26: Free a Marine to Fight

26: Free a Marine to Fight

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

Free a Marine to Fight

Marines everywhere can take pride in their contributions to our great nation.

~General James L. Jones, USMC

Mom could hardly contain her excitement as we packed the car. We were headed to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister Marie. This family get-together had been planned for months. Mom had baked for the past two days. I’m pretty sure we loaded more food storage containers than luggage into the car that day.

Mom’s dedication to being prepared was no surprise. She had been a United States Marine during World War II.

At the tender age of twenty, as President Roosevelt implored all Americans to do their part, Mom heard the call and took it more seriously than most young women. A poster she saw on the subway wall convinced her to join the U.S. Marine Corps. The sign read, “Be a Marine. Free a Marine to Fight.” In the picture a young woman smartly dressed in uniform stood holding a clipboard in front of a military plane. By the end of the day, Mom had signed on the dotted line.

Her decision met with enthusiastic negativity on the home front. Mom’s younger brother had already quit high school and joined the Navy. He was headed for the South Pacific. My grandmother was, to say the least, perturbed to learn that her only other child was leaving home for the military. Hiding her feelings was never my grandmother’s strong suit. She pitched a fit. My grandfather, on the other hand, cried. Mom stood her ground though, and in March of 1943 she headed off to Hunter College in New York where the first platoon of United States Marine women recruits gathered to train.

By the end of the war she had been promoted to Sergeant and served in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. She put her secretarial skills in high gear so that she could “Free a Marine to Fight.” That’s exactly what she would tell you if you asked why she enlisted.

Fast-forward about fifty years and her own platoon of children was plotting to surprise her with a tour of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

“Where are we going?” she said, as we all piled in the car.

“Thought we’d take in some sights, Mom. You must know your way around Washington.”

“I haven’t been here in fifty years!”

“That’s okay, Mom. I heard they haven’t moved any of the important stuff,” I said.

She rolled her eyes at me. “Oh you! Behave yourself.”

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is located in Triangle, Virginia, so Mom began to get suspicious as we left D.C. and were passing through Arlington.

“Okay, give it up,” she said. “Where are you taking me?”

“Um… We found a neat restaurant we thought you’d like. It’s in Triangle, Virginia.”

“Oh,” she said. She didn’t believe a word of it.

When we pulled into the museum parking lot she was dumbstruck.

“Whose idea was this?”

“Ours,” we said in unison.

“Can we go inside?”

“Sorry Mom, it’s only for active military. We just thought you’d like to see the parking lot.”

“You’re not too big to smack, Annie! Now get out of my way. I can’t wait to get in there.”

My mom’s new hip replacement slowed her down a bit, so while my sisters helped her out of the car and up the steps I scooted inside to purchase tickets.

Down the hall a bit and off to the right sat the reception desk with a fine looking Marine behind it.

“Good afternoon, how can I help you?” he said.

“I’d like to purchase tickets to tour the museum please. That’s my mom and sisters coming through the front entrance. My mom was with the first class of United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserves in 1943.”

“She was?”

“Yes, indeed!” I said. “She read ‘Free a Marine to Fight’ on a poster and she decided to do it.”

“What is her name?”

“Back then her name was Marie Sherin. She was a sergeant.”

He grinned at me and said, “There’s no charge for the tour Ma’am. I look forward to meeting your mother.”

Then he watched Mom, with her slight limp, slowly make her way to the reception desk. When she stepped up to the counter the young Marine stood at attention, snapped my mother a crisp salute, and barked in drill sergeant style, “The National Museum of the United State Marine Corps is ready for your inspection Sergeant Sherin!”

Slightly stunned, Mom saluted back and told him to stand at ease. Then we watched as a shy smile crept across her face. I think she had trouble coming to grips with being recognized.

The young Marine emerged from behind the desk to shake her hand, but Mom would have none of it. Instead she hugged him good and strong with a force that transcended time. Marine to Marine, they embraced. She held him fast in thanks for his genuine kindness and respect for her.

“Semper Fi, young man.”

“Semper Fi, Sergeant Sherin. You get the royal treatment when you’ve freed a Marine to fight.”

For a second I really think she had the notion he was psychic until she caught a glimpse of me winking at my sisters.

My mom smiled. “Oh, that was a long time ago,” she said.

“A Marine is a Marine, Ma’am — forever. We never forget our own.”

I still tear up when I remember the look on my mother’s face and how touched she was by that young man’s sincerity. Without his recognition of her service, she’d have walked through that museum and never mentioned that she was with the first class of the United State Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in 1943. Mom would’ve spent the entire time pointing out everything that related to my Dad’s United State Marine Corps enlistment. She’d have talked about nothing but how proud she was of him. That was always her way.

Her new young comrade in arms ignited a flame, a sense of pride, and a willingness to share her experiences with us as we made our way through the exhibits. I’ll always be grateful to him for making her feel so special and appreciated.

I have often heard my mom’s age group referred to as the “greatest generation.” I don’t believe she ever felt that way until the kindness of a single Marine from the current generation honored and recognized that she did her part when she answered the call and “Freed a Marine to Fight.”

~Annmarie B. Tait

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