January 6, 2012
The sprawling grounds of Camp San Mateo thunder beneath the boots of hundreds of utility-clad Marines falling into formation. A brass band with towering tuba tunes up for the ceremony. Old Glory, unfurled as a reminder of what these brave men have fought and died for presides over the upcoming event. The promenade deck pulsates as a human heart in a surgeon’s palm as the hour grows closer.
This morning, we gather to celebrate two phenomenal Marines as outgoing Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Thomas B. Savage hands the crimson-red and yellow Marine Corps flag — or “colors” –of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment to Lieutenant Colonel Terry M. Johnson.
Both men are accompanied by wives, children, and other family members, including mothers. I — Terry’s mom — am wiping away tears as I watch my son take command of hundreds of young men. Although an overnight flu bug fought valiantly to keep me from the very event I flew out here to attend, I thank God for granting me the strength and recovered health to be present.
After a musical prelude, the announcer calls the two men to take their places. Although the crowd is hushed, I feel like hammering my chest and shouting to the Free World how proud I am of my son and everything he has accomplished even before today: commissioning to Second Lieutenant. after receiving his yet-untouched degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas Tech commencement, followed shortly by a tour of Okinawa, more tours of Iraq than I have fingers and toes to count, including the one in 2003, when President Bush gave the orders to cross the line, and even a tour in Afghanistan.
Having transferred the colors, the two men salute each other, shake hands, and rotate positions, continuing to stand ram-rod straight, eyes forward. Terry is now on Savage’s right. At that moment, other Marines present bouquets to the wives and daughters. After Savage delivers his stirring good-bye speech, he hands the microphone to Terry. As I watch this erstwhile little boy from Palo Pinto become a Battalion Commander, I’m sure that my parents — Terry’s grand-dad and grandma — are relishing this moment from their heavenly perch. My daddy’s smile beams and my mother, dabbing at her own eyes, reaches for Daddy’s hand.
After Terry acknowledges not only Lt. Col. Savage, he thanks us, his family. Besides for his wife and children — Sallie with Sadie and Thomas — are his step-mother, Barbara and his dad, Allen, a Sergeant in the Marines and father-in-law, Tom, a Marine Lieutenant and His wife, Jane. Sallie’s sister , Jenny, brother Nathan and his son join our cheering section. Surrounding me are Terry’s big brother, Tam, and his family, and college roommate and ever-faithful best friend, Colin with his bride, Ali. We Johnsons, Bests, Sneads, Kellys, and one lone redheaded Terry take up the first three rows. Scattered over the globe, we have flown in from North Carolina, Texas, and even Sweden. As each company parades in review, the “Marine Hymn” sequeing into the final song, “Semper Fidelis“, raises goosebumps on my arms, in spite of my long sleeves. Finally, the event we have all anticipated for months and even years is now over. Let the celebration of two remarkable young men begin.