I came home from college on Christmas break in 1965. My Dad met me at the door, and was really glad to see me. I immediately announced to him that I had joined the Marine Corps. His beaming face turned to surprise and disbelief. “You did what !?… I thought you were smart!?”, he growled.
You see, my Dad landed with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal as a Pharmacists Mate (Hospital Corpsman). He lost his left arm while in the service. As a result of his island experiences, Spam and Pineapples were not ever allowed in our house. Aroma, the scientists tell us, is a very strong memory stimulus.
“Why aren’t you going to finish college?”, he implored.
“Dad, I am going to finish college.”, I told him.
It was important to him that all his kids graduated college. (He never went to college.)
I had a full ride football scholarship and did OK my first semester. He couldn’t understand why I would throw that away. I then explained the PLC (Platoon Leaders Class) program to him. Whereby, I could finish school and go to OCS/PLC during the summer. This soothed him but not completely. But enough. I could see he was very proud, but was, also, fearful. He new what Marines did… up front and personal. He never said it, but what he participated in during WWII, was, in his mind, to keep his children from ever having to participate in that horror show called war.
When my Dad died, before we buried him (He was cremated at his request) I happened to be at the Regional Marine Recruiting Office on business. I had a thought. I cornered a Gunnery Sergeant and inquired as to the possibility of having a Hospital Corpsman PO1C and a Sergeant E4 to present the VA flag to my Mother, at the grave ceremony we had coming up that week.
He said, “The burial ceremony detail was a volunteer detail from the nearby reserve base. I will give you a number to call but don’t get your hopes up.”, He added.
I told him about my Dad’s service on Guadalcanal. The Gunny stopped writing the number, tore the memo paper from the pad, wadded it up and smartly deposited it into file 13.
He stood erect, looked me dead square and said, “It will be an honor and a privilege to send your Dad off.” He stated, “I will handle this personally. You tell me when and where, and I will see that you have a fire team, a 21 gun salute, pall bearers and a flag folders with the appropriate presentation to your Mother.”
I told him, “no… no, we don’t need all that. There will be more of you than us there.”
Long story – short.
At the grave site.
The Hospital Corpsman, PO1C and Sgt E4 showed up on time. In their dress blues. Presented the flag to my Mom with the proper presentation speech. The Corpsman was shaking as he held the flag that was, also, in my Mother’s hands. His eyes welling and red. Taps was played on a Boom Box. Every one was teary eyed. They departed like Ghosts. Leaving just the family. My brother and I dug the grave. We placed the cigar sized box containing his ashes into the post hole sized grave. The rest of the family all helped fill the grave, My brother and I placed the VA marker on top.
Joseph Porter (Pete) Cawthon
January 8, 1917 March 10, 1995
For all that you have done.
And for all that you will do.
Well done – Carry on – Semper Fi
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