Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Journey about Love and The United States Marine Corps

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In 1998, Frank Schaeffer was a successful novelist living in "Volvo-driving, higher-education worshipping" Massachusetts with two children graduated from top universities. Then his youngest child, straight out of high school, joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Written in alternating voices by eighteen-year-old John and his father, Frank, Keeping Faith takes readers in riveting fashion through a family's experience of the U.S. Marine Corps. From being broken down and built back up on Parris Island (and being the parent...

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Overview

In 1998, Frank Schaeffer was a successful novelist living in "Volvo-driving, higher-education worshipping" Massachusetts with two children graduated from top universities. Then his youngest child, straight out of high school, joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Written in alternating voices by eighteen-year-old John and his father, Frank, Keeping Faith takes readers in riveting fashion through a family's experience of the U.S. Marine Corps. From being broken down and built back up on Parris Island (and being the parent of a child undergoing that experience), to the growth of both father and son and their separate reevaluations of what it means to serve. From Frank's realization that among his fellow soccer dads "the very words 'boot camp' were pejorative, conjuring up 'troubled youths at risk' " to John's learning that "the Marine next to you is more important than you are," Keeping Faith is a fascinating and personal reconsideration of issues of class, duty, and patriotism. But as John and his fellow recruits battle to make the cut—and John's family struggles to deal with the worry and separation, it is also an extremely timely, moving, and wonderfully written human interest story—a moving chronicle of love, duty and patriotism in contemporary America. "Beautifully written ... great insight and unselfconscious humor."—Publishers Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Father and son jointly relate their experiences when the younger man joins the Marines.

To escape Dad's constant meddling, John leaves suburban Boston after high-school graduation in 1999 and heads for Marine Corps training on Parris Island, South Carolina. Novelist father Frank (Saving Grandma, 1997, etc.) expresses concern and embarrassment; the Schaeffers are the affluent sort who send their kids to college, not the military. Personal narratives and letters by both men chronicle the period from August through November, when John graduates. Both are gifted writers: the father open about his flaws, the son a skillful and humorous observer of Corps life. Life on PI begins with complete disorientation: yelling, panic, constant exercise, long sleepless stretches, not enough food, and no time references bewilder the recruits. Back home, Dad has to defend his son's choice to insensitive neighbors. Things gradually change. John accepts the discipline from his four drill instructors, succeeds with the physical discipline, and loves the intense unity. Raised in Switzerland, Frank develops a patriotic burst for the US, expressed in an appreciation for our freedoms and applied to local political issues. He befriends other Marine families and comes to revile Bill Clinton. John loses 12 pounds and fantasizes about Burger King. The recruits lack the time and energy to make friendships, but they form a protective bond. To graduate, they must remain calm in a gas chamber, survive a swim test with full gear, and pass a difficult rifle exam. In the final pages, John is doing advanced training in Florida, and Frank’s planned visit is derailed by 9/11. Though worried after the terrorist attack, hewrites, "At least I knew that I could look the men and women in uniform in the eye. My son was one of them."

Dramatic and laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written and deftly constructed, deeply affecting in its honest portrayal of the authors’ passions: a stunning achievement.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786710973
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Read an Excerpt



KEEPING FAITH



A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps



By FRANK SCHAEFFER and JOHN SCHAEFFER


Carroll & Graf Publishers



Copyright © 2002

Frank Schaeffer and John Schaeffer
All right reserved.



ISBN: 0-7867-1097-7






Chapter One


When John was newly born, his damp hair smelling sweet, the
nurse placed his long body in my arms and then, bless her, forgot
us while Genie slept. I held him until the sun set, and the stuffy
room grew dark.


John, age five: running in from the garden on a bright spring day.

"Look, Dad! I caught a snake! He's on my thumb. Look, Dad!"

A four-foot garter snake was hanging in a writhing black and yellow coil
from John's five-year-old pink little thumb. John's eyes were wide with pain
and delight.

"See, Dad!"

"John! The snake is biting you!"

Grinning: "That's how I caught him!"


John, age eleven, in full battle regalia, charging over the sand dunes on Plum
Island, ambushing a pack of friends: "They didn't think I'd attack through the
poison ivy!"


* * *


Dad read books to me out loud that I could have almost recited back to him
word for word, sitting hour after hour in our dusty living room. It was good to
watch Dad's eyes move on the page and twinkle when he got to the same spot
in the story I knew was going to make both of us laugh.

When I was ten Dad fired a rocket at me. It blew a hole in my shirt
and burned a patch of skin about the size of a quarter. Mom was furious
and of course I stuck up for Dad. Fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts,
but "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire is just three miles up the road and
they sold them out of the shacks and tattoo parlors that lined the streets of
Seabrook.

Dad came back from Seabrook with a cluster of cheap Chinese fireworks,
and Francis (my older brother), Dad, and I put ski goggles on and
went into the yard to play war. We fired the fireworks out of empty bottles
at each other, thinking we'd be safe given the bottles' inaccuracy. We'd
aim in each other's general direction and hope for the best. This worked
out well until Dad winged me as I crouched under the swing set. It was a
great time.


Dad has been an artist, a candle maker, worked in discos running light
shows, a movie director, a novelist. Dad has studied more than any man I have
ever met. Our house is floor-to-ceiling books: novels, history, and tons of art
history and theology volumes all read by Dad-many full of his dyslexic misspelled
notes. I could do more math than my father by the time I was eleven
but never will read all he has or remember half of what he knows. He also does
most of the cooking in our house and is a great chef.

Dinner was Dad's forum and about more than his terrific food.

Dad: "The Renaissance was built on the artistic and cultural foundations
laid for it by the Byzantines."

Me, age ten: "Yes, Dad."

Dad: "The only 'rebirth' was that the Medici discovered the classical
learning that had always been alive and well in Constantinople!"

Me: "Yes, Dad."

Dad is the only person I've ever met who gets pissed off at something that
happened a thousand years ago, say the sack of Constantinople in 1204.


* * *


John was my youngest and I doted on him from the moment of his birth to
his last high school poetry reading. Captain of every team, sweet as a lake of
warm honey, he made the meaning of life clear.


* * *


I love my father with fierce devotion. We would do the most useless things
together just because we were together. We went fishing when we knew the
fish would not bite. We sneaked into movies we knew were going to be terrible,
because we would have fun making jokes about them later. We'd
watch some crummy movie a second time because there was one line of
dialogue we liked and couldn't quite remember.


* * *


While John grew up we were close as peas in a pod, father and son, but also
like a big brother and little brother. The first child, my smart, talented, and
forgiving daughter Jessica; my middle child and first son, bright, loyal, and
wonderful Francis are dear to me. It is not that I love John more than the
others, but he was easier. Part of it was that I became a father to Jessica when
I was only eighteen, and Francis was born three years later. Part of it was that
after having a little more experience I was more relaxed with John. I was
twenty-eight when John was born, and almost a grown-up, almost the age you
are supposed to be these days when you have a child. This made John's childhood
a rather lighthearted affair for me, at least until he went to high school.


* * *


I attended two private high schools, St. John's Prep, in Danvers, Massachusetts,
then the Waring School in Beverly. I changed schools when my
parents woke to the fact that I was failing every class I was taking at St.
John's. It was April and I hadn't done an assignment since January.


* * *


St. John's Prep had a chapel with a life-size, suspended, crucified Jesus with no
cross, as if he'd been nailed to something invisible and was floating in outer
space. We sent John there, surreal spaceship-Jesus notwithstanding. John was
a track star. I was so proud of him.

Some coach must have been covering up for John because the first time
Genie and I heard about his lack of schoolwork was a late-night call
coming from an irate teacher asking why John had done no homework for
more than ten weeks. John had always hated school, but before high school
he cruised along, his quick wit keeping him a step ahead of his teachers'
and my wrath.

John wrote a poem in junior high about his first day in first grade; it pretty
well summed up all of John's feelings-and maybe a lot of other boys' feelings-about
school.

they made me go to school in cinder blocks and concrete
I could not run anymore
my feet they bound in Velcro shoes
and they forced me to sit and play with toys
the other children were excited
happy to be growing up at last
I could not see outside unless I went up on tiptoe at the window


John and I almost came to blows over his failure to work at St. John's. Right
after that teacher called we stood toe-to-toe in his trophy-cluttered little bedroom.
It was the fact that my son had lied that so infuriated me. For three months he'd
answered "fine" when I asked how school was going. John was towering over me,
practically daring me to take a swing at him. He stood unflinching, fixing me with
a defiant stare as I yelled. That night I set some sort of record, even for me, a perennial
"screamer." I bellowed at John for over three hours.

I didn't care about his missed work. Crap! I'd hated school-ran away
from a British boarding school at fifteen, just his age. It was the fact that John
shut me out that made me livid. After I stopped yelling, we sat on the edge of
his narrow bed in the dark. When I put an arm on John's rigid shoulder, he
did not respond for a long time.


* * *


Dad and Mom sent me to St. John's because of the sports program. (Dad
denies this.) I was playing a lot of sports in town and at my middle school,
so they thought this was a good idea. The typical St. John's parents wanted
their sons to either get full sports scholarships or to go to very exclusive colleges.
It was a school of "jocks and nerds." There wasn't much middle
ground. I hated it.

The Waring School in Beverly was also a place for the children of ambitious,
mostly wealthy parents. But it was not a sports school. All the ambition
was centered on academic work and getting into top colleges. Dad begged
them to take me after I begged him to get me out of St. John's. I did my begging
after his yelling stopped, after we finally made up.

My brother and sister had attended the Waring School and loved it. My
school work at St. John's had been a mess, but I wrote poems and that counted
for a lot in a school where the cafeteria is called the "Victor Hugo Room." I
did okay there. The headmaster, Peter Smick, was very kind to me, and I had
one great teacher, Charlotte Gordon, who encouraged me to write more
poems, including this one about Dad.

my father
short and powerful
with a limp where
polio ate
his leg.
endlessly
encouraging though
somewhat discouraged.
he has been
a light effects
man in a disco,
painter, film director,
activist, speaker
and a writer.
my father
self educated; didn't learn
to read until
he was twelve
and yet
a writer.


In contrast to my sister and brother I never had any particular aspirations
to study beyond the point that would let me get through the test at
hand, if that. I was more interested in the books I was reading outside
class. Sometimes I'd read all night until it was time to get up for school.
Then I'd be too tired to go. When it came to reading, Dad was my accomplice.
As long as I was reading he'd let me stay home "sick," at least from time
to time.


* * *


While still at St. John's, John joined the cross-country track team almost as
a lark. After one or two practices he went from the anonymous pack of
about fifty to one of the chosen seven freshman team members. I asked
John why he always came in seventh out of his team in both the practices
and the meets, why he didn't finish stronger, didn't sprint at the end when
I knew he had the speed and stamina to blow the runner in front of him
off the map. (He was also on the track team as a sprinter and competed well
in both state and national events.) About a month into the cross-country
season, John finally got sick of my badgering him and explained why he
was holding back.

"Dad," said John as we drove home from St. John's one evening, "the
reason I don't sprint past Forbes is because he's my teammate."

"So?" I asked, "I see the coaches screaming at you to pass him. You've got
to compete against each other or you'll never beat the other teams."

"Yeah, they yell at me but I'm not going to beat Forbes in practices."

"But why? I see everyone in the pack trying to beat you."

"Look, Dad, I'm on the team so what does it matter where I finish in
practices?"

"It matters because you need to do your best."

"I will in competition."

"But why do you hold back? I know you're holding back!"

"It's a three-mile course, Dad."

"John!"

"Dad, if I knock him into seventh place he'll get cut if somebody in the
pack can beat him. I won't get cut because no one in the pack can catch me
and they know it. By pacing him I help him, you know, push him and keep
him on the team so he won't get left behind."


* * *


On weekends I drove around Salisbury and Newburyport for hours looking
out the window for something to do, stopping at the same Dunkin Donuts
at every pass to get another cup of coffee. I'd smoke a few cigarettes in the
parking lot with the same townies who had been there last time I came
through a half hour before. I sat on the boardwalk that ran along the Merrimac
river, with "The Boys," my old friends from eighth grade, if any happened
to be around. Occasionally we'd make half-mile forays downtown to
see if anything was "happening yet."

When I ran the cross-country course near our school, through a maple
wood in November, it was as if the trees were on fire around me. I ran surrounded
by burning trees. Cross-country was a sport I tried because I
didn't want to play soccer anymore; ten years was enough. My father came
to all my races both at home and away. He was the only parent who never
missed a meet.

As a spectator sport, cross-country is about the most boring thing that
anyone could ever stand to watch without going into a coma. A pack of
runners take off from the starting line and disappear into the trees. They
run an obscure course, often through hilly woods on a nearly invisible
"track" that they can follow only because they walked it before the race.
The spectators see nothing more than the gap in the trees where the runners
disappeared.

About fifteen minutes after the first runners run into the trees the lead
runner emerges out of the forest and dashes to the finish. Over the course of
the next eight minutes or so all the racers stumble in, some vomit, and then
all jog around slowly to keep from seizing up.

That's it! That was all Dad saw, runners disappearing into fiery trees,
then nothing for a long time until we reappeared in the distance and vomited
from exhaustion. After the race, often a two-hour drive from home, I
had to ride the team bus back to school while Dad followed alone in his
old Ford Taurus.

running on paths
cut into tree-lines
avoid puddles that will make shoes slow
tired now but more tired still at the end
acid filled muscles start to seize.
only the man in front pulling and the man behind to push.


* * *


We moved to America from Switzerland in 1980. I was twenty-eight, married
with two children. Genie was pregnant with John.

I was born in Switzerland to American missionaries. I grew up in a
chalet on the edge of a Swiss village. I was the youngest of four, the child
of Protestant fundamentalists. Mom, Dad, my three older sisters, and I
were outsiders. The villagers resented our foreign presence, not to mention
the invasion of their pristine alpine community by the American young
people who flocked to our mission.

My parents, distrustful of the Swiss, and perhaps overprotective of me ever
since I had polio-I wore a leg brace home-schooled me until I was eleven and
illiterate. Then they sent me to boarding school in England in a last-ditch effort to
"do something about that boy." After graduating from Great Walstead, a wonderful
English boys' "prep-school" (primary school), I was sent on to a dreadful
British boys' "public school" (a private high school) in Wales. That was the school I
ran away from.

I went back to the mission and hung out. My compassionate parents did
not force me to return to Wales. I did schoolwork at home with various tutors
and learned a lot, mainly about the sixties, pot, and generally doing nothing
useful, from the students and back-packing hippies passing through.


* * *


I got tired of high school before I even started. Then came the realization that
I did not want to go to college right away and that I didn't identify with too
many of my college-bound fellow students. I didn't like the direction of my
personal life either.

I felt that after graduating from high school, and with no firm idea of
what to do with or at college, I was going to continue the whole saga of
drinking all weekend, occasional pot smoking, only doing work when I had
to, only getting a job when I realized that I was going to have no money for
beer.
Continues...




Excerpted from KEEPING FAITH
by FRANK SCHAEFFER and JOHN SCHAEFFER
Copyright © 2002 by Frank Schaeffer and John Schaeffer.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2005

    An Avid Reader

    Wow! What an incredible book!!! Finally I have found a book that shows what it is like to serve in the Armed Forces of America!! As a civilian who has never served in the military I now know what all my friends who do serve are going through(and for those who completed basic training went through)! This incredible book is truly a page-turner in every sense of the word! What USMC John Schaeffer endured in basic training to become a U.S. Marine is an inspiration to all of us not to give up on your goals and dreams no matter what the personal cost may be!! THANK YOU to John Schaeffer and all members of our Armed Forces for your service!!! The only disappointment I have is not with the book but with number of stars available for this book, because five is not enough to describe this incredible read!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2004

    Brilliant

    Fantastic read, couldn't put the book down. My friend is now in the Marine Reserves, and reading this book made me appreciate the Corps so much more.(I already had high respect) This book makes you seem like your actually with John going through the toughest 13 weeks of anyones life. Fantastic story, recommended to anyone that is normal. Keeping Faith is outstanding, you'll not be dissapointed, loved the read and how it was put together.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2004

    Awesome Book

    This book is so good that I'm actually about to finish reading it for the second time. This book gave me more insight into Marine Corps boot camp, somewhere I will be in about a year. There is also a sequel to this book that I will be picking up from the book store this week - Faith of Our Sons

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2004

    Memorable

    Stong,compelling novel about what really goes on in the military. As a fiance' of a U.S. Marine, I found truth, and high interest in this book. Its openess and candid details rage with a sense of pride for not only the military/ Marines, but for our children. This, and his new novel, 'Faith of Our Sons' is a MUST HAVE. Not only for those in the mlitary,or the parents of those serving, but for any parent in general. It opens doors.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2003

    Easily one of the best books I've read in a long time...

    As a mother to two US Army soldiers, I read this book at the advice of a fellow Army mom. I have to say, it touched a part of me I never knew existed. I have been a military wife most of my adult life and never realized that I was doing much more than existing in a world where I felt the only difference I had from others was that my husband wore camoflouge to work. When my sons joined, a year apart, I didn't think it was more than a rite of passage. This book helps me to see that the sacrifices I, my husband, my sons all make/made in order to serve this country. I have a much greater respect for what the men in my life have gone thru, including my father, two years gone from this world, who served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. This book will certainly open your eyes to much more than life in the military. It helps you see that being a soldier, airman, seamen or Marine is a calling that requires more from you than just receiving a paycheck. It is very much about, Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. ~John F. Kennedy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2003

    Outstanding!!

    This is a great story. The Marine Corps has had the greatest impact on my life. I was on active duty from 1986 - 1992. I never really thought of the impact my decision to join the Marines had on my loved ones, particularily my Dad. This book made me ponder it quite a bit and gave an excellent depiction of what the recruit goes through on Parris Island. Great Job!! Semper Fi. John

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2003

    A Great Tandem Effort

    This is a fantastic reference point for all families of soon-to-be Marines. While the family involved here may not represent the socio-economic status of most of us, the challenges facing the family of a military man or woman remain constant. It is great that this was written from both the perspective of the father and the son. Either side, solo, would not have let the reader in on the whole story. Semper Fi, John.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2003

    The Transformation

    The best idea for a book that I've ever had is, without a doubt, how one is changed forever by becoming a Marine. This nails it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2003

    Awesome and Informative

    My 18 year old daughter will be a Marine on April 11th, 2003. She's at Parris Island. She wrote to me and her SDI recommended the book to me. I received the letter on a Friday evening and had the book read by the following Monday. It's very informative as to what my daughter is going thru and makes me even prouder or her and all our Armed Forces. A Great Read! She will read it when she gets home. Thanks.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2003

    A Worried Mother . . .

    When my son announced he was joining the Marines following high school graduation in June 2003, I was stunned & shocked and then fear set in. My brother served in Vietnam as a Marine. I was 12 years old and naive about the war but remember him coming home because he received a purple heart from getting hit with shrapnel. We just knew we weren't suppose to ask questions or talk about the war! But my brother still wears his Marine Corps pin on his suit lapel - once a Marine, always a Marine. Anyway, one night a couple of months ago, I couldn't sleep and turned on C-SPAN and saw this nice looking young man in a Marine uniform and heard the Schaeffers talking about this book. It was a God-send! I ordered the book the next day and it was the best thing for me to read. My husband is now reading it as well. And I want my son's grandfather to read it too. We are very proud of our sons decision to become a Marine. Thank you for writing this book! It helped to relieve some anxieties. I know it's not going to be easy once he gets in there but his heart wants to become a Marine and I believe he'll be a good one! God bless all of our troups!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2003

    Did you guys have our house bugged?

    With my son Peter we could tell very simialr life stories. Peter joind the Marines in 2002 and went to Boot Camp, MCRD San Diego, graduating on Feb. 9th 2001. Currently he is serving overseas. If we printed our story we could be accused of plagiarism. My Wife and I frequently refer to and go back and review various sections of your book. Truly we found the entire presentation delightful. Semper Fi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2003

    Thank you for putting our feelings on paper.

    I wish I had this book ro read when my first son went through bootcamp at PI. I knew that Marine bootcamp is very difficult but not just how difficult. My other son is there now and this book has helped our family understand how important our support is to him. Our feelings as parents are not so unusual either, I know this now after reading the book. Thank you Mr. Shaeffer and Corporal Shaeffer for an enlightening and emotion eliciting book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2003

    Should Be Required Reading

    I went through recruit training at Parris Island during the summer of '83. Frank and John Schaeffer's book does a fantastic job at conveying the life-changing experience, not only for the Marine but perhaps more so for the parents. By no means does John "sugarcoat" the tale of his own time at Parris Island and in MOS training. Many of the things that John talks about I had long forgotten. Their book renews my sense of pride and accomplishment and makes me once again thankful that the United States still has the Marine Corps. Frank Schaeffer takes a courageous stand in noting his own transformation as he witnesses the impressive changes in his son. The truths and wisdom so eloquently stated in "Keeping Faith" should be required reading for any class or course on American culture and sociology. Semper Fi - Do or Die!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2002

    amazing

    if you are thinking about joining the Corp. and are nervious, want to see how it is going to be, you must read this. amazing book, couldn't put it down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2003

    One of the best books I've read

    I absolutely loved this book. I could not put it down! It was a very touching story of a father and son. And to learn what John went through in the USMC was very interesting. I LOVED this book and encourage anyone who is in or very proud of the USMC to read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2003

    gunna be me

    I walked into Barnes and Noble just to hang out and pass the time. Walking up and down the aisles waiting for my friend didn't seem to entertain me at all so I started to walk to the magazine area... one book caught my eye. That broad shouldered man in a crisp and polished uniform standing with the man who raised him to be the person he is right there on the cover... I had to pick it up. I personally leave to USMC bootcamp in June (2003) right after graduation and after the first few pages, I felt like he was talking about me and my family.... then my friend finally showed up and I couldn't put it down... so I used all the money I had left for gas to buy the book... hehehe. It was worth the walk home :) Another book I enjoyed reading was "Battle Dress". It's a book about a girl who goes to West Point Military Academy. It's not as intense and deep as this book, but it kept my attention throughout the whole book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2003

    Been there - Done that

    Very rivetting book. I went through boot camp in the late 50's and can relate to all what John says. I spent 4-1/2 years on Parris Island and can say that very little has changed in terms of training and committment. I presently belong to the Marine Corps League, in Ohio. Once a Marine Always a Marine. The EGA is for life. I commend you John and share your dads trust in the Marine Corps. No one is greater than the person on your right or left. Semper Fidelis Doc Lee

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