Our Place is a new editorial column shared by all the staff of MankatoLIFE.
“You cannot exaggerate about the Marines. They are convinced to the point of arrogance that they are the most ferocious fighters on earth—and the amusing thing about it is that they are.”
— Father Kevin Keaney, a chaplain who served with Marines in Korea
Today marks the 245th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. While I greatly respect and admire anyone who has served our country in any branch of the military, I’ve always been a little partial to the Marine Corps. This is because my father, Bradley Webb, served in the Corps for five years, and my younger sister, Faeth Webb, is also a Marine.
The Marines have a reputation around the world that is more than impressive. Of all the branches of the U.S. military, the Marines are the ones best known for incredible courage, resourcefulness and plain old grit, standing firm (and usually winning) in the face of truly terrible odds. Their triumphs are legendary, from their “Devil Dog” nickname earned in WWI to the famous raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. Their “make it work” attitude is famous. Plus, they look very dashing in their dress blues.
You cannot exaggerate about the Marines. They are convinced to the point of arrogance that they are the most ferocious fighters on earth—and the amusing thing about it is that they are.Father Kevin Keaney
Growing up, I thought Marines were the closest thing we had to real-life superheroes. I was only a few years old when my father got out of the Marines, but his experience affected him for the rest of his life. There was nothing my dad couldn’t do, and he attributed a lot of that attitude to his time in the Corps. He joined when he was a fresh-faced 17-year-old, too young to even sign his own contract. He went to San Diego for boot camp and was in the Marine Corps reserves during his time at the University of Minnesota, where he also participated in ROTC. Once he graduated, he earned his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.
My dad worked as a finance officer and was sent overseas during the Persian Gulf, spending time in Kuwait (but mostly docked off shore). He lived with the threat of missiles being fired at his ship, saw the oil fields burn and missed his first child’s birth—my birth—because he was serving his country. Then, as the powers that be decided to shrink the military, my dad was one of the casualties, receiving a handshake and a “thank you for your service” and getting pushed out the door, despite his dream of serving for 20 years and earning a full retirement. All that was left were some dashing uniforms, grainy photos and two injuries—a knee injury and a shoulder injury—that would plague him for the rest of his life.
This was all mostly before my time, and certainly before I could comprehend anything that was going on. Perhaps my attitude toward the military would have been different if his attitude had been different, but he never spoke bitterly about the situation. It was clear, despite the wringer he had gone through, that he still loved the Corps and was proud to be a part of it. And I mirrored that admiration, looking up to Marines as larger-than-life figures who surely only fought for truth and justice and the American way.
“I am very glad I joined,” my dad told me. “Of course, there were many difficulties just by the nature of the intensity of the service itself—physical hardships, hardship on family, being away for stretches and putting up with things that most civilians would never dream of putting up with. It was very much worth it. God absolutely blessed me through it. And I love the Marines… who are, of course, the best branch, without question.”
In 2018, my sister Faeth followed in our dad’s footsteps and enlisted in the Marine Corps. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how Faeth would fare in the Corps, because she had never been on her own. Even at 23, she had only lived away from home for a semester of college. When she announced her intention to enlist, I feared that the adjustment would be too difficult for her. But she went to boot camp—Parris Island, South Carolina, in her case—and graduated in May 2018, a full-fledged Marine Corps private first class. I could not have been prouder of my little sister.
Faeth was in the Marines two years, working as a “combat camera,” basically a photographer who also works with other media when necessary. She was stationed in New Orleans, Louisiana, and she traveled to such exotic places as Puerto Rico, Latvia and California to take pictures of training exercises. However, she had to be medically discharged after two years, ending her Marine Corps career as a lance corporal.
My perspective of the Marines has changed somewhat in recent years, and a lot of that has to do with Faeth’s experiences. Faeth entered the Corps as gung-ho and idealistic as I ever was about the U.S. military, but she faced many frustrations as a Marine—and I heard about them. I heard about how they jerked her around as she was getting discharged, how dates were constantly changing, how her chain of command seemed more eager to push her out than to help her. (Even getting her leave so that she could be my maid of honor was a huge and stressful headache.)
I don’t regret joining the Marines. I didn’t join to gain anything. I joined for what I could give… I love all the Marine Corps is at its best, at those moments it lives up to everything it preaches.Lance Corporal Faeth Webb
Faeth was honest about what a struggle life in the Corps could be, how she felt like the Marines chew up people and spit them out when they’re no longer useful. She shared about being underequipped in Latvia, freezing when there weren’t any winter supplies, and how people fell from heat exhaustion and hip fractures at Marine Combat Training in California. She still has tinnitus from her time in Latvia, when someone fired off an artillery round next to her head without proper warning. The doctor said she’ll probably have ringing in her ears for life.
Despite Faeth’s more unpleasant experiences, she doesn’t regret joining the Marine Corps. On the contrary, she is glad she had the chance to serve her country in that way. She proudly calls herself a Marine. She shares funny memories from boot camp, like how she sang Muppets songs to keep her fellow recruits on pace during hikes and how one fellow recruit was so hungry she ate an entire orange, peel and all. She still stays in contact with several Marines.
“I don’t regret joining the Marines,” Faeth told me. “I didn’t join to gain anything. I joined for what I could give, and I did give everything. I didn’t fail the Marine Corps; the Marine Corps failed me. But I still love them. I love all the Marine Corps is at its best, at those moments it lives up to everything it preaches. And I saw Marines who walked with that honor and integrity, among them my father, one superior who always looked out for me and the Drill Instructor who made me a Marine. I will be a Marine until I die, and I cherish that.”
Hearing Faeth’s thoughts, I asked my dad how he reconciled the way the Marines treated him to his iron-clad belief that the Marines live up to their amazing reputation.
“It’s an organization made up of human beings, and they didn’t always live up to the professed standards of the Marine Corps itself, which is difficult when they set such a high standard and such high expectations [for us as Marines] to aim for,” he answered. “I learned by experience that great ideals are seldom met completely and fully, but I also learned in the Marine Corps that great ideals are still worth striving for and working for, even though often we fall short. The Marines have great ideals, even though they don’t always live up to them.”
Hearing about Faeth’s experiences, and also my dad’s experiences, with the Marines brought the Corps out of some misty, idealized region in the heavens and showed me its true form. Funny enough, that didn’t make me admire Marines any less. Quite the opposite! I look up to Marines—and all veterans—even more, now that I better understand what their lives can be like at times. You can read about bloody battles and see Hollywood’s take on the horrors of war unfolding on your screen, but there’s always a distance there—a larger-than-life, heroes of men sort of distance that separates you from the truth of the experience. But hearing Faeth’s stories, I saw the humanity of the Marine Corps—of men and women striving mightily to do the job they signed up to do, despite challenges facing them outside and inside the U.S. military as a whole.
I still stand by my belief that the U.S. Marine Corps is the finest fighting organization in the world, but I no longer think that Marines are the closest things we have to real-life superheroes. They won’t win any fight against any foe just because they’re wearing desert fatigues. Not every Marine will always do the honorable thing out of a sense of justice and integrity, and the Marine Corps itself won’t always get it right in every situation.
I learned by experience that great ideals are seldom met completely and fully, but I also learned in the Marine Corps that great ideals are still worth striving for and working for, even though often we fall short.Bradley Webb
But those men and women who join the Corps to make a difference, to be part of something bigger than themselves, to serve their country and protect their fellow Americans—they become a part of the Corps’ story of greatness, its larger-than-life legacy, even though they are mere mortals. They are humans with human abilities and human weaknesses, but somehow they push themselves past their breaking points and get back up when they fall down and faithfully commit to serving a Corps that doesn’t always treat them right, even sometimes at the cost of their very lives.
In my eyes, those Marines are far more admirable than any superhero.
Thank you to every United States Marine.
Our Place is where the staff of MankatoLIFE share their hearts and minds about the things that matter to them.