My Grandfather Was Semper Fi

George E. Marcia Jr. lied about his age so he could enlist. It’s almost shocking to write the word “lie” in the same sentence as my grandfather’s name because he was the most honest, accurate man I have ever met. My grandfather, my Saba was a stickler for details, a man with the mind of a scientist and the heart of a poet.

I knew he was a proud Marine although he didn’t talk about his service often. It took me a long time to ask him about the tattoo on his arm. It was blue, faded and as a child, I didn’t understand that, when his skin was young and taut, the image was of an anchor being let down into waves.

He told me a little bit about Japan. About how they received training in hand to hand combat with small people but the Emperor had scoured the country for the tallest Japanese men for his special guard and my grandfather ended up having to fight up rather than down. About how Japanese civilians killed themselves when they heard the Americans were coming because they had been told that the US soldiers would be cruel and torture them (as the Japanese soldiers commonly did).

He had tears in his eyes when he told me that.

By chance, I discovered that he sent money to fund the education of American children whose fathers had been killed in action. He told me that heroes are the ones that didn’t come home.

My grandfather was a complex man. He had chosen to ally himself with the Jewish people’s struggle for freedom. He chose a Jewish wife because he admired her passion for Israel. He left behind everything he knew to move to Israel and strengthen this land. At the same time, he never left that other battlefield – that of the US soldier and, specifically that of bereaved military families. He felt a need to support those children who had their fathers stolen away from them because their fathers had chosen to serve.

Once a Marine, always a Marine.

I knew my grandfather had been awarded a Purple Heart, not because he showed it to me but because he told me when that when my grandmother’s son enlisted (US Army) my Saba gave his medal to her son saying: “This belongs to your mother, make sure to bring it back to her.”

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George E. Marcia Jr and his Purple Heart

My grandfather always wore a shirt. He never left his room before putting on at least an undershirt. It was by chance that I once saw that his side was scarred where he had been wounded. When I asked him: “What did you do to earn a medal?” His answer was: “I got it for being stupid.”

What he didn’t say was that he had been awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

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My Saba taught by example. Did he know that I didn’t know what to ask?

I will always remember him sitting in the yard, quietly, barely moving. He was teaching wild kittens that he was safe. The man had the patience of mountains. I never understood how he could sit so still for so long but his example always paid off in the end (I saw him do this a number of times). Eventually, the wild kittens would understand and come to his hands.

My Saba taught me that while some cats are ugly, they are all inherently gorgeous. He found beauty in things people tend to overlook: an insect, the veins in a plant leaf, the way things work…

My grandfather used to inhale the scent of people he loved. He would walk into the living room and bend over my grandmother and smell her hair. He never said anything about it, it was just something he did and it seemed to bring him peace.

Now that he is no longer here to be with me, to teach me things, I suddenly discover that I have countless unanswered questions. Saba, you told me so many things about the world, why didn’t you tell me more about you?

Why didn’t I know to ask?

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Me with my Saba

When I think of him now nothing militaristic comes to mind. What does come to mind is unwavering loyalty, decency, dignity, humility, deep appreciation for all of God’s creations and the desire to protect the weak.

Because of him, I know what honor looks like.

Semper fi.


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