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I met a Marine on the beach last week and it was awesome. 

My family of six was invited by my gracious in-laws to vacation at the beach.  On Thursday we were doing what families do on the beach, when I looked up and saw that my five-year old son, wearing goggles, in search of sunken treasure in a two-foot deep tidal pool, had invaded the space of a young family (husband, wife, two-year old son).  In typical fashion he struck up a conversation with them and soon the rest of my family moved in to socialize.  My wife and son talked with them for close to an hour- the father carried on a long conversation with my five-year old about sea life, indulging his curiosity and imagination.  His wife and my wife talked about kids and life and school (I have returned to medical school later in life and the father was considering further education). 

When my other sons and I came out of the waves my wife told me that Kevin (the father) had recently left the Marine Corps where he had served three tours in Iraq.  He and his family were in the process of moving forward with life after the Marines- gainful employment, the American dream, etc.- the sort of aspirations that we all share. 

My family has developed a custom in recent years, when we encounter members of the armed services in public we shake their hands and thank them for their service.  We want them to know how grateful for them and indebted to them we are.  We tell them that we support them.  My sons and I approached Kevin, shook his hand, and expressed our gratitude.  Kevin was taken off-guard at first but responded in a quiet, humble manner similar to how others have responded- ‘Your welcome, glad to do it.  Thank you for saying thank you.’  He did say that he had not been approached like that before. 

A few minutes later it was time for Kevin’s son to take his afternoon nap and the trio left the beach.  Kevin returned about 20 minutes later and walked straight over to where we were.  The boys were in the waves and I was watching my daughter.  Kevin walked up to me and handed me a small ribbon, the sort of which goes on the breast of a military uniform.  It was green with white bars toward either end; in the center was affixed a bronze ‘V’. 

Kevin said, “I want you and your family to have this.  Tell your sons that they have met a Marine.”

I protested, “This is too great a gift, you earned this, it should not be given lightly.”

“I am glad to give it to you and your family,” he said.

“Well, what does it mean? What does the V stand for? I want to be able to tell them about it.”

“It is a ribbon I got in the service, just a ribbon.  The V stands for Valor,” he said quietly, obviously not wanting to go into further detail.  “You tell them that a Marine gave it to them.  And thank you.”

Then he walked off the beach. 

That night I did some research.  It is the ribbon that accompanies the Navy & Marine Commendation Medal.  The Medal was established in 1943 and is awarded “to service members who, while serving in any capacity with the Navy or Marine Corps, distinguish themselves by heroism, outstanding achievement or meritorious service.”   The ‘V’ does stand for Valor and is called the Combat Distinguishing Device- as it indicates the award is for acts done in the course of direct combat with the enemy.

His family must be proud.  My family and I are the better for having met Kevin and our nation is the better for having men like him.

 There are things in life to make us weep- the generosity of a humble, young Marine-husband-father to my family and our nation brings tears to my eyes.


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