the night vision goggles...oh, I forgot to bring them.

Bidding farewell to the Appalachian Trail, we walked on the Loudoun Heights Trail which took us to Loudoun Heights, another scenic overlook. It was now quite dark and we could clearly see the lights from Harpers Ferry below.

A little further and we were back where we started, having completed a 10.14 mile loop through three states.

It was a fantastic day to be outside. The weather was sunny with highs in the 70s. Not typical for Maryland at this time of year.
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Ellicott Mills Brewing CompanyOpen accordion icon
Since Mike and Suzanne didn't arrive until late on Friday, I decided to take them to the place Will, Mate, and I ate on Friday...Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. This time, Bill P. was there. After dinner, he bought us drinks.

We walked around the historic area. It was cool but nowhere near as cold as Friday night.

After an active day, I was asleep as soon as I hit the rack.
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 Monday, November 9, 2009

Arlington National CemeteryOpen accordion icon
The forecast called for another day of sunny weather with highs in the 70s. It seems like Mike and Suzanne brought a piece of California with them. It was a great day to be outside so Mike drove the three of us to the Arlington National Cemetery.
Over 320,000 servicemen and their family members rest on the 624 acres of Virginia land across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial.
- from Arlington National Cemetery flyer

The three of us visited the Kennedy graves. Then we saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Walking around the area and seeing the thousands of tombstones helped me appreciate the sacrifices made by our fellow servicemen.
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Colorful foliage at Arlington with Washington, D.C. in the background
Late fall colors.
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Tombstones stand in formation as once did the men whose names they now carry
Tombstones in formation.
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Looking down on tombstones and trees for as far as the eye can see
Tombstones and trees.

We saw the graves of several Medal of Honor recipients though none that were familiar. Additionally, we saw the following:
  • The headstone of President William H. Taft.
  • The mast of the USS Maine which was sunk in the Havana harbor.
  • A memorial to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger/Columbia.
  • The Iran Rescue Mission Memorial for servicemen killed in the hostage rescue attempt.
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    Marine Corps War MemorialOpen accordion icon
    We made a stop at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, aka the Iwo Jima monument.

    According to a sign at the Marine Corps War Memorial,
    The memorial, designed by Horace W. Peaslee [and completed by Felix de Weldon and his assistants], was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954. The entire cost of the memorial was $850,000 - all donated by Marines, Naval Service members and friends. The 32-foot high bronze figures are shown erecting a 60-foot flagpole at the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Burnished in gold on the Swedish granite are the names and dates of principal Marine Corps engagements since the founding of the Corps.
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    Front view of memorial
    Our flag's unfurled...
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    Mike and I in front of memorial
    ...to every breeze...
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    Side view of memorial
    ...from dawn to setting sun.
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    MonumentsOpen accordion icon
    Having worked up an appetite, we drove to the Washington D.C. Mall and caught a bite to eat from a street vendor. I believe we sat on the wall around the Federal Reserve Building.
    Mike and I eating lunch

    Mike taught me a new word: proboscis. We made efforts to use it incorrectly and to create strange conjugations of it such as "proboscuity." Silliness in Eighth Squad tradition still lives on.

    Soon, Will and Mate caught up with us. A motorcycle parked in front of Mike left so Mike moved his car to hold a spot for Will once he arrived.

    Having linked up again, the five of us visited some of the monuments.

    Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Two black granite walls that list the names of Americans killed during the Vietnam War. As of May 2007, there are 58,261 names.
    Will, Mate, Mike, and I at Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the Washington Momument in the background

    The Three Soldiers: A bronze statue, unveiled on Veterans Day 1984. It commemorates those who served in the Vietnam War.

    Vietnam Women's Memorial: Dedicated to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War. According to a sign at the memorial,
    Over 265,000 American women served during the Vietnam era (1956 through 1975) and over 11,000 saw duty in Vietnam. The majority served as nurses, caring for thousands of wounded servicemen in the difficult conditions of crowded transports, harsh weather, difficult terrain, and long hours. Between 1964 and 1973, dedicated nurses tended to over 300,000 wounded, saving nearly 98 percent of those who eventually reached hospitals.

    Lincoln Memorial: Built to honor our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Also the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

    Korean War Veterans Memorial: Dedicated on July 27, 1995, the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war, by President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam (President of the Republic of Korea) to the men and women who served during the conflict that took the lives of 54,246 Americans and 628,833 United Nations troops. This is my personal favorite amongst the war memorials on the Mall because the statues and images seem to capture the struggles endured by those who fought so bravely.
    Statues at Korean War Veterans Memorial

    National World War II Memorial: Dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II. Included is the Freedom Wall which has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war.
    Will, Mike, Mate, and I in front of the National World War II Memorial

    White House: Though we couldn't get close, we could see the home of our Commander-in-Chief. I think I saw Obama wave to me but Mate thinks Michelle was waving to him.

    Washington Monument: An obelisk built to commemorate President George Washington. The monument, made of marble, granite, and sandstone, is both the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk in height standing just over 555 feet 5 inches.
    The five of us with the Washington Monument in the background

    The monuments and memorials weren't the only things on the mall. An attractive and fit FBI woman was seen demonstrating the proper way to do Marine Corps pushups.
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    8th and IOpen accordion icon
    We left the mall and caught a taxi over to 8th and I. But where were the barracks? We walked one street over to where Norma works. She told us we were at the wrong 8th and I street, which I still don't quite understand. But she gave us good directions on how to get there by Metro subway.

    Mike, Suzanne, Will, Mate, and I made it through the Metro and found 8th and I, Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., the oldest active post in the Marine Corps.
    Us four guys of us in front of 8th and I
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    The Ugly MugOpen accordion icon
    Crossing the street, we caught happy hour at The Ugly Mug. We asked the waitress if the Marines hang out there. She said they do sometimes and have been known to start fights and even pulled the urinal out of the wall. We were pleased to hear that the Marines haven't changed much.

    Norma caught up with us in time for dinner.
    Seated for dinner: Mate, Mike, Suzanne, Me, Norma, and Will

    We spoke to a few jarheads. One bought us shots. We told him that he might be in our shoes in another 18 years and I told him to keep in touch with his fellow Marines. Later, we bid the Marines there a friendly Semper Fi then took a taxi back to the cars. Norma went her separate way.

    Mike and Will had parking tickets. Mike's car was towed onto the curb to make way for rush hour traffic. Not sure why they didn't touch Will's Mercedes. But they both agreed it was a small price to pay for the day we had.
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    Return to the Marine Corps War MemorialOpen accordion icon
    The day wasn't over quite yet. Will, Mate, Mike, Suzanne, and I went back to the Marine Corps War Memorial to see the statue after dark. Here, the flag flies 24 hour a day. Hence, it is always illuminated. This gave the monument a ghostly feel, as if part of the souls of each Marine went into making it. If there is a holy ground for Marines, this is it.

    Mate and Will said farewell. We would see each other at the next reunion...if not sooner.
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     Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Mike's Marine birthday adventureOpen accordion icon
    Happy 234th Birthday USMC!

    I went back to work and found a huge box of donuts and a sign displaying "Happy Birthday Marine Corps." I learned that day that one of my co-workers was an artilleryman during the Vietnam War.

    Mike and Suzanne went back to the Marine Corps War Memorial for a third time, but this time it was for a wreath laying ceremony. The President's Own played a short concert. The Drum and Bugle Corps was there and Marines from 8th & I did a pass in review. Best of all, Mike got a chance to meet two very special Marines.

    In the words of Mike:
    The Guest of Honor at the wreath laying ceremony was introduced by the Commandant [General James T. Conway shown below] as "the highest ranking Marine...ever." How's that for a cool title?
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    Mike and General Conway with the Marine Corps War Memorial behind
    Mike and General Conway.
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    Mike shaking hands with General Conway
    Shaking hands.

    The Commandant said the Guest of Honor had served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Therefore, he outranks the Commandant, even though they both have four stars. Well, I shook the General's hand and said Happy Birthday but I wasn't sure who he was [the Guest of Honor]. I got on Wikipedia today and pulled up a list of Commandants. There I learned that only one Commandant served as JCS Chairman. General Robert H. Barrow (who looks somewhat similar to the General I met) was the Commandant prior to P.X. Kelley. The ironic aspect I was heading for is that General Barrow is the Marine depicted in the Chosin Reservoir exhibit at the National Marine Corps Museum. Remember the chilly room we were in with the 60mm mortar? He was the Captain calling for support while the Corpsman patched up his leg. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his action holding the pass at Koto-Ri, which they credit for making the "famous fighting withdrawal" possible. However, General Barrow died October 2008, so he could not have been the Marine I met.

    It took me a while, but I finally realized my mistake. I had referred to a list of Commandants. The General I met was never Commandant. The General in the picture attached is General Peter Pace (ret.).
    Mike and General Pace, retired

    In fairness, he is tied with one other Marine, General Barrow, for the claim of "highest ranking Marine...ever". General Pace served as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman under President George W. Bush. Of course he did lots of things in the Corps, but the one he referred to as "his command" is 2/5, when he served as the Platoon Leader of 2nd Platoon, Fox Company. One of his Marines from that platoon was at the wreath laying ceremony, and it was truly moving to see them interact, it seemed like the first time since.

    One of the really cool things about being a Marine is the brotherhood. As a Marine, you rate the honor of walking up to any other Marine and acknowledging them, be they the Commandant, the "highest ranking Marine...ever", or just another schmo like us. Lots of Marines were at the ceremony, it was good to be in their midst and to give and receive acknowledgement. At that moment I knew I was in the midst of good, tough men and that I belonged in that place. We encountered hundreds of other Marines, present and past, and we exchanged birthday wishes and vows to always be faithful (Semper Fi). After the ceremony, Suzanne and I went to old town Alexandria, per Saki's suggestion. We exchanged warm greetings, birthday wishes, handshakes and beer with Marines in Alexandria and at the airports in DC and Atlanta.
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    Closing remarksOpen accordion icon
    Closing remarks from Mike:
    As the founders of the 81s 2/2 reunions, it will be our duty and privilege to lead our platoon mates to a setting where they also can experience the warm embrace of our brotherhood. When we gather together we return to our roots, celebrate our experiences, boresight our stories, accept each other's travails since, and reaffirm our bonds. I can't think of a better way to spend a few days every couple of years.
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    Looking backOpen accordion icon
    As of the end of 2023, we have still not had more than a trickle of a platoon reunion. A few guys got together a little after our 2009 mini-reunion but the numbers were about the same. In 2023, J. Paquin passed away. Others may soon follow. I don't know if we'll ever get together and have the turnout we had originally hoped for. But if we never do, we'll always have the memories and the brotherhood of being platoon-mates.

    Semper Fi.
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    Statues at Korean War Veterans Memorial, November 9, 2009
    Korean War Veterans Memorial, November 9, 2009