Twenty years ago today I was sitting on uncomfortable bleachers in uncomfortable temperatures watching the evening parade at the Marine Corps Barracks. It was my second date with a young second lieutenant, and we were both out of our element.
He had already finished OCS at Quantico and was ranked high enough at The Basic School that he had been invited to the aforementioned evening parade by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. I was not interested in dating a Marine; however, I was intrigued by the logistics of this particular date.
He picked me up in his dress blues, and I wore a tea length Laura Ashley dress; it was, after all, 1997. On our way to the reception, I was escorted by the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, who confided that he wasn’t a fan of these parties.
Since a girlfriend–the same one who convinced me I needed to go on this date–had loaned me a book on Marine Corps etiquette, we safely made it through the receiving line without any missteps. We met General and Mrs. Krulak as well as the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, and his gorgeous wife. We made small talk with other guests, and I took a quick tour of the residence with Mrs. Krulak and a few others.
The parade ended with fireworks since it was the 4th of July, and we navigated our way through D.C. holiday traffic back to Fredericksburg. It was an amazing, surreal sort of night. He was 26, and I was 23. Neither of us had any experience with the D.C. political scene, and both of us were starving. We ended up at a Waffle House at midnight.
A few days later we visited my grandmother in Alexandria. I decided to introduce my second lieutenant to the lady who had made a career of being an admiral’s wife. She was thrilled by our outing and asked the name of the current Commandant.
“Chuck Krulak? I knew him.” And then she described how she knew his parents. I can’t recall the details, but my guess is that both families were stationed in Hawaii in the 1950s and that they traveled in the same social circles.
My grandmother never failed to amaze me with her wealth of life experiences. Three months later, that same lieutenant found his flight school training on hold and he requested temporary duty somewhere near Fredericksburg. By then he and Grandma were well acquainted. She gave him a bedroom so that he could commute to Andrews Air Force Base during the week and visit me on the weekends; in return, he drank her terrible coffee and joined her for dinner.
Grandma was the daughter of an Army doctor and had married a Navy pilot before she married a submariner. She had a soft spot for Marines though, and I took after her: I married my Marine sweetheart the following September.