Publisher Ed Darling continues to recover from eye surgery. Here is a column he previously wrote.
The colorful hand-written signs are, seemingly, everywhere. On street corners. In front of houses. On busy streets. On service station marquees. Often stars or tiny American flags are attached to them.
“Welcome Home, Daniel!” the personal messages cry out. “We love you!”
And the underlying links are just as obvious.
“The Few. The Proud. The Marines,” reads one, repeating the traditional slogan often heard when saluting the military branch. “Ooh-rah,” reads another, referring to the relatively new, but distinct, battle cry whose origin remains vague, but whose “voice of approval” chant and esprit de corps meaning touches the heart of every Marine. “Semper fi,” reads yet another, short for Semper Fidelis, relating the “always faithful” motto that signifies a lifetime of dedication and loyalty to the corps and those chosen to serve.
Clearly, the signs point to the apparent homecoming of, if not a hero, a Marine who has likely served overseas with honor and distinction, probably in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other remote outpost.
Closer review, however, alters that illusion.
Daniel is Daniel Coppage. He is a Marine. But he’s a 19-year-old, home from Parris Island, S.C. after 13 weeks of grueling boot camp, not overseas combat. And while his dress blue uniform coat isn’t burdened with medals of honor, his chest swells with pride.
Being a Marine is important to him. It’s the fulfillment of a dream, the culmination of a mission that may have started when, as a child, he wore his camouflage uniform to greet his grandfather who retired as a colonel in the National Guard or played soldiers with his buddies.
“I always had a special feeling for the military,” he admitted, a commitment his family and friends recognized early, a path they all assumed he would travel after graduating last year from Greenville High where he was known as a spirited prankster more than the top scholar or best athlete.
Though his Sept. 11 enlistment date (2006) was more irony than anything else, it now carries deeper meaning for the boot camp graduate (Third Battalion, Mike Company, Platoon 3084) who looks like a Marine, talks like a Marine and acts like a Marine.
He admits it was an adjustment at first. Mentally challenging. Physically tough. Strict discipline. Regulations and more regulations.
But it all had a purpose.
“It’s a great feeling to be finished with boot camp,” Coppage said, the quick smile re-enforcing his words. “It’s great to look back on what you’ve accomplished.”
The lessons of a Marine are deep, he explained.
You learn you can go past boundaries you thought were the limit. You recognize you can do more than you thought you could. You gain mental strength. You understand you can’t give up as you learn to believe in yourself. You value teamwork and working together. You see honor in helping others.
Catching himself sounding like a commercial, he pauses, grins and adds simply, “I am a better person.”
It is a comment that seems to envelope who he now is, what he hopes to become and even what he dreams of achieving.
A private with a five-year contract, he leaves Monday for Camp Lejeune, N.C. for 21 days of combat training, martial arts instruction and basic infantry work. After that, he will be stationed in Pensacola for nine months where his MOS (military occupational specialty) will center on aviation work, things like pilot rescue and firefighting, topics he chose and experiences he hopes will be helpful after his military days are over.
How well he does there will determine where his first orders will send him.
He hopes for assignment at a place like Okinawa, Japan, but he realizes a more dangerous option could be Iraq, Afghanistan or another similarly troubled post, if not at first then almost certainly later.
That’s when experiences like the boot camp crucible, an isolated 54-hour survival test in the woods, the rigid discipline, the in-depth training and the mental and physical growth will all return significant dividends.
“They put you where they need you,” he said. “That’s fine with me. I signed up to serve, to help protect our country. If that’s what it comes to, I’ll be proud to go and I’ll do the best I can.”
Spoken like a true Marine.
That’s who Daniel Coppage has become.
And all the signs point to a dedicated career of service to his country. Ooh-rah!
580-255-5354, Ext. 130.