July the Fourth has come and gone this year but this past celebration was memorable for me for a couple of reasons. It’s the first Fourth that two of my grandsons spent Independence Day in the United States Marine Corps. Forty-seven years ago, I spent July 4th at the U. S. Army Quartermaster School in Fort, Lee, Va. I had graduated from Parris Island in May and several Marines were assigned to the school. I held the rank of Private, E-1.
Lance Corporal Isaac Epps is in San Diego, Calif., having recently arrived at Camp Pendleton from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for additional training. Recruit Tristan Epps is in Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and, God willing, will graduate on July 14.
Someone said, “You must really be proud.” And I am. But I am also concerned. We live in a dangerous and violent world and, throughout the nation’s history, the Marines have been the point of the spear.
And these young men are not alone. When I attended Ike’s graduation, there were four battalions of men and women who were graduating with them — who were putting all on the line for their country. Sometimes people lament the condition of youth in the nation. It depends on which youth you are talking about.
I have never been a fan of college fraternities. I know that some people swear by them but, to me, it’s always seemed like an extension of high school tribalism. When I got out of the Marines and went to college, I had several fraternities that asked me to pledge. I politely declined. Later I lived across the street from one of these organizations and the behavior I witnessed and the disregard that the frat had for its neighbors only solidified my feelings on the matter.
Someday, the frat kids will be running the world. Someday the current generation of Marines and other military personnel will also be running the world. I’m sure that, together, they will do fine, but if I had to choose, I’d go with the men and women who know something about self-sacrifice, working for a greater cause, knowing and appreciating the history of this land, and who have had serious responsibilities thrust on them.
A 19- or 20-year-old college student is learning to be an adult. A 19- or 20-year-old lance corporal is likely a fire team leader who has responsibility for his team in combat.
I’m not disrespecting those who choose not to serve in the nation’s military. But I am saying that, in four years, there will be a profound difference in the two groups’ life experiences and their maturity. Frankly, I think everyone, male and female, ought to serve the nation’s military for two years. If there are religious objections, fine, then serve two years in the Peace Corps. But serve a greater cause. Be part of something bigger than yourself. So, yes, I favor a draft for a variety of reasons.
I am proud that all three of my sons have served a greater cause at some point in their lives. Jason, the oldest, served as a police officer and detective for 20 years. He is now a priest. The next oldest, John, served as a police officer for several years. My youngest son, James, served a 5-plus-year enlistment in the United States Air Force and came out a staff sergeant. He now serves as a management analyst for the U.S. Forest Service and is a firefighter trained to battle those forest fires out west we hear so much about.
Anyway, self-sacrifice, a greater cause, putting one’s self on the line — that’s the back story of July 4th. One-third of the early colonists wanted to remain loyal to England. One-third wanted to just be left alone. One-third wanted independence and a new nation. Those are the people who made the difference. When the chips are down, when the nation needs them, they still make the difference today.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]