In the almost four weeks that I have been in Croatia I have not met another American or even over heard one talking. The locals tell me, “Americans no visit. Maybe too many kilometers.” But I would bet all the Kuna in my money belt that the guy in line in front of me is an American. He’s wearing shorts, a gray sleeveless shirt and looks pretty strong but those features aren’t the tip off, it’s his skin. In black ink, tattooed on the skin of his right shoulder is ‘USMC’ and under that is, ‘Semper Fi’.
I lean forward and say, “Semper Fi, I haven’t heard that in a while”. His response, “No? Well it sounds good.” My first encounter with a US Marine was in fourth grade, just before Christmas. A knock on the door was answered by my mother. Then I heard a strangers voice say “Merry Christmas. Are there two boys and a girl here ready for Christmas?” Into the kitchen stepped a Marine in dress uniform carrying presents.
I don’t know if it was because we were on food stamps or if a concerned neighbor slipped them our names but the ‘US Marine Corps Toys for Tots’ found us. My present was a couple of cardboard boxes painted to look like a robot that you were to wear as a costume. I was grateful for the kindness and the effort made but I was sure I’d never wear it and shoved it under my bed. Ten months later I was invited to a halloween party and the only costume I owned was the “robot box”. To my surprise it was a huge hit and because no one could guess who was in those boxes, (one over my trunk and one over my head) I won best costume. When my friends asked me where I found such a cool costume I was too embarrassed to say “Marine Corps Toys for Tots” and instead simply said, “It was a Christmas present”. Today I would answer differently, I would proudly say, “A Marine gave it to me”. Semper Fi, always faithful, it does sound good.
The Marine in line was on a four day pass from his base in Sarajevo and was looking forward to having some fun on the Croatian coast. I asked him, “How’s Sarajevo?” In his Texas accent he replied, “The city is stable. There are a lot of cultural things to see but not a lot is going on up there right now, it’s Ramadan.” As he was heading out the door I called to him, “Thanks for doing the hard jobs and stay safe.” He replied, “No problem, thanks.”