I spent Sunday at the United States Marine Corp Museum at Quantico, Virginia. It is, in essence, hallowed ground and a trip that is worth making time and time again. It was only the second time I had been to this facility and just like the previous visit I was not only captivated by what the museum offers its patrons but also inspired by all who have gone before me.
The reason for my visit this time was not to delve into military history but rather to attend the promotion ceremony of my eldest son Jake to the rank of Eagle Scout within the Boy Scouts of America. Jake had actually attained this significant accomplishment back in October but no matter what the organization...anything that involves more then one signature for approval takes months to accomplish...and the Boy Scouts are no different. Jake's day was designated as 18 April 2010...and it's another day I will never forget.
When you walk into the museum you are immediately taken back not only by the scope of the exhibits themselves but also the depth of the sacrifice that each of these brave men and women have given since the inception of the Marines. Etched throughout the rotunda are memorable quotes from Marines which add to the mystique and the color of being in the "Corp" ... As one parent commented..."if this does not make you want to join the Marines then you are just not paying attention"
I arrived at the ceremony with Ian at 1300...a full hour earlier then the 1400 start time. We took the time to work with the museum staff and set up the facility. The ceremony would be held in the main rotunda next to the entrance...I stood and thought to myself that many of the patrons visiting today were also going to see something that does not happen very often...an Eagle Promotion.
After some last minute details and coordination with executives from the Boy Scouts the ceremony began. Jake's mother and I were escorted to our seats by our youngest son. I recognized over half of the 100 plus guests in attendance...many of Jake and Ian's personal friends had come to see this event...and many of the museum patrons were starting to pay attention. Looking at some of the gazes I could tell that they had no idea of what was happening or why our son was being singled out.
And so it began....
The Scout Leaders who had been there for Jake since 2001 when he moved here from Ft. Bragg all took turns discussing his significant accomplishments, his trials and tribulations and more importantly the personal journey he had taken to get here. At one juncture there was a "story" read about 100 Scouts...and it is a poignant one not only for Jake's situation but for life in general.
Of 100 boys who start in scouting less then 3 will ever attain the rank of Eagle Scout yet all 100 will have been touched in some way by scouting. Many of the United States greatest business, military and civic leaders have all been Eagle Scouts. This point was not lost on Jake who stood at attention as the leaders read on. I saw a glint in his eye as he was finally understanding what this accomplishment meant not only in his parents eyes but also from a community perspective.
Jake was presented with a litany of memento's, certificates and letters from various associations, elected officials and leaders from both the military and academia all congratulating him on what he had accomplished. Most poignant and read out loud for the audience were the commendations from the Commandant of the Marines and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both commented not only on his maturity and dedication in getting to this point but also on his future contributions to his country and the expectations that come with this great achievement.
Jake had met both of these fine leaders earlier while assigned to Ft. Bragg as well as when he completed his Millennium Ride and both were more then willing to put pen to paper in appreciation and gratitude for what he had done and, yet, what he still had to do. Looking out over the assembled crowd you could see several persons in attendance with tears in their eyes. This point, again, was not lost on Jake who was still standing at attention.
Jake was afforded the opportunity to make some comments. I chuckled to myself as he pulled from his pocket several note cards and placed them on the podium...he has seen me do this several times previously. He went on to thank those special folks that had touched his life and got him to this point; his parents; his friends and close relatives; his Scout Master (Mr. White) who he stated had held him accountable when he most needed it; and all the other scouts who he had had the privilege to serve with. Then Jake did something that was actually awe inspiring for both myself and his Mom...he looked out over the audience and paused..then he thanked his brother Ian for being there for him and helping him attain the award. It was a heartfelt moment for both of them...a casual nod from eldest to youngest for being "my brother"
After the formal ceremony a receiving line followed...from the audience an elderly man approached...he was clearly in his 80's or even older but was impeccably groomed and you could tell he was a former military man. He held my hand and thanked both Jake's mother and I for allowing him the opportunity to attend this ceremony. See...he was an Eagle Scout from 1943 who upon attaining his rank immediately joined the Marines and fought in WWII in the Pacific Theater. He was at Quantico for the first time to see the new museum and just happened to be passing by as Jake's ceremony began and decided that like WWII...he "needed to be there" - he had never been to an Eagle Scout Ceremony since his own and wanted to thank us for mentoring such a fine young man. My eyes started to water as he held my hand even tighter. He looked at Jake and then back at us and stated... "he is in good hands"
Once the day ended I walked around the outside of the museum and sat for a bit. I was taken back by all that happened and what I saw in both my children. Ian will get his Eagle Scout next year and I am confident that he will be as charismatic as Jake was on his day...but my thoughts were not about the pomp and circumstance...they were of the boys...and what life will be like a year from now. Jake captured my attention today not because of what he had achieved but for what he had become. I looked back on his comments and his actions and see a young man full of not only energy...but compassion and, more importantly...maturity. Jake is beginning to comprehend and deal with the adversity that life brings each one of us. His accomplishments to date are reflective of the learning process we all go through and his eyes are now wide open.
I will finally tell the boys this week about my situation...my timeline and what happens next. Sheila will be there with me at the appointed time and place. The conversation is one that I am not looking forward to yet knowingly must happen. Based on what I saw at the USMC Museum at the ceremony...I know...both boys will always be in good hands.