(8th grade when Poppy came to my school for Memorial Day)
Ever since I was born the Marine Corps has been a part of my life. No I am not a military kid, my real dad is no longer even in the picture and my dad (step dad) works with computers. I am a military grandkid.
My parents went through a messy divorce when I was less than a year old and to get back on her feet my Mom and I moved in with her parents, my Babci (Polish for grandmother) and Poppy. I never realized having a World War II Marine veteran was a big deal. I thought everyone had someone like my Poppy, but I guess when you're a kid you never think too much about outside your own little circle. Some of my first memories were going with my cousin Jill and my Poppy down to the VFW in Carteret NJ where we lived. We would sit on the tall bar stools, carefully guarded by all the former military guys who loved to keep us entertained, while Poppy balanced the books. I remember us drinking Diet Cokes out of cocktail straws while the guys would press JFK half dollars and $2 bills into our palms just to hear us squeal with delight at such rarities.
I remember seeing my Poppy's uniforms in the closet when we'd wear my Babci's old dresses to play dress up. We knew not to touch those, except for his cover on occasion! I would see him wear his dress blues for parades, Toys for Tots, and other special events. Sometimes he'd wear his Marine Corps League uniform, where he was a Captain, but I loved seeing him in his blues. I thought they were the coolest thing a guy could ever wear.
It was only years later I realized how truly remarkable my Poppy was. I knew he had fought in the Philippines. I knew he wanted to stay in after the war but they just didn't need those who had served as much anymore. Shortly thereafter he met my Babci and six kids and fifteen grandkids followed. It was only as I got older that I started to hear the stories, very watered down at first, but more solid as I got older.
I never imagined I almost was a Navy grandkid instead of a Marine one to boot! My Poppy lied about his age, just 16 at the time, and went to join the Navy. He was a state champion football player who had scholarships to some amazing colleges like Brown, but he was one of thirteen children and had to help his mother. So it was go to work or go to war. He chose war. He and a buddy of his went down to the recruiting office and the Navy recruiter was out to lunch, the Marine recruiter was there. He essentially said, "Why the heck would boys like you ever want to join something like the Navy?? The Marine Corps is for you..." But my Poppy and his friend were rather terrified of this giant man and couldn't even think of a way to refuse.
Within a few months my Poppy was training at Parris Island, SC. He was in California for awhile too, but then went into the midst of WWII. He did his job well and quickly rose through the ranks. My Poppy is the youngest Sgt Major in Marine Corps history, only 19 years old when he reached it. He was supposed to go even higher but when he went to become a different rank (non-enlisted) his orders literally changed in the airport and back into the field he went.
In 2006 I went to the Marine Corps Ball in NJ with my Poppy and my cousin Jill. He was the oldest Marine in attendance that year at 84 (he is now 88), and got the second piece of cake! I felt so honored to dance with him and listen to him sing the hymn with all the other vets in the room. My heart was so proud I thought I would burst.
Last year my Poppy was Marine of the year back home. In this article he was quoted, "It doesn't get any better than this," said Cherepon, who served in the Marine Corps during World War II. "We train not as an individual, but as a group. … If I had to do it again, I would, because [these Marines] are an exceptional group."
So, did all this mean I thought I would ever end up married to a Marine???
Of course not!
I never expected it in a million years, but I am so incredibly honored that I am. When Ryan and I met at a Saint Patrick's Day party and I found out he was a Marine I was actually a little wary, I knew of their reputation in the DC area but he quickly proved me wrong. Our second date we found our way down to the National Mall and at the WWII Memorial, my favorite for obvious reasons. Anytime I go there, I call my Poppy. I still remember Ryan's reaction when he heard my Poppy's rank, "Um... I don't think I am allowed to talk to you anymore... I am just a LCpL!" But when I made that phone call, Ryan said hi.
The first time they met they went off to talk and were gone for hours. That is now a pattern anytime the two of them are ever in the same state. I heard stories and things from my Poppy that I know never would have surfaced without Ryan's presence in my life. And I love that they can share that.
In July of 2009, when Ryan deployed to Iraq, I was on the phone in tears with my Poppy. He calmed me down, talked me through it, and got me through the next unbearable months. Anytime I was terrified or didn't hear from Ryan, my Poppy was a phone call away. It was semi new territory for him, someone who deployed in a time when letters were even a rarity to send, had a hard time understanding why me not getting a phone call in a week was cause for panic. But he helped me through it. Without my Poppy I never would have kept it together.
When Ryan and I got married in May, my Poppy was there in his dress blues, and in the arch of swords. My wedding was truly wonderful, and with the guys all in uniform, from the groomsmen to my Poppy to my now husband, it was even better.
It all circled together in a way I never expected. I love my Poppy, I love my husband, and I will forever carry the pride I have for them in my heart. Both of them have made amazing sacrifices to this world, at 22 and 88 they both have a bond deeper than anything I could have imagined between a grandfather and grandson-in-law. All because of the Corps.
I'll leave it off with a few pictures; thanks reading (or re-reading) my story... Thank you Ryan. Thank you Poppy. Thank you to all who have served for us to live the lives we live.
Dancing at the Wedding to "My Girl", I knew from the start of planning that song had to be ours.
My Poppy in the arch of swords. He was so proud and honored, as was I!