Cadence and a cast of characters

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, October 7, 2015

When we finally piled out of the rented Ford Transit that had brought us across four states, two time zones and the entrance of the Marine Corps recruit depot for everyone east of the Mississippi, we were met with a strong, steady cadence – “low, rightee, lowwwww”  — coming from somewhere west of the Peatross Parade Deck. Appropriate soundtrack, I thought to myself, taking another glance at the “Parris Island, Here We Come” plastered on our van’s back windows. Hmmmm. Pretty surprising for a mom who never wrote anything on her car, even during all-star season.

Later, after the cadence died away, we were shuttled and wanded and told that the 700 new U.S. Marines standing at parade rest in front of us “had been transformed by the nation’s toughest boot camp.” I do not know about before, but the men of Platoon 2074 were, upon introduction that day, polite without exception. And young. Very young.

According to Son No. 3, they had enlisted for a variety of reasons. For Hughes, it was a long-standing family tradition. Franklin was looking for a change — in himself. Nyugen wanted to travel, and so did Hatfield, the recruit who never wrote a single letter home. Several others were seeking citizenship, including the Russian who tried to convince my son that Stalin “wasn’t that bad of a guy.” Almost all, our son acknowledged, said it was something they had wanted to do for years.

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And it is good that he kept a journal. Its 3 x 4 inch pages arrived in our mailbox in wads, and they told the story of boot camp through an interesting cast of characters. “It’s pretty neat how many cultures and backgrounds are represented within our platoon,” our son wrote early on. “Here I’m living, working and suffering with rich, poor, young and old. Guys from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maine. From Haiti, Mexico, Jamaica. Amazing how this breaks down all social barriers.”

And his daily entries continued to flesh out the great leveling.

7/12/15 “There’s a 26-year-old in my platoon we call ‘Pops’. Another is ‘Bubba.’ I’m ‘Reverend’.”

7/19/15 “Being here really makes everyone appreciate people back home. Villeda came to me today and said he was never the son he should have been, but his mother was always the mother she should be. He has a lot of regrets.”

8/16/15 “You have no idea what Hannah’s cookies did for morale. Seward said they’re the best thing he’s tasted since he got here. Still can’t believe they let us eat them.”

8/17 “Lots of hilarious sleep talking. I woke Perszon up for gear watch, and he grabbed me and said, ‘Momma, Momma!’ Scared me good.”

8/20/15 “The fact that some of these guys next to me will have bullets flying towards them (or me) in less than a year will mature you real quick.”

8/30 “Kusneske woke me up after the chaplain told him his mom was about to die. It tore me up to see him like that.”

9/1/15 “We’ve secretly gotten word to all 513 recruits of Fox Company that the word “Walmart” means there’s a drill instructor heading our way.”

9/4/15 “Found out last night that Kusneske’s mother died. He flies home tomorrow.”

9/6/15 “Today’s been especially hard because we’re losing one of my good buddies to a knee injury. His name is Gaw, and he’ll be here an extra 10 weeks. We all cried with him when he got the news.”

9/15/15 “One of the worst things I’ve seen here is when a guy gets a ‘Dear John’ letter. It’s happened about 10 times. Persails took his girlfriend’s picture off of his footlocker and taped the letter there instead. It changed his focus, and he worked even harder than before.”

9/26/15 “Two hours into the Crucible Estrada landed on his foot wrong. He refused to see medical and made himself walk. I guess adrenaline took over, because he completed 60 miles of hiking in less than 50 hours. Found out later his leg was broken.”

After the graduation ceremony concluded and I had met Kusneske, congratulated Seward and hugged two new Marines with no family in attendance, we heard the “low, rightee, lowwwww” again in the distance. Our son-in-law (a man of few words) said he liked it — the sound of cadence — and I agreed. I also agreed with what I heard Son No. 3 tell his church family two days later: “Every night in our prayer group I’d stress that our uniforms would eventually rot, and the title we were striving so hard for would someday fall. What really mattered, I told them, is eternity.”

Congratulations, Platoon 2074.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at