HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Aviation Brief XVIII: Formal Corps Traditions Part 1

Most formal occasions in the aviation community, such as the Marine Corps Ball, had wives and girlfriends present--in recognition of the women’s civilizing effect on flyboys. Women also enjoyed dressing up more than the men. Formal clothes for women were slinky and comfortable, once they removed the killer heels. Formal wear for the aviator was stiff, starched, and tight on the collar--the complete opposite of a flight suit. Short of taking off the jacket and unbuttoning the collar, no relief was to be found from the constriction. No relief from the restriction of socializing with generals and colonels, either.

Once in awhile, Corps tradition presented a formal occasion with no women. At Basic School, Mess Night for each class became an institution. Beforehand, company XOs admonished new lieutenants about such taboos as loosening a tight collar or imbibing to the point of passing out at the dinner table. Several minutes of the lecture explained the requirement for bladder control and the planning needed to accomplish it. They cautioned that the bugle call "last call for the head" just prior to marching into dinner might be the most important musical accompaniment of the night. The requirement to remain at the table once dinner had begun was absolute.

At Mess Night, the band played and Marine officers marched in adhering rigidly to custom and tradition. They ate and drank their way through a multi-course dinner. Stewards filled wine glasses when appropriate, and the serving and removal of courses evolved with the panache of the Sunset Parade at 8th and I. Cigars appeared and the President of the Mess lit the smoking lamp. With the last toast, "to the Corps!" all felt proud to be a Marine. Mess Night reached its climax at the bar: lieutenants, captains, majors and colonels holding snifters of brandy. An evening to remember. (To Be Continued...)

The Marine Corps Birthday Ball was the one night my guy would consent to dance on a dance floor with other people around. Now the horizontal rhumba--he was and is passionate about, but that is in private and usually on a bed. Thank goodness we’re in sync about that. Dance isn’t my favorite either. I have a decided lack of rhythm or maybe it’s just that I can’t dance as if nobody’s watching. I can’t say I’m all that comfortable following his lead. Remember, we are still having the conversation about who is the CO and who is the XO in our marriage.

The Marine Corps taught me a lot about tradition and its importance. An institution with traditions shows itself respect. When all else goes to shit--the traditions told me what to do, when to stand, when to toast, how to celebrate births, how to help in times of trouble, when to go to a house that grieved (--as soon as possible and as often as possible). No man left behind is a Marine tradition. No spouse left by themselves.

Tradition is important to show respect to a marriage and a family. Andy and I always go away overnight at least one night for our anniversary. Sometimes it was a night at the Motel 6--those were lean years--but we still got a chance to look in each others' eyes and remember why we fell in love in the first place. Holiday traditions are a basis of strength into the future for the children. Even now when my children are grown up and far away, they know at my house the tree will be up, the cookies will be baked, there will be turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, homemade butterhorn rolls and peas. I’ll have the creche on the mantel, the stockings hung from silver snowflakes on the stairs, and a wreath on the door.

I wonder if the Corps traditions are still holding firm today. So many young men and women have given all to their country. So many families left bereaved. I need to try harder to be there for them. Do you have suggestions?

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