By John C. Gyorki
Best day of his life
It was a fair, overcast January day in 1979 on the West coast at MCRD (Marine Corp Recruit Depot) San Diego California. The smell of ocean air permeated the grounds. A young Marine waited patiently with his platoon. Gut churning at the thought of the ceremony, sweat drained down his cheeks and under his clothes. He felt a slight tremor inside. The whole graduation ordeal and coupled with his hopeful expectations of family being present in the audience plunged him into trepidation. Finally, his name was called. He stood and marched military style towards the center stage to be recognized for his meritorious promotion to Private First Class. This was the payoff after a grueling 13 weeks of Marine Corp boot camp. He turned to face the crowd executing precision motions. He stood rigid. Hands at his side. Chest puffed out. He finally rested into the position of attention. He moved as sharp as he could just in case his father was watching, or if anyone he knew was present; however, he began to realize that no one from his family would be in the audience to share in his moment of graduation victory. He stared into a faceless crowd for what seemed like an eternity, only to feel the heat from the bright lights upon his face. His name announced, an award given, it was over. He left the stage with an emptiness so deep, it left him emotionally paralyzed, but sadly, he completely understood why his father was not there.
The young 18-year-old Marine was me many years ago. Before I took the stage, I knew deep in my heart no one would be there, but there was always this hope, maybe—just maybe—it will turn out differently this time. Actually, one of many occasions that I missed out on deliberately over the course of my life was an event called family day. This is an event where any family member can experience a brief visit with the recruit. I fantasized about how this may have looked if my family life were different. Since I was not very athletic, this would have been something grand to show my Dad. I was in the best shape of my life. I wanted him to see his son as a lean, mean fighting machine of the United States Marine Corp! I wanted to prove that I had made the right choice and let him see first-hand that I could survive on my own. I wanted to assure him that he did not have to worry about me anymore. He could focus solely on the care of my little sister and salvage his relationship with my Mom.
Deciding to Leave Home
I remember so vividly how I laid there the night before, tossing and turning, wondering if I had made the right decision to join the Marines. I was so overwhelmed with guilt and the feeling of abandoning my little sister who is nine years younger than I; after all, I was her protector. My head was spinning with every scenario imaginable. We all have ways of convincing ourselves and justifying our situation. My father would have gladly paid my way through college, but I did not want to burden him. My thought was to remove myself from the family. I wanted less for Dad to concern himself with; our Mom was a handful.
Most people who were a part of our lives back then would have thought we were all on a sinking ship because of Mom’s issues. Truthfully, we were. I did not jump ship to save myself. I loved my family, problems and all. That’s what family is all about, right? You stick together and make sacrifices for each other. So I did just that; I sacrificed myself and enlisted in the Marines. What a great option. No money needed. Just sign the dotted line, and you become government property for six years. It may have looked foolish to others, but it proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. The Marine Corp gave me an education that was priceless. It was regimented stability.
A deeper look inward
Our experiences are a culmination of our existence. As young people, we think differently as opposed to the person we are after we grow and mature. Along the way, our wisdom increases and our viewpoints change. Back then, my world was so confusing, and I didn’t know what to compare my life to; what I did compare it to were unrealistic expectations. I continually set myself up for disappointment. Around my mid-thirties, I came to a realization; back in those early years, I had no idea how severe my mother’s addiction was; it consumed her. I was so confused about my mother’s problems.; yet, I loved and respected her, just not her behavior. The vicious cycle played out more times than I can count. Those emotional entanglements bled over into my life as well, and yes, I did have to work through them. It afforded me the opportunity to view life through a different lens. As ugly and messy as the circumstance had been, it brought me to a place of contentment and allowed me to forgive. I believe we were gifted to our circumstance by providence. When I finally understood this concept, it was like a heavy weight was removed from my weary soul. I would encourage anyone to get to a place of peace. It is a personal choice to purge oneself of emotional toxins and take ownership of the moment; lose your sense of being a victim, and use your hurt to heal another. This is what grace and blessings are all about.
I decided to go
The morning arrived when the Marine recruiter came to get me and take me to Detroit for departure into the unknown. I walked into my sister’s room to say goodbye. A wave of despair came over her. She began crying and begging me not to leave. We were holding each other so tightly—my little sister melted into me as though we became one. Those little hands of hers were gripping me like her life depended on it. Finally, I let go only to leave her in a wake of doubt. I felt so numb and torn. As I approached the door to leave, I said my goodbyes to a family who was staying with us at the time. My father offered the lower level of our home for them to use while their home was being built. As I turned to towards Dad, I told him I would be fine, not to worry. He was grieved as well; he was not hiding his tears very well either. Finally, I turned to my Mom. There was that familiar aroma of alcohol from her breath which permeated the air surrounding her from the night before. I walked up to her to say goodbye. She had tears in her eyes. Her head was held low; she knew why I was doing this. I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her and not to worry.
The recruiter was waiting outside patiently. I climbed into his car. We had two more stops to make. I was dead silent the whole trip; I was worried about what was to come, and the image of my little sister’s grief reran in my mind. The recruiter asked if I was alright, I replied a very weak, “yeah.” As we drove along Highway I-96 East, heading towards Detroit, I noticed off to my left a beautiful glow in the sky. I was taken aback by this heavenly body. I had a wave of momentary peace come over me. I sensed my Heavenly Father was watching over me. The Marine recruiter said, “it’s the Northern Lights, also known as “Aurora Borealis.” I replied, “never saw it before.” How fitting it was for this phenomenon to occur that morning. I will never forget that day as long as I live.
The Circle Complete: The Best day of My Life
Fast forward 29 years. Ironically, it was a fair, overcast January day 2008 on the East coast at MCRD (Marine Corp Recruit Depot) Parris Island, South Carolina. The scent of ocean air gave a deep sentiment of peace that day. I was attending a graduation with my fiancé (now wife) for her son. We also attended family day, the day before graduation, with him. My Father and Stepmother were invited to attend Graduation day ceremony as well. They both lived in South Carolina not too far from Parris Island.
As we waited and sat in the grandstand, I observed in great detail the interactions of people coming in to be seated. No one really knew what to expect. This time, I was in the crowd feeling good about being supportive for someone else. As I sat there, I was reflecting on my time in the Marine Corp. I was thinking about how good my future stepson must feel about his family being present in the crowd. Of course, I began to dwell on the memory of my graduation.
The Marine Corp Band played every military ballad imaginable, flawlessly. When the time arrived to begin the graduation ceremony, a larger than life voice spoke over the loudspeaker system to give a welcome to the audience. What was about to happen totally caught me off guard. The voice on the speaker called out and asked all former Marines to stand up and be recognized for their past service. So I stood and snapped to the position of attention. Hands at my side looking forward, chest puffed out to honor the Corp, I looked straight at the American flag and started to think about what happened all those years ago. Really? I thought I had put all these memories behind me. Tears started to roll down my face as those old memories surfaced again. I did not want anyone to see me. I tried fighting my tears back, despite my vigorous efforts, I could not. I was not able to utter a word. My throat was too choked up; it wouldn’t allow it. For whatever reason, I glanced down to my left, and to my surprise, there my father was looking up at me with tears pooled in his eyes—beaming with pride. I’ll never forget the words I heard. He said, “Wow Johnny, you are a Marine.” I said, “Yes I am Pops, yes I am.” At that very moment, I felt an old burden dissipate. I was astounded by the heaviness my heart had carried all those years. In the end, I finally received my father’s approval that I so desperately longed to attain. I came full circle.
John C. Gyorki
John is currently an Electrical Skilled Tradesman for the University of Michigan. He has over 32 years experience in his field. He resides in Southern Michigan with his wife, Maryann. He spent four years in the Marine Corp as a 7011 (Aircraft Launch & Recovery Tech). After his tour, he completed a four-year Inside Wireman Electrical Apprenticeship with I.B.E.W. (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).
At a very young age, John developed a love for reading and hoarding books and has continued to do so. It wasn’t uncommon to see him writing notes about something. John believes inspiration comes from an intentional reading of the word and following the Lord. He feels it encourages better living and thinking.
When John is not working, writing, and reading, he is trying his best at being a husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, friend, and uncle. On occasion, you’ll see him making sausage and jerky or fermenting cabbage and pickles. He is always put in charge of making Hungarian Goulash over an open pit fire. No one else is allowed!
“My goal is to foster traditional family community and common sense thinking.”
“I enjoy reading books about personal life experiences. When people are at their lowest, broken point, and then making a victorious comeback.”
John C. Gyorki
John is new to the writing and blogging world
You can join him at ThinkerMe.com or email at john@ThinkerMe.com