Why I Joined the Marines

I wanted to be a hero. But I didn't know the problems it would cause.


I just wanted to help.


I wanted to make you proud of me, God.


That's one reason why I joined the Marines -- because I thought it would make you proud of me. You didn't seem very interested in what I was doing when I was alive, but maybe once I died and became a ghost, you'd take more notice of my accomplishments. You know how sometimes people talk about finishing school or getting their masters or whatever so they can put it on their resume? And they say things like "I did this for my parents" or "I want to look good on paper"?





That's kind of how it felt -- like if the Marines accepted me and then when we were battling insurgents in some foreign country, one got away and hid in a building and we couldn't find him until he popped out with his gun and started shooting at us? When he popped out and tried to shoot us, I'd talk to you about how we were outnumbered three-to-one and it was a miracle we survived. You probably wouldn't say anything, but I'd imagine you were proud of me.


There are other reasons why I joined the Marines, too. There was a girl in junior high named Sarah whose dad was an Army Ranger who had died in Desert Storm when his helicopter crashed into a bunker full of explosives -- a direct hit that killed everyone on board instantly -- and she sat next to me in English class one period one day and showed me her dad's Ranger pin (she wore it on her sweater) at lunchtime later that week, only instead of being all somber or having tears in her eyes like you might expect after showing off her dead father's pin, she was kind of smirking like it made her feel better to be sad about something so small compared to losing him.


When she saw how surprised I looked at the way she talked about him dying no big deal with some hamburger still left on her tray, maybe because the Rangers aren't supposed to show any emotion at all even when they're alone because soldiers can't let themselves feel sad or scared if their leader does not?


Maybe that's when she realized that part of why guys join the Army is because they want other people (not just their family) to think they're brave or noble so people won't look down on them for being weak? And maybe this realization is what caused the whole thing with us and afterward? Me wanting you to think I'm brave?


Because it wasn't love or anything, we barely even knew each other. I mean, we talked at lunch a few times, but that was all.


And she didn't talk to me after that one period in English class because there was no reason for her to do so anymore. I had shown interest and now she could move on with her life and forget about me like I'd never existed -- except maybe on birthdays when she might think of how nice it would be if he were still alive to see her graduate high school or go off to college?


We sat next to each other in English class one period one day and showed each other our pins from our dads' units -- hers was an Army Ranger pin (her dad had died during Desert Storm) and mine was a Marine Corps Eagle Globe and Anchor pin (my dad had served in Vietnam).





And then later she told me about how when people asked what her father did for a living before he died, instead of saying "he was an Army Ranger," she would say he was a "landscape architect." And then she told me about how sometimes people would ask what her father did for a living when he was alive, instead of saying "he was an Army Ranger," she would say he was a "landscape architect." And then she told me that when people asked her what her father did for a living before he died, instead of saying "he was an Army Ranger," she'd say that he was a landscape architect. She said this to make fun of the way people talk about dead soldiers as if they were more important than the live ones. She didn't think it mattered at all if someone had died or not -- it's what you do with your life that counts.


It's who you are and not where you've been or where you'll be in the future -- like if someone asks where you went to high school, does it really matter whether you graduated from there or not? Or if someone asks where your family came from originally, does it really matter whether your ancestors were English settlers on the Mayflower or Italian immigrants who came through Ellis Island? You're better off being yourself than trying to fit in with other people by lying about small details like these.


She didn't think being in the Marines mattered at all either because all anyone ever talked about afterward were things like how fast I could shoot my gun and how many pull-ups I could do and how much weight I could bench press while doing curls -- numbers and measurements instead of seeing me as myself. And so when we got together after class she showed me her dad's pin because it made her feel better to talk about him dying no big deal with some hamburger still left on her tray instead of pretending nothing bad had happened at all so nobody would look down on her for being weak. She said maybe this is why guys join up in the first place because they want other people (not just their family) to think they're brave or noble so people won't look down on them for being weak? She said maybe this is why guys join up in the first place because they want other people (not just their family) to think they're brave or noble so people won't look down on them for being weak? Why did I join up? Why do any men join up? What does joining have anything to do with bravery? Or strength? Or nobility?


And then we talked some more and ate our lunches together until lunchtime ended and we had different classes afterward (she took art history; I took marine biology). And soon afterward Sarah moved away without telling anybody except one friend who promised not to tell anybody else except one person who promised not to tell anybody else except one person etcetera etcetera until finally everybody knew but nobody knew exactly why she'd moved away except maybe because she had family somewhere else? And if you think about it, the best way to keep a secret is to tell everybody but don't say why.





At first I was kind of upset and thought maybe she'd moved away because I'd said something that made her feel bad or embarrassed and now she didn't want to talk to me anymore. But then later when I was in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, training for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, I realized this couldn't be true because we hadn't even been friends yet when she moved away.


We met for the first time in English class after lunch one day in junior high (that's eighth grade). And so it couldn't be true that she had left town because of something I'd said or done -- like if people ask you what your father did before he died instead of saying "he was an Army Ranger," you can say "a landscape architect" instead of saying "he died during Desert Storm." Or if they ask what your mother does for a living instead of saying "she's a stay-at-home mom," you can say "She works part-time as a nurse at the local hospital." Or if they ask where you went to high school instead of saying "I graduated from James Madison High School," you can say "I attended Stuyvesant High School in New York City." You're better off being yourself than trying to fit in with other people by lying about small details like these.


And so it must have been something else entirely that caused her move away without telling anybody except one friend who promised not to tell anybody else except one person who promised not to tell anybody else etcetera etcetera until finally everybody knew but nobody knew exactly why she moved away except maybe because she had family somewhere else? Maybe it was just coincidence that we met up again years later when we were juniors on opposite sides of the lunchroom table? Maybe all this happened for a reason -- but not necessarily any reason either one of us would ever know about?


Maybe there are reasons why things happen even though we don't know them right away? Because there's no way anyone could ever know everything about anything or predict how everything might turn out based on what happens today or tomorrow -- every moment is different from every other moment; every second is different from every other second; each new event has its own causes and effects; each new event causes its own new events which cause still more events down the road like dominoes falling over after being knocked over by another domino; each new combination has its own unique effect on history forever afterward even though sometimes it may seem like nothing special at all (like two people sitting next to each other eating their lunches together until lunchtime ends); sometimes two seemingly unimportant events might actually be linked inextricably.



Hearing a story once at the right time and you go to war.

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