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Honor Makes Her Proud to the Corps

November 16, 1986|Zan Thompson

It's a good thing to have a deep-seated pride in something, something that makes you feel special, set apart, something that gives you a proud edge. It's not a healthy thing to be part of a somnolent sameness, to strive only to reach the mark of the person next to you.

It's pride we're talking about, not arrogance, not vanity, but something that wells up and makes you stand a little taller. Whether it's a drum roll, a college song, the flag making red and white stripes against a blue sky, whatever it is that makes you think, "Hey, that's me and I'm glad."

Three years ago, I was complimented to be named an honorary member of the United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Assn. This came to me because of several columns I have written about the corps--a very small thing to have done to have been given that honorary card with my name on it.

I came to this treasured recognition through the side door. Somehow, I have always known a lot of Marines. Growing up in California, when I was at Mount St. Mary's College, a girl wasn't worth her scratchy navy blue uniform unless she had at least two Navy ensigns calling her. And about that time, I met a number of Marines, too. Willie Freeman and Len Stephens and a bunch of aviators. They all had unswervable belief in the superiority of the Marine Corps. And because they had been chosen, they had faith in themselves. Not egotism, not vainglory, just a good, healthy knowledge that they were the few, the special.

Then Patsy married Frank Carlisle Thomas from Port La Vaca, Tex., a Marine fighter pilot, and I began to know more about the Marines. At least, that particular Marine. Doug, my husband who was a staff sergeant in the infantry, and Tommy became friends.

During the 29 years of Patsy's marriage to Tom, before his too-early death, she moved 53 times. Some of those were just across the street on the same Marine air base, but they were moves just the same. Several times, they were clear across country with three children and a couple of English bulldogs.

Patsy says that many moves makes you an expert. One time, the packers carefully moved all her full wastebaskets so when she got from Beaufort, S.C., to the Mojave Desert she was greeted by her old familiar trash. Very comforting in strange surroundings to see the stuff you threw away a week before.

Tommy brought Patsy a beautiful silver serving tray from Hong Kong and the movers said they would take particular care of it. They did. They crated it so nothing could possibly harm it. One problem. They drove a nail through the middle of the tray. When the moving company offered to have it repaired, Patsy declined, saying it would always make her laugh when she thought of all those moves.

Tommy had some Port La Vaca phrases that fit a situation as smoothly as a hazelnut shell. When some mishap befell one of the kids, he would say, "Well, it ain't arms and legs."

Doug died eight months after Tommy and it was his idea that Patsy and I live together. I think he knew that two independent, strong-minded ladies would either live in the same house successfully or the whole thing would explode with a flare seen far at sea. In any case, it would be over quickly.

During the years Tommy was around, and later, when Patsy's daughter, Mandy, and her Marine fighter pilot husband were there, I went to a number of Marine Corps birthday balls. Wherever there are Marines, from two to thousands, they celebrate the anniversary of that day in 1775 in Philadelphia.

At the celebrations this year, a film was shown of Gen. Paul X. Kelley delivering his birthday remarks to the troops and their ladies and guests. Kelley, the corps' commandant, is a Marine's Marine and he believes that his place is in the field. That's where he was when he delivered this address.

He will turn over the Marine Corps colors with all the battle ribbons to a new man next June. The new commandant will live in the old white mansion at Marine Barracks in Washington, where 26 of the 28 commandants have lived. It's a classic three-story house of, I think, the Federalists.

Gen. Kelley spoke to the Marines, saying, "The American people are proud of the proudest. I have served with the finest."

Since their founding, there have only been a few more than 4 million Marines. When you think that Los Angeles County holds 8,155,000 it shows again what a shining part of our history has been made by the Marine Corps, this handful of men and women.

The general ended his remarks, "This is the land of the free because it remains the home of the brave."

And so it is. On Monday night, Patsy and I drank a toast to the corps from a silver tray, one with a nail hole in it. Oh, well, as Col. Frank Carlisle Thomas said, "It ain't arms and legs."

Happy birthday to the men at Tun Tavern and to the people who came after.

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