The Marines take Christ Church
|Mary Wakefield Buxton|
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— It was a splendid October day when the Marines came to Christ Church last month. Not a publicized event like their annual anniversary celebration each November at Lt. General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller’s gravesite in the churchyard (as is scheduled this coming Saturday), the October visit was merely an outing for the Marines to make a toast to their icon.
Did you say Marines? I show up for the Marines. So when Father Paul Andersen emailed me they were coming, I drove over to the church from Urbanna.
As I crossed over the bridge at Urbanna Creek I took in the blue water reflecting the perfect blue sky. I saw soybean fields spread out at Rosegill awaiting harvest, the green leaves tipped with yellow to the point they looked like rolling fields of flowers. What a gorgeous day!
There were pumpkins on front porches and American flags flapping in the breeze. The corn fields were filled with brown shocks of corn awaiting harvest in fields edged in golden rod. I could smell the rich aroma of decaying autumn leaves and freshly-mowed grass.
As I pulled in to Christ Church I saw buses lined up off the prep school. A sprinkling of Episcopalians, the sheriff and Father Paul were already standing in the churchyard awaiting the Marines, who had been dropped off in Saluda and would be jogging to church, Marine style.
Having visited the Puller home on Gloucester Road in Saluda, they jogged in lines of two in one long line right into the churchyard, carrying company flags and singing military chants. And what a thrill it was to watch them arrive!
No Marines in my family, yet I have had a lifelong love for Marines ever since standing on the top deck of a troop ship in Okinawa in 1965 as a Navy bride with baby in arms on an “R and R” cruise of the Far East. When we stopped in Okinawa, I watched on the top deck as the Marines spilled forth, two at a time from the belly of our ship, coming out on a run, with a gun, and singing.
I wept at the sight, it was a growing up experience; my first moment of reality as to what war really meant, and I have never forgotten it. The men were all headed for Vietnam.
Like one of Pavlov’s dogs trained to salivate at the sound of a bell, I still weep every time I see the Marines just because of that one vivid memory. Other Americans feel the same way about the Marines knowing what sacrifices they have made for our country.
How I admire what they stand for—love of country, undying commitment to the United States, and courage to defend the nation no matter how tough or impossible the job might be. Marines have been at their post since 1775; they began as soldiers on ships to conduct ship-to-ship fighting, and they have been an essential part of every war with proud history of heroism and achievement where it counts—in battle in defense of the USA.
The Marines gathered around LtGen Puller’s grave, lending a beautiful cross-section vision of healthy and well-educated young Americans in perfect physical shape, (not an ounce of fat) both genders (10% women) and every race and cultural background. No baggy pants, no baseball caps, no clips in the nose, ears, lips or eyelids, no unkempt hairdos or unsightly scruff of facial hair, just 275 lean, muscular, clean-cut Americans dressed in khaki-colored shirts and shorts that would make a nation proud.
The Marines know U.S. history, too. After Father Paul led them in prayer, the Commandant recalled the history of Chesty Puller and the battles he fought starting with World War 1 when he left VMI to join the Marines and fight. Puller won five Navy Crosses over his long illustrious career.
The Commandant also spoke of Puller’s life at Christ Church and his wife, Virginia Puller. Although Chesty had died in 1971, Virginia lived on until 2006. I well remember sitting down next to her, quite by accident, on my first visit to Christ Church in 1984.
The Marines then picked up a cup of juice and toasted the fallen hero and his wife. It was quite a moving sight. It’s nice to know they feel continued loyalty and devotion to the most decorated Marine in the history of the Corps.
Afterwards, they sang a rousing stanza of the Marine Battle Hymn, and after a quick visit to the historic church, they were off to Quantico and the continuation of their extensive training.
Don’t miss this Saturday when the Marines return to Christ Church to celebrate their anniversary, which includes a special service, band, piper and 21-gun salute.