USS Saipan -- When my Mother last introduced me to a co-worker, she said "This is my son; he's a Colonel in the Marine Corps."
"Mom, I'm a Corporal."
In truth, it doesn't matter to Sheila Shoemake whether I'm a private, sergeant major or lieutenant general. I hold only one rank that matters to my Mom: I'm her son. By next week I could end world hunger, save the rain forests or pass a law that makes driving slow in the fast lane punishable by death; to her, I'm still the kid who sat naked in a bucket of water because he thought it was a good idea.
That's family. They know what you look like in the morning. They know what you look like when you cry. They even know what you say when you're stuck in traffic. Despite all that, they stick around. That's love.
Sergeant William Cooper has a different definition of love. The postal chief and Hemmingway, S.C. native said love weighs 6,335 pounds. That's how many pounds of mail Marines and Sailors on USS Saipan received on Aug. 13 alone. Sergeant Cooper said it was the most amount of mail they've received since the beginning of deployment. Among these thousands of letters and care packages was one for Colonel Shoemake.
In a box as big as a microwave, my Mom had packed in enough economy-size candy to send an elephant into a sugar-induced coma. As if that were not enough, she also sent socks and an abundance of underwear. (I believe my Mom lives in mortal fear of the inevitable day when I will find myself in a crowded room without pants.)
My own box made me realize two things: 1) Sergeant Cooper was right. There is probably no better definition of love than the thousands of letters and packages that pass through our mailroom each week. I especially liked the packages with writing on the outside. (My favorite being "sealed with a lick because a kiss wouldn't stick" one wife or girlfriend wrote to her significant other.) 2) Mail does funny things to people.
In part to offer a hand, but moreover to see if my own box had arrived, I helped our postal clerks lug bags of mail into their office. There's no mistaking a mail bag. It is a dull yellow sack with "U.S. Post Office" printed across the side in large, stamped letters. As I carried these bags, Marines of all ages and ranks began tailing me. I would look their way, to which they would simply put their hands in their pockets and whistle. The more furtive mail hounds waited outside the office door with a phony request. "You got any staples? ... Hey, is that mail?"
It's like a Pavlov experiment. No sooner are the words "mail call" blared over the speaker system than previously normal people are transformed into raving lunatics who stake corners in dark passageways in hopes of sighting one of those glorious yellow sacks.
I am one of those lunatics. Still, this corporal of Marines has an edge on the others: I'm a 21 year-old colonel with clean, new underwear.