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semper fi, bro

November 13, 2012

I hope you had a meaningful Remembrance or Veterans Day.  I called two Marine buddies,

and Jude and I toasted Eddie Weekfall, a fallen comrade who was killed with just a few weeks

of his Vietnam tour left.


I have a wealth of memories from my military service, many of them as painful as a fresh

wound.  And I still give a lot of thought to a person’s responsibility to her or his govern-

ment.  Last weekend I pondered “what is the just choice if you’re asked to participate in

an unjust war?”


I still don’t know.  This may not be the best time to reason it out.  The blessed relief from

the end of the presidential primaries and campaigns — especially the outcome — has me

a bit wrung out.  Even though I aggressively avoided political TV ads, I still heard the

word “freedom” so many times that it lost all potency for me.


So you can imagine my relief when I came across a gem that blew up some of my most

stubborn biases.  We were watching an episode of Treme, HBO’s sublime series about a

New Orleans neighbourhood trying to catch its breath after Katrina.


It’s Mardi Gras, and Antoine Baptiste, one of the main characters, is shepherding his

middle school marching band through a side street as they prepare to join the main

route of a parade.  A Marine Corps band, resplendent in dress blues, is just ahead of



The line stops.  The school kids mill about and rehydrate.  The leathernecks finish

“The Marine Corps Hymn” and break rank.  Several of them drift toward the back,

and a tuba player starts a jazz riff.  Six or seven of his bandmates join him.


The kids light up and move toward them.  Soon the two groups are jamming.  When

one of the schoolgirls does a sax solo, the Marines shout support.  Aside from “Toys

for Tots”, this may be the most positive, creative thing the Corps has ever done.


All too quickly, the session ends and the jarheads strut back to the rest of their unit

in a single blue first line.  Antoine, the kids and the crowd are delighted.


One of the kids tells Antoine, “they’re loose . . . and they’re tight.”


“They’re a marching band,” he replies.


“But they’re Marines . . . and musicians.”


Antoine smiles.  “Semper fi, bro.”


I can’t tell you how uplifting and enchanting this scene is.  The expectations I had

for the toughness of the Marines and the vulnerability of the adolescents were

knocked heels over head by the magic of music.  For one gleaming moment, they

were all equal in the redoubtable eye of jazz.


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