24 June 2008

The Butter-Cutter On “Once A Marine, Always A Marine”

As I approached the virtual chow line, The Butter-Cutter was in a heated conversation with the Mess Sergeant. When he was free, I walked up and asked, “What was that about?” 

“I don't understand it! He's been a Marine for almost 20 years 'n' he introduces a retired Marine gunner sergeant as a 'former Marine' He's a GUNNERY SERGEANT 'n' he should be called Marine 'n' not FORMER Marine especially by another Marine!” The Butter-Cutter explained with obvious irritation. “Damn it! If the Corps advertises, 'Once a Marine, always a Marine' why don't Marines practice it?”

“In the late '70s early '80s,” I began to explain, “Marines no longer on active duty were called 'ex-Marines' and Headquarters, USMC came out with an order, or something or the other, saying that from then on Marines should no-longer be called ex-Marines but former Marines.”

“Yer shittin' me? Didn't they have a dictionary up there? 'Ex' 'n' 'former' mean the same freakin' thing-NO LONGER!” The Butter-Cutter blurted out in disbelief. “Or, no-one at Headquarters knew how to use one? That must be it; so, they pulled 'former' out of their ass like they do so much other shit! The real grabber in all this is: if someone calls a Marine a former Marine, he's calling him a 'has-been Marine!' Did ya know that?”

“Oh, come on! Don't get carried away!” I told The Butter-Cutter. “These are just words . . .”

“Like hell! When ya use the wrong word; ya communicate the wrong message. An', if that ain't bad enough, when ya repeat the wrong word 'n' then argue it's the right word, ya convince people, who can read 'n' write, that yer stupid!” he interjected.

“Alright! Alright! If former is the wrong word, how about using 'veteran'? Some have suggested that a Marine no longer on active duty should be called, veteran Marine,” I added further.

The Butter-Cutter glared at me and said, “Ya know? Yer givin' me a headache. Accordin' ta MY book-the one that says what words mean-- VETERAN is a, 'former member of the armed forces!' So, when ya call a Marine no longer on active duty veteran Marine, by the book, yer callin' him a former Marine 'n' a has-been. Listen closely: 'Once a Marine, always a Marine!' THE word here is ALWAYS--while on active duty, while on reserve duty, while on no duty, while on civilian after-duty, ALWAYS a Marine! Why's that so hard fer ya ta understand?”

“I understand. I'm only trying to tell you the different ways this issue has been treated. In fact, I have long found it curious why Marines didn't question the former label. But, if you call someone Marine won't that be confusing? How will the listener know if the subject Marine is on active duty or not?”

“That's simple,” said The Butter-Cutter. “If ya gotta explain it, ya say, 

'This is retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant so 'n' so.' What's so hard about that?” he asked.

“Fine. What about honorably discharged Marines?” I asked.

“Hello! Ya say, 'Private Schmekatella is an honorably discharged Marine.' Listen closely, there's just one more word in sayin' honorably discharged Marine over sayin' former Marine 'n', on top o' that, yer publicly recognizin' the Marine's honorable service!” he replied.

“Do we really have to say the word honorably aloud to recognize such service? It seems to me that . . .”

The Butter-Cutter cut me off, saying, “Ya stuck on stupid er somethin'? Of course ya gotta say honorably aloud ta publically recognize it. It's about gettin' other people, like civilian pukes, ta see who has done the right thing by servin' honorably--If ya DON'T tell 'em; they DON'T know!” 

“OK. You have some interesting ideas. But, your first obstacle is changing a Marine Corps-wide 30-year plus habit in using the term, former Marine; how would you do that?” I asked.

“No problem! Get the Commandant ta come here ta the virtual mess hall 'n' I'll tell him: Sir, Commandant, Sir! Ya gotta say ta the Marine Corps: 

'It is time we all practiced, “Once a Marine, always a Marine” instead of giving it lip service. From now on, Marines who are no longer on active duty will be called, “Marines” and not, “former Marines.” We will all do this, because, once they became Marines, they became our brothers and sisters; and, in keeping with our tradition of fidelity, we will never recognize a member of our family as a has-been, but always as a Marine!' “

Semper Once A Marine, Always A Marine,

Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)