One Final Salute

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For my first 17 years, a hat was, well, a hat. It wasn’t until I stepped off the bus in the wee hours of a humid June morning and landed on those celebrated yellow footprints of Parris Island that I quickly learned what I once called a hat was now a cover.

After my tour in the Corps, which included two deployments that literally took me around the globe, the only piece of uniform that fit me upon my departure were my covers. Thanks to adding two inches in height and 45-pounds in girth, my dress uniforms were always a major point of contention, especially during inspections. Fortunately, the camouflage utility uniform had a good amount of give, which was our uniform of the day – the one benefit of not being a pogue.

Once I returned to civilian life, my remaining covers were tucked away in my sea bag that in subsequent moves always found a home anchored in the basement. It wasn’t until my daughter requested me to render her first salute upon her commissioning in the U.S. Army that the cover would find itself, however briefly, returning to active duty. 

Having been prior enlisted, I was unfamiliar with the protocols of the commissioning of a second lieutenant. Not only would she be commissioning but was named a George C. Marshall graduate having earned the U.S. Army’s top cadet award based upon scholarship, leadership, and physical fitness. 

My poplin camouflaged cover was practically inspection ready considering it spent nearly four decades packed away awaiting its eventual parole to a hunting or fishing expedition that never materialized. My name was still visibly stamped on the inside and all that was left was a brief meeting with a touch of starch and an iron.

The only issue that still needed to be addressed was my hair. The mane is still in full force and pretty much the same color as when I first donned that cover. The mop, or what Uncle Vinny once sardonically called “good guinea hair,” was on tap to get a regulation high and tight shortly before the commissioning allowing enough growth to still pass muster with USMC regulation and acceptable to our family’s commanding officer, the butter bar’s mother.

The last time, I rendered a salute wearing that cover, I was still on active duty. I have no recall who was the heir of that salute, but to think the next one bestowed would be my own daughter decades later at her commissioning was surreal. The entirety of the formal proceedings were certainly a significant moment in time for an aging Jarhead.

Before accepting her request, I wanted to make sure that she didn’t want one of her ROTC cadre to do the honors as she has spoken with high regard for the senior noncommissioned officers that worked diligently with her during her undergraduate years and in particular MSgt. Cardray Moulden.

Our family’s military history is significant, having had two uncles who served in World War II one in the Army, the other in the Navy, and my, Dad, a Marine, served in the Korean War – all were enlisted. On her maternal side, one served on Iwo Jima, while the rest were Army veterans fighting the Nazi’s in Europe during World War II when military service was not necessarily a choice. The common denominator that ran through them was a patriotic sense of time-honored duty to serve one’s nation.

This seems to be missing among today’s youth as last year the Army reached only 75% of its recruiting goal, while the other branches barely met theirs. 2023 is no different. At a Congressional hearing, Pentagon brass testified things have not been this bad since the draft ended in 1973 and that the all-volunteer force may no longer be feasible.

Maria Maresca’s initial salute had two sets of firsts. Not only would she be the first woman in the family on either side to serve, but also the first to forgo the chevrons and pin on the gold bars of a second lieutenant.

Across our fruited plain, May is commissioning season. The formalities at Shippensburg University, not far from the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg or the Army’s longtime War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania is by no means a destination for any of these young officers. Rather it is the first stop in a journey that will sculpt, fashion, and solidify the rest of their lives as they serve a cause much greater than themselves.

The hope inspired by both Major General Andy Munera, the Commanding General U.S. Army Cadet Command out of Fort Knox. Kentucky, and the university’s ROTC’s Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Nicole Jepsen stirred a current that could not help but energize the auditorium of the Luhrs Performing Arts Center.

These newly commissioned officers’ commitment to serve stands out in a nation where only 9% of those eligible to serve do. They carry with them the hope of a nation that my last commander-in-chief Ronald Reagan once called “a shining city on a hill.”

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