By Gerald "Jerry" Merna (2004)

Sgt. Grit: We have breakfast at the Reston Silver Diner three or four days a week. The man who runs the diner is a former Marine who was a Camp David Security Guard. The kitchen manager also served 12 years in the Corps, and we chat often of our Marine Corps experiences.

On top of this, the other Managers and wait staff of this Diner are extremely friendly folks, and make our almost daily visits most enjoyable. Because we’re “regulars” our coffee and tea are put on our table when they see our car approaching the front door or while we are parking it. Our breakfast order is so “standard” that the cooks start on it while we’re walking in the door.

Creatures of habit, we like a booth near a window not only for the light it lets in, but also because I like to look out and watch customers coming and going. I especially like to check out the cars that park out front, observing their license plates. I have spotted many cars whose license plates, windows or bumper stickers have Marine Corps decals and such, and usually point them out to my wife as they come and go. She wears a beautiful Marine Corps pin every single day, and is very much the Marine Wife!

This morning I watched as an older model Cadillac pulled into a handicapped parking space just outside the front door of the Diner. There were two decals on the bumper, one a Marine Corps Emblem and the other the seal of the First Marine Division. Curious as to whom the passengers may be, I watched as the door on the passenger side opened and an elderly lady stepped out.

I remarked to my wife that this looks like an old Marine Corps veteran and his wife coming in for breakfast. I then watched and to my surprise, another lady got out on the driver’s side, appearing somewhat older than her passenger. I said to my wife that either she’s a widow or perhaps her husband is too ill to come out.

Our check paid, we put on our coats and moved towards the exit. Simultaneously the two elderly ladies were standing there waiting for the Hostess to seat them. Spontaneously I approached the driver of the car and said, “Excuse me ma’am, but I couldn’t help but notice the Marine Corps decals on the bumper of your car. Who is the Marine in your family?”

She appeared a little taken aback, surprised I imagined, at this strange man asking her this question in the doorway of the Diner. Before she could reply, more to put her at ease, I added: “I notice he served with the First Marine Division, as I did.”

She loosened up a bit at this, but still appeared a bit apprehensive. I then surprised even my wife by opening the lapel of her coat that revealed her Marine Corps pin, and said, “And this is my Marine Corps wife!”

Almost immediately I could see a twinkle in the ladies eye as she looked at the pin then brightened up with a smile and with obvious great pride said, “My late husband was in the Corps, and he fought on Guadalcanal.”

Guadalcanal, the single word emblazoned on the First Marine Division patch! How many of us also earned that patch in Korea or Vietnam perhaps oblivious of its birth on that volcanic island of the western Pacific Ocean, the largest of the Solomon Islands? I hesitated as I thought instantly of the elite Marine infantry that played a key role in many of the major battles on Guadalcanal, America's first toehold in the Pacific.

So many fought there at the beginning of that long journey west; sadly, it was the last that many of the men would make. I didn’t know nor was I about to ask if her husband died there, or subsequently, because it mattered little to me, just imagining her husband as one of those who served.

I remarked how proud she must be of him, and thanked her for his and her service. Adding that I served in Korea and Vietnam, she surprisingly and pleasantly replied, “And you fellows did a great job there too!”

Driving home we chatted about this chance encounter and I mused to my wife how fortunate we were to meet this Marine wife; she from a generation of heroes rapidly passing from the scene, and how wonderful it is to remember our Marines who served our country in such difficult and historic battles.

While I think we may have made this Marine widow's day a little bit brighter, there's no doubt she more than made ours!

Semper Fidelis

Gerald F. Merna,
1stLt USMC (Ret.)
Mustang; Korea & Vietnam

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