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Jenkins: Marine's promotion stirs heart and mind

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comJuly 17, 2013 

The place was of his choosing. The Vietnam memorial statue on the grounds of the N.C. Capitol. Bryan Andersen, 43 years old and a 15-year veteran of the Marine Corps, was being promoted from major to lieutenant colonel. Col. Michael Tormenti, a friend, was to perform the ceremony, and Andersen’s wife, Ann-Cabell Baum Andersen, was to pin the silver oak leaf insignia onto the collar.

Other friends were in solemn but happy attendance. They included Andersen’s mates from the Roundtable, which meets for discussion every week at Raleigh’s Players Retreat. They were to a man dressed in suits, out of respect for a friend and for the Marine Corps, since 1775 the rapid response branch of the American military, elite and storied and, as the Corps says, “most ready when the nation is least ready.”

When Col. Tormenti forcefully called, “’Ten-shun!” a few of us sort of snapped to. Andersen stood straight, staring the other colonel in the eye, not moving, his jaw fixed. A light rain was falling. The ceremony presented many images: this young, brand-new lieutenant colonel, saluting, strong and every inch the Marine; behind him, the water dripping off the molded images of those young men in Vietnam; to our backs the Capitol, representative of all for which the Marines and our other military men and women have stood to preserve.

Andersen, who in civilian life is a Merrill Lynch vice president in the Cary office, has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like most who have served, he does not make a habit of regaling his gathered friends at the PR or elsewhere with stories of war. But those friends know he has been in dangerous places, in very pressurized surroundings for weeks and months, that he has been pushed to his physical limits. Not that he, or any other military veteran, would utter a complaint. Such is the nature of doing one’s duty.

Perhaps because veterans speak sparsely of their service, we don’t appreciate them as much as we should. Certainly that was true in particular of Vietnam-era veterans, who felt the unpopularity of the war left them in some sort of limbo with regard to public opinion. Time and a spectacular, heart-breaking monument in Washington changed that, we hope.

The Marines, of course, do not lack for appropriate and well-earned recognition. In Triangle, Va., is a museum dedicated to their history and their veterans, visible from the highway thanks to a roof design that juts into the sky at the angle of the famous photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Inside, the very flag is under glass on a wall, with a bench in front of it used by many vets and visitors who need to sit down just to look.

Like most Marines, Andersen is a student of Corps history. Mention Belleau Wood, one of the most vicious and costly battles of World War I, and he knows of Marine Sgt. Maj. Daniel Daly, who won the Medal of Honor, and of Gen. John J. Pershing’s comment after the remarkable battle: “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.” But Andersen and other Marines and veterans don’t sit around and light up with stories of great victories over evil enemies. Theirs is more a sense of being part of something larger than they, of respect.

So it is no small moment when a Marine takes off a major’s golden oak leaf insignia and replaces it with a lieutenant colonel’s silver one. It represents high achievement in an organization in which achievement is well- and hard-earned. It represents as well dedication, continuity and brotherhood.

Which brings us to the moment that for Bryan Andersen became the one that will most clearly define the day of his promotion. Shortly after Andersen arrived at the Players Retreat to greet friends for dinner, Raleigh attorney Robert L. McMillan, who’d not met him, offered congratulations. Then Andersen announced that McMillan had been a Marine officer during World War II and Korea.

Col. Tormenti stood up.

McMillan smiled and stood with Andersen, reckoning it an honor to meet a lieutenant colonel (McMillan was a captain) and then said, “I think we should sing.” So he led the assembled, “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli ...”

It was if the entire evening were given perspective at that moment: Once a Marine ...

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com.

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