This week I have been extended a tremendous honor. Over the years I have received a number of recognitions, plaques, certificates, and atta-boys. I even received an honorary doctorate from a Baptist seminary for some 20+ years of work with youth, spirituality, and martial arts. But this week is something special.
I have two grandsons who are serving with the United States Marine Corps. Tristan Epps is stationed in Hawaii and his cousin, Isaac Epps, is serving at Camp Pendleton, Calif. I am exceedingly proud of them both.
When Isaac graduated, I was in need of a knee replacement. With my wife in tow, I made the trip to Parris Island to be there for his graduation. Two months later, and one month after the knee replacement surgery, we returned to Parris Island to watch Tristan graduate. Both trips were a struggle, physically, but it was worth the swell in my chest and the tears of pride in my eyes. I knew what it had taken them both to become Marines.
No one came — no family, no friends — when I graduated. That’s why nothing could keep me from these two graduations and, years earlier, my son James’ graduation from U.S. Air Force basic training.
It has been said that there are only two military services: The Army and the Navy. The Air Force is a corporation while the Marine Corps is a cult. Most Marines would agree that the statement is not far from the truth. On May 25 of this year, I celebrated my 49th anniversary of having graduated from Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. Marines remember such things.
I even remember the name of my assistant drill instructor. His name was Sgt. Ferris T. Johnson and he was a 21-year-old black Marine with a Purple Heart, several other decorations, and a tour in Vietnam under his belt. I don’t remember the names of all my high school teachers but I remember his. In fact, becoming a Marine was and is one of the highest honors of my life. Which brings me back again to the current honor.
My grandson Isaac has been a United States Marine for just about two years and three months. This week he is being promoted to sergeant. And for those who understand, yes, that is lightning-fast progression.
From the time he was 5 years old, Ike wanted to be a Marine. I even have a photo of him at that age in a Marine ball cap. When the opportunity came, he seized it with a vengeance.
A few weeks ago, when he knew that the promotion might be coming, he asked me if I would be willing to attend his promotion ceremony and pin his sergeant’s stripes on him. I told him that I would find a way to get there.
I’ve never pinned a new rank on anyone before. It was the first time I’ve been asked. I’m sure that there are people who do this type of thing all the time. But, for me, this is an uncommon honor.
So, this week, an old, out-of-shape, grey-headed and balding relic of the Marine Corps will, along with Ike’s father and sister, be in Camp Pendleton. I’ll try not to embarrass him, or myself, in front of his comrades by fumbling the sergeant’s chevrons or, worse, by shedding tears as I pin the devices on his collars and watch him become, before my eyes, Sergeant Isaac Epps, USMC.
Oorah, Ike and Tristan. Oorah. As for me, “Not as lean, not as mean, still a Marine.”
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee. He may contacted at email@example.com.]