By far my most successful article, this one was released on the
Marine Corps News Wire where it was picked up by many base papers
across the country including Quantico,Virginia and Yuma, Arizona.
This article appeared in the March 16, 2001 issue of the Observation
Post, the base newspaper for Twentynine Palms, California.
During a weekend run, a friend and I were talked about an
upcoming vacation I was taking. I had planned to take my wife
on a four day cruise for a honeymoon; 13 years after I had taken
her as a bride. I figured I owed her that for following me around
this gun club for so long.
When our discussion turned to the formal night that required
formal dress, I asked him his opinion. I told him I had no civilian
suits and that the only “tux” I had was the blue kind with the
high stock collar.
“Wear your blues” he told me and at first, I am embarrassed
to admit, I was only considering the logistical nightmare that
is involved in taking dress blues on a trip, much less on a
ship where personal space can be measured in millimeters.
Then it hit me like a sledgehammer: of course I will wear
my blues. What was I thinking? I am an ambassador in blue and
what better opportunity was there to “roll the threads” than
a formal occasion where I would likely be the only uniformed
This prompted a discussion that I want to address here.
As evidence by my story above, even the most dedicated Marines
can fall into the trap of convenience over obligation. Not even
a generation ago, Marines proudly wore their dress uniform
on liberty by choice. These days, the only time we wear
them is for inspections, parades, and when we are forced to
at work once a month. Rarely do we choose to take the uniform
home on leave unless we are fresh out of initial training. Instead,
we drag them out of the closet at the last minute and home that
we can work magic on them to make them look good despite their
extended closet stay.
Snapping out of my stupidity, I vowed to bring the blues
and wear them that night. How much I wanted to throw on my 5
medals and three ribbons but I knew that the Dress Blue “A”
uniform was not authorized for liberty. Would anyone know the
difference? Probably not. Was that the deciding factor? No.
If the sanctity of the highest level of uniform we have is to
be preserved, I could not jeopardize the integrity of its meaning
just because I wanted others to see my pretty medals. That would
be selfish. The Service Dress “A” is for the most formal occasion
and this did not fit the bill.
So I went through the routine of removing my medals and
pinning on my ribbons and shooting badges. Even though my wife
knew the answer, she still wondered aloud why I took 45 minutes
and four cycles of putting on the coat before I was sufficiently
satisfied that they were spaced and lined up straight. Who would
know the difference? Me and hundreds of thousands of ghost eyes
who once wore the same uniform.
Luckily, the formal night was the second day so the haircut
I got the day I left was just fresh enough to don my precious
uniform. Worse than a girls’ bathroom on prom night, I tugged,
straightened, lint brushed, polished, rubbed, clipped, rotated,
buttoned, tied, buckled, zipped, and smoothed until my wife
had had enough and prompted me to come along. She was dressed
in a stunning dress that complimented my uniform and was done
a half hour before I was.
Stepping out of the cabin, we looked like royalty and left
a certified disaster area behind us. How we as Marines can emerge
from such chaos with a immaculate uniform is a constant source
of humor for me.
Then it started. With a stunningly beautiful woman at my
side, I am normally relegated to “that guy” status when walking
through a crowd. But in this case, the tables seemed to be turned.
By no stretch of the imagination am I embarrassed about my uniform,
just the opposite. But what was a bit embarrassing was the open
gawking I received. The crowd seemed to part as we made our
way through the ship. Stares came as a mixture of curiosity,
respect, and a touch of fear. Most of these reactions were indistinguishable
from one another and I started to find it difficult to pin down
what they were exactly thinking. The only thing that I knew
for sure was that they were reacting and I knew that this was
the right thing to do and admonished myself once again for ever
considering not “rolling the thread.”
As we strolled, a few of the braver vacationers spoke. But
as my heart sank, the first one asked if I was in the Air Force.
As my mental hands removed her still-beating heart, I caught
myself and answered, “No ma’am, I am a Marine.” Notice
I did not say I was “in the Marine Corps.” Or that I was an
Officer. I simply said “I am a Marine” and that is enough to
At the bar, one of the waiters asked if I was an Admiral
in the Navy. Because there were 56 nationalities represented
by the crew of the ship, I had more patience with this foreigner.
I only mentally slit his throat. Again, I smiled and said “No
Sir, I am a United States Marine.”
As we made our way to dinner, the stares continued and I
felt a bit self-conscious. It was good to get to our table where
my wife and I could be alone again. But our waiter came over
to ask a few questions and he told me that in the Dominican
Republic, police officers wore the exact trousers we wear, blood
stripe and all.
After our dinner, we strolled again and my soul was lifted
as I received approving stares and nods from the generation
I felt came closest to appreciating the true meaning of the
uniform. The older gentlemen on the ship made me feel important
and somehow I knew that theirs was a generation who deeply respected
the Corps and that being a Marine during their younger days
was worthy of great respect. I even received a few “Semper Fi”
remarks as I passed by. I was stopped by a teenage boy who asked
if he could get a picture with me. The celebrity status was
a little overwhelming but I felt like I was representing the
entire Marine Corps. How could I have ever considered not bringing
The next day while touring Catalina, I was again approached
by the teenager and he felt the need to tell me how much he
respected Marines and how badly he wanted to be a Marine. He
asked me if bootcamp was hard which is always such a difficult
question to suitably answer. Without going into a complete presentation,
there is no way to simply say “Yes” and leave it at that. We
talked for a few minutes, I shook his hand, and I saw him return
to a group of boys about his same age who were obviously waiting
These events taught me a valuable lesson that I should have
already known. I think that we should re-institute the wearing
of the uniform to public functions. When you go home on leave,
pack the uniform. Proudly wear your uniform and let everyone
back home see that we Marines today are as fiercely proud of
our Corps as our forefathers were. Not only is it a reflection
of our accomplishments and pride, but more importantly it shows
America that her Corps is still made up of proud Marines. Never
be hesitant to “roll the thread.”
The initial reaction to this story from the 29 Palms Public Affairs
office was very flattering:
Your submission is running on page A-2 this week.
Just wanted to say it is AWESOME! One of the best commentaries
I've read in a long time. Is it OK if I send it to Marine
Corps News? MCNews is a centralized location for stories
of interest Corps wide. All our sister newspapers, as
well as "Marines" and "Leatherneck" magazine pull stories from
MCNews. I'm confident this story will definitely get ran
in other publications.
Please read "A Strange Reaction to 'Rolling
the Threads.'" The strange reaction came from a First
Sergeant who took a peculiar stance on what I thought was a very
-- Capt Grose
Another great reaction and follow up information can be found
at Concerning the Stripes
A great chain of events as
a result of an article I wrote called "Rolling the Threads"