Thursday, a dreary, cold day in Southern California . My pal Lisa Agustsson and I drove down the 405 Freeway to the 5, immense ten lane highways most of the way, to camp Pendleton, the major Marine Corps base on the West Coast. I had been invited to appear and meet and greet marines attached to a rocket artillery battalion about to deploy to Afghanistan.
We went through the guard gate, were met by a man in a huge truck, and escorted many miles inside the base to a large hangar like structure gaily hung with balloons and a cheery Santa Claus and many young men with mostly short hair, including some who were having a rock climbing competition as we pulled up.
The men were muscular and fit looking with no exceptions–lean, intense, alert. Most were in civilian clothes, even T shirts with rock group characters on them. There were pretty young wives, many with small children, many pregnant. I was greeted by several women from the huge Saddleback Church . They were the organizers of the event and they had invited my appearance. They could not have been more enthusiastic.
Glad hander that I am, I started immediately greeting as many men and women as wanted to greet me, which was pretty much all of them. I posed for pictures with them, asked them where they were from, told them of various connections I have or my wife has with their part of the world.
They were from small towns in Missouri, small towns in Wisconsin, small towns in Colorado, small towns in New Mexico, in Mississippi . There were also many from East L.A., happy to get away from the gangs, many from parts of New York City, even one young officer from Spring Valley, an extremely upscale part of Washington, DC. (“The Marine Corps attracts all kinds of people,” he said happily.)
They had the kinds of faces you used to see in Jimmy Stewart movies, all American faces, white, brown, black, Asian, but all smiling, all eager to do something for their country. They did not have the kind of conniving, weasel like faces I usually see around me in Beverly Hills . They looked like straight shooters, in a word. I guess they are, since every Marine is a rifleman.
I asked each of them if he would be deploying for Afghanistan soon. With only one or two exceptions, they all said they would, and usually said it as in, “I hope so, sir.” They said it like they meant it.
Several of them explained to me the rockets they would be firing. These were little devils that could go about fifty miles and hit a target without ten feet with a large explosive charge. They use satellites and drones and computers and I am glad it’s our side that has them and not the Taliban.
After about an hour, I went inside the hangar or whatever it was. Hundreds more Marines and their wives or girlfriends greeted me and told me how eager they were to be deployed–although the wives looked a bit less eager than the husbands. ( Later that night Lisa told me that a wife told her she could not sleep at night worrying about her husband.)
I gave a short little speech about how they were where the rubber meets the road in saving freedom and dignity. It may be agony for Mr Obama to decide what to do in Afghanistan, but it is these men and their families whose lives are on the line. I told them that we back at home sitting in chairs with our fat asses could not survive without them and that we thanked them, asked God’s blessing for them, prayed for them.
I talked to still more people, ate some turkey that a local church had prepared for this large group, and then, thoroughly chilled, went off into the night back to Los Angeles.
We had a driver so I slept most of the way back. But when I awakened near Long Beach, I saw immense waves of cars and their lights rushing towards me like a scene in a movie of a space ship rocketing towards a cluster of stars. There were thousands of cars, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. And in the rest of the nation, hundreds of millions more.
A whole nation. Three hundred million plus souls. All rushing around making a living, taking their kids to soccer games, buying groceries, getting and spending.
And in this little corner of Camp Pendleton were the men and women who make it all possible, about to go fight in a horrible place called Afghanistan . Not one of the men or women I spoke to tonight ever mentioned the stock market or real estate or the dollar or commodities or a stimulus package. Not one of them complained to me about anything. It was probably the longest time I have ever been in a crowd where not one person mentioned money. Maybe it’s because they know that what they do is beyond price. Back to sleep and then I awakened as we got close to home.
I passed many Christmas decorations as we got off the 405 and headed east on Santa Monica Boulevard . The thought came to my old head that I had just seen the best Christmas group I have ever seen: men and women who so love their fellow man that they are cheerfully and eagerly going off to risk their lives to save total strangers. These really are the peacemakers. These really are the blessed of the earth, the gifts from God. If we have any decency at all, these men and their families take our gratitude and our prayers with them with every step they take. Merry Christmas, Camp Pendleton, and all who serve to save.