“From the halls of Montezuma.

“To the shores of Tripoli”


It’s 9:41 Friday, May 23, and the lusty if aging voices of  “Jack’s Marine Corps” is about to adjourn.

Let me explain.

There’s an old saying that says “Once a gyrene, always a gyrene.”

Some three months ago, Circuit Clerk Eli Henderson, a former Marine, got on the phone to local Marines with “Meetcha at Jack’s for breakfast.”

It is now a Friday happening at Jack’s (on Quintard) of “always gyrenes” crowding two (sometimes three) tables to play with memories of other years.

There is humor here, too.

I asked Bobby Brown, who put up six years in the Corps (1969-75), if he’d seen combat.  He had but . . .

“Just with my ex-wife.”

Then there was Ron Richey, who fought “our country’s battles” from 1977 to 1994. I asked about combat, which a guy will tell you where, but nothing else. His answer was short:

“I was in Beirut, Grenada, and some places I can’t tell you about.”

I knew better than to ask more, something I learned a long time ago from four uncles who saw combat in World War II. I’d listen to their fun times, but not once, not once, did I hear a “Saving Private Ryan” story. Guys who have been there and done that won’t talk about that.

But I did hear a bit of wisdom from John Wippler, who at age 45, was the “baby” in the crowd. Wippler still looks like a back alley warrior and was in Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

The wisdom?

“We’ve got the prettiest uniforms in the world. When a Marine is in uniform he never has to pay for a drink and he never goes home alone.”

Wippler mentioned his wife was also a Marine . . . which gave Henderson a shot with:

“Heck John, you even have to walk the halls when you go home.”

Thing is, there was a woman Marine at our table. Her name is Melodie Smith. Her time was 1966-69. Fact is, it was a bumper sticker on her car that got my attention a few days back that led to Friday’s visit . . .

“All Women Are Created Equal And Then Some Become Marines.”

 Another gem came from Lee Caine, who was in the Corps from 1958  into 1962. Caine was one of the early ones sent to Vietnam. He explained the “once a gyrene always a gyrene” calling with:

“We took an oath when we went in, but not when we came out. I always figured if I went back in, I wouldn’t have to take the oath again.”

Oldest there Friday was Bob Plummer. Bob is 87 and was a Navy medic  in World War II, which means he was assigned to the Marines at times. It was the singing of the Marine Hymn that pulled Plummer into the group with “Can I join you?”

Which led to a woman in a nearby booth to observe:

“I hope you guys could shoot better than you sing.”

When we stood for the singing just before leaving, I listened but didn’t sing. In the presence of such, even if aging and bearing little resemblance to other years, it seemed a sure thing they did shoot better than they now sing.

For that, even if it sounds like political incorrectness in the now time, we are all indeed indebted to “shooting better.”

If you’re wondering, the word “gyrene” came because Marines didn’t like being called GI’s. That was Army. So, somewhere in time somebody came up with “gyrene” as in GI Marine.

So . . . “Semper Fi.”

One more thing. Monday is Memorial Day . . . a day for our service men, including “gyrenes.”

And the men I visited Friday will serve as the honor guard at Memorial Day observances (11 a.m.) Monday at Anniston’s Centennial Park.


George Smith can be reached at 256-239-5286 or e-mail: gsmith731@gmail.com