Monday, March 07, 2005

Now for Something Completely Different - Caution: Marine Oriented Material to Follow

This piece was written to celebrate the life of a unique and very personable man. It is also a tribute to the United States Marine Corps, which provided me with the opportunity to serve my country and to share in a camaraderie that few can appreciate. Although edited somewhat because of the time that has passed, I tried to change very little, so that it would have the same feel as when it was written. Leatherneck magazine declined to publish it when it was submitted, I feel they treated the piece as an obituary, rather than an introspective on my transition from the Marine Corps to my new, and vastly different, “civilian” life. It is dedicated to the individual that helped me recognize how special my previous career had been. It is one of my favorite pieces.

Elwood “Al” Poff was killed in a car accident the evening of 17 April 1998. I don’t expect the name to be familiar to anyone reading this. Al was not famous. He was not a celebrity, but he was an important Marine. Not a general, nor a hero of any battle, he was, in fact a single term Marine who enlisted in the late fifties, completed his enlistment and settled in Portland, Oregon…which except for a few small recruiting stations and small reserve center, is virtually devoid of Marine culture.

Al was an electrician for Precision Castparts Corp. for nearly twenty-five years. He worked for me a short six weeks before his death. In that time, however, I was able to establish a rapport and friendship with Al that will take much longer for me to establish with the rest of his co-workers.

We shared the title…Marine. That said a lot without having to say it all. Because of our common ground we could easily get several “sea stories” into a fifteen minute break period, leaving unsaid all the things Marines, regardless of generation, understand.

He frequently reminded me, with more than a little sarcasm in his voice, that he was a “Hollywood” Marine, trained at MCRD San Diego vice MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. There was nothing “Hollywood” about Al Poff. The metal tips of his safety boots (cowboy in style) shone though the worn leather of both boots. Although he possessed a much newer pair, he preferred those boots. I suspect he preferred those boots because they were trusted friends and were gentle to his aging frame, and because our shop safety steward, two generations removed from Al, insisted they be retired. His wearing of those boots ensured a daily, friendly exchange with his co-worker. His tough, but tired body was robbed of its dash by a stroke 12 years ago and never did yield the √©lan imagined of a self titled “Hollywood” Marine. His sarcasm here belied a clever wit.

I am certain that given an M-1 rifle, the pieces would be removed and organized into an inspection worthy display, with little effort and a smug grin…as if such a skill is routine to all the world. He (of course) readily recited his Drill Instructor’s names, his service number, and his rifle serial number from boot camp when asked. Things Marines just don’t forget. No, Al Poff, regardless of his halfhearted insistence, was no “Hollywood” Marine, but he was every bit Marine.

Al had lost his dogtags, and he almost lost his faith in Marines. His previous request to a local recruiter to replace his Marine identity went unfilled. He was too proud to ask again. It was one of the first things Al told me. A heartfelt thanks to the Marines at Marine Forces Pacific, who filled that request, and to my wife (now ex-wife…long story), also a Marine, who delivered them to me just a week before Al was killed. This small, but meaningful gesture, restored his faith in the active Marines and brought a watery shine to some tired eyes. I could not have been more proud to be a Marine as I was at that moment in the plant cafeteria. It equaled the pride I felt in the Marine Corps on the day of my retirement ceremony.

Why write about Al? To me Al was the manifestation of an idea I had first heard 24 years ago. Once a Marine always a Marine. Al was the first former Marine I encountered in my new, and still brief retirement. He was the evidence to me that the United Sates Marine Corps is indeed unique in its ability, not only to produce the finest warriors in the world, but also in its ability to develop a bond among comrades that is unrivaled in the world today. That simply having been a Marine is enough to erase generational divides and provide a common ground for evolving and lasting friendships. Al was my connection to this realty. We had easily become friends in the short time we had known each other… it might not have been, without the common title, Marine.

Al Poff will be remembered by many as a friend and co-worker. He will be remembered by few as a Marine. He will be remembered by me as the “Hollywood” Marine he claimed to be, and as an important figure in my transition from the bosom of the Marine Corps to the less special surroundings of the civilian world. He was my bridge to both.

I thank the Marine Corps for the privilege of a 20 year career, and this special feeling, I know I could not have gotten anywhere else. Again, my special thanks to the Marine of MARFORPAC for the dogtags, and the joy they brought an old Marine. And, although I don’t understand when he took Al, I thank God for the privilege of knowing Al Poff, and the brief, and irreplaceable joy he brought to me.

© Michael McBride 2005


Lifeachiever said...

I have always admired the camaraderie of the Marine Corps and the lifelong impact serving in the corps has on its members.

Marines are forged in the doubt, it is what makes a special breed.

"Semper Fi"...if I am allowed...from an Air Force voice.

Anonymous said...

Good story Major, well-written too. I'm curious about why you were initially given the runaround. Don't retired officers rate the same respect that active officers do?

Sus said...

Thanks for sharing this - with your permission, I'd like to send it to my son, my nephew and two friends - all Marines (three Hollywoods!). What IS it with that? My son can't say the H word without a scoff!


Major Mike said...


Please pass it on...glad you liked it.

Major Mike said...

Retired officers get less respect...we're old and confused. Not sure why they didn't publish it...the admin assistant for the editor cried when she read it...anyway, it is out there now.MM

JJR said...

Major Mike,

Great story & great take on the comraderie among all vets. I know marines have it even more, but as a former army infantryman, I feel it just as much with marines, etc. In this day and age, it is less than usual to serve in any branch of the military. I work for a company with about 70 employees, and only 4 of us have served. Needless to say, the four of us get along better, and trust each other more than the others since we all share some experiences that the others do. (1 is a marine, the other two are army, but not infantry). Keep up the good work.

sueb/mn said...

MM - beautiful story, it should have been published.

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