SEMPER FI

SEMPER FI

From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Semper Fi

Act with courage, and may the Lord be with those who do well.

2 Chronicles 19:11b (NIV)

The call came on a scorching Saturday afternoon. Our younger son Rick, stationed at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina, had been admitted to the hospital with a ruptured appendix. “They brought him down to Camp Lejeune and performed surgery,” his friend reported, “but I can’t find him.”

Fear took over. A ruptured appendix can prove fatal. “We’ll be there as soon as we can,” I said, “but we’re two states away.” Oh, God, please help Rick.

I called my husband, Joe, in from mowing the lawn and, frantic, he phoned Camp Lejeune, locating the surgeon. “Yes, I operated on your son this morning,” he said. “The infection had spread into the surrounding tissues. We’re leaving the incision open in case we have to go back in there.” That means peritonitis has set in. Lord, help. My courage just vanished . . .

“I have to tell you,” the doctor added, “he is a very sick boy. But he’s young; he’s in good physical shape. I think he’ll be able to make it.” Oh, Lord, give us all courage and strength.

Joe never talks while driving, so I had practically all night to think—and worry.

Why in the world had Rick waited so long before seeing a doctor? Then my wandering mind reasoned: Why am I surprised? The Marine Corps evidently teaches its men they can withstand anything—that they’re invincible.

I should know. Joe is a Marine to the core. Semper Fidelis—“always faithful.” He had enlisted at age seventeen, served on Guam, Japan, and China, and now, with the rank of major, met with a reserve unit in Atlanta.

On the open road this night, the steady drone of the car engine provided the only sound. Soon we were swallowed up in blackness, blackness relieved only by the streetlights of an occasional town, sleeping now.

Continuing my reverie, I contemplated the crucial factor that had influenced Rick, affected us all for that matter. Four years earlier, we had faced another surgical crisis when Joe was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Although he appeared to be beating the odds, the outcome as yet was uncertain. He had been demoralized when the Marine Corps declared him medically unfit to serve. Just recently, though, he had been reinstated to active status and even dared to hope for a promotion in rank.

The fact that Rick followed his dad’s example shouldn’t have surprised me.

The specter of uncertainty about his dad’s health clouded the years Rick was in college. The week of graduation, he had his hair cut short, shaved off his beard, and joined the corps. “Somebody’s got to carry on the tradition,” he had explained.

Joe and I reached Camp Lejeune at three o’clock in the morning and located the hospital, a soon-to-be-replaced red brick building of World War I vintage, three stories, dark now except for a smattering of dim lights on each floor.

Inside, our footsteps echoed down dismal hallways. A squeaky elevator emptied us onto the third floor where a small lamp revealed a desk and a nurse bent over her paperwork. We asked her about our son.

“Would you like to see him?”

“Oh, yes! May we?”

“Follow me,” she said. With a flashlight, she cut a path down the black asphalt-tiled floor of yet another gloomy corridor.

“He’s in the room with another patient,” the nurse said softly, motioning us through a door.

“We’ll need to be as quiet as possible.”

We could barely detect Rick’s bed in the shadows. Following the sounds of muted groans, being careful of the IV-dispensing contraption with its tubes and bottles, I touched his shoulder. His hospital gown was drenched with perspiration. “Rick,” I whispered, bending close to his ear, “it’s Mother and Dad.”

A very groggy son answered, “I’m glad you’re here.”

I kissed his fevered brow, “I love you.”

“Love you, too,” he managed, then drifted back into a medicine-induced sleep.

Lord, our boy here needs your healing touch. And, Lord, about that courage—I need it now, really badly.

Rick was alert the next day but still feverish and miserable with pain.

On Monday morning, Joe let me out at the front door to the hospital while he found a parking space. The hallways, quiet all weekend, bustled now with activity. White-uniformed nurses and corpsmen hurried in and out of rooms; patients—all wearing U.S. Navy–issued blue cotton robes and scuffs—did their prescribed walking.

When I reached Rick’s room, he lay flat on his back, anxiously eyeing the door. “Where’s Dad?” he asked hurriedly, a note of excitement in his voice.

“He’s parking the car.”

“Can you help me get up?” he said, painfully pushing the sheet back with his feet and with great effort raising himself on one elbow. “I’ve got to be standing when Dad gets here.”

I sensed this was no time for questions. Taking his arms while he clenched his teeth against the pain, I pulled him around into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, then sat down beside him. While he held his incision with one hand, he placed the other one around my shoulder. I, in turn, put one arm around his back, with my other hand steadying us with his IV pole. Somehow we stood to the floor and propped the back of his legs against the bed. Then he motioned me to ease away.

Just in time. Masculine footsteps in the hall. Joe barely got inside the room when he stopped in his tracks, not believing what he saw: Rick standing by his bed. Whereupon Rick pulled himself to almost-full height, snapped to attention, and with a crisp salute, heralded, “Congratulations, Colonel, Sir!”

“Wha—wha—what?” Joe stammered, totally bewildered.

“Your promotion came through!” Rick reported, a big grin forming. “Colonel Asher called this morning from Atlanta. You’re a lieutenant colonel!”

“Promotion? Called here? How did he find me here?”

To describe Joe as dumbfounded would be a gross understatement. He was undone! Oh, but for a video camera to record the event. Suddenly, it all sank in and his face lit up like the fourth of July!

And just as suddenly, the Marine in him sprang back to life. With his officer demeanor engaged, he “snapped to”

and—even though he was wearing civilian clothes, which ruled out an official salute—returned Rick a quick, informal one. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”

Then with two long strides, Joe reached Rick and enfolded him in a giant bear hug. I joined in to make it a threesome. We laughed and cried, all at the same time, realizing that probably no promotion had ever come at a more tender moment.

After we helped Rick back into bed, he provided a perfect finish to the stirring scene. Reverting to his affectionate title for his dad, he said, “We’re awfully proud of you, Pa.”

Pa, the new colonel. We were “just family” once again.

Yet a changed family. For etched forever on my heart is the picture of that young, feverish Marine in a wrinkled, bobtailed hospital gown, barely able to stand, snapping to attention and “promoting” his dad! What a memorable moment! What courage. What strength.

An answer to my prayers—

And Semper Fi—to the core.

Gloria Cassity Stargel

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