As far as I know, my uncle, George Epps, was the first member of our family to serve in the United States Marine Corps. His brother, my father, William “Bill” E. Epps, Jr., was a Navy veteran of World War II. Uncle George served (I think) during the late-1040s and early 1950s. He was part of what is now called, “The Old Corps.” He currently lives in Fall Branch, Tenn.
In 1970, when I was thinking of joining the Marines, my dad tried to talk me out of it. He said, “You know your Uncle George was a Marine. Son, that’s a really tough outfit and I’m not sure you can make it.”
I was horribly offended. I was an athlete in high school and lettered in both football and karate. How hard could it be? Besides, by saying what he did, my father insured that I would enlist, which I did the next day. Well, make it I did and Dad was right … it was really tough.
My own sons served in different ways. Jason and John served the community as police officers, with Jason doing 20 years. James enlisted in the United States Air Force on a six-year enlistment and was vitally involved in the War on Terror, ending his tour as a staff sergeant.
And now there is a new generation of Epps family members seeking to serve the nation.
Yesterday, May 5, 2017, Isaac Pierce Epps, my grandson and son of Jason, graduated from Marine Corps boot camp to take his place among the nation’s finest. He did well in boot camp and earned the right to be called “Marine.”
Another grandson, Tristan Alexander Epps, and son of John, is about to begin his fourth week of the 13-week ordeal at Parris Island, S.C. Yesterday, they, and I, were on the island at the same time, although I couldn’t see Tristan. Hopefully, I will make a return visit in about nine weeks to attend his graduation. They are part of the “New Corps.”
Someone said recently, “Why are you making such a big deal about this?” Because it is a big deal, that’s why. Currently, only about 7 percent of the population of the United States has ever served in the military. That includes World War II veterans on up to the present military.
But only about 1 percent of the population currently serves in the nation’s armed forces. That is, only 1 percent of the population, mostly young people, stands between the American citizen and Iran, North Korea, Russia, and a host of other bad actors.
It is a tremendously big deal. There are about 1.5 million men and women in the military, with only some 180,000 of those being Marines.
When I enlisted, part of my motivation was to avoid the draft. Young men and women no longer have that pressure. They voluntarily choose to serve. And those who choose to join the Marines, by far the smallest of the combat-oriented military branches, do so knowing that it is about the toughest challenge they will have, or may ever have, to face.
Am I worried? Yes. The world is a very dangerous place and Marines are often the tip of the spear when it comes to combat. It is a warrior culture and they know the risks. This worry is what drives my prayers for them.
Am I proud? You betcha! I know what it takes and I know that the change really is forever. To all the men and women who have ever served in the Marine Corps: “Semper fi.” And to all who have served: “Thank you for your service. You are among the 7 percent.”
[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.]