A Fellow Marine’s Goodbye to Mac
John Cole served under my command in Delta Company, First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, alongside Mac McGarvey.
I was moved by his personal tribute to Mac and thought it should be shared — Jim
April 23, 2020
No Friend of Mine
I had occasion to take a long trip not long ago. It involved a friend, a funeral, and a plane ride. The trip wound up taking a lot longer than I had anticipated even though the distance remained just as had been calculated. The story deserves telling and I hope I can tell it with a flavor that you can enjoy.
I will try.
The trip was not a vacation but it was destined to afford a measure of pleasure. As it turned out other factors beyond my control fell upon the measure of pleasure and trounced it severely. Only by a grimacing smile and the friendliness of an airplane pilot was I able to save it.
And then only by a slim margin.
The grimace was mine, and I would like to think that I at least tried to make it into a smile. The airplane pilot, I found out later, had been in the U. S. military and had flown helicopters in both of the Gulf Wars. He was a very nice guy, and I can say right here: “Thanks Mitch for your attempt to make an unpleasant trip more pleasant.”
During the living of most of my years I had heard from others, and even somewhat experienced first hand the old adage relating to everyone that “things don’t always go according to Hoyle.”
This trip, also, did not go according to Hoyle.
Now, if you are not familiar with that old phrase let me give you the short explanation of it. “Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to go. Or expect it to go.” Not at all an odd thought, considering that the phrase came to life concerning a deck of poker playing cards and some unlucky rascal’s disappointment.
In other simple words: Life is a gamble.
So, on to the trip.
A great friend of mine, and I will hesitatingly call him by his legal name, had passed away recently and suddenly. I always hesitate to use a person’s real name; but, in this case I will because he deserves much more recognition than what he has had. His name is Michael McGarvey and he was truly “one of the good ones.” But, for the purposes of familiarity by those who knew him best, I will call him by his Marine nickname, Mac.
I, and probably you, have known a handful of Macs through the years, but, and I have no hesitancy in saying it, not like this Mac. I grew up hearing from my elders those old “adages” and “old wives tales” relating through the ages how true or genuine something was. Or how the “old folks” were genus for doing something one special way or another. One such old saying getting used to the point of overuse related as to how someone was so good that “they broke the mold” after that person was born. After a while, and after so many times of hearing it said, I really became tired of hearing that particular one. In Mac’s case, I believe it to be true more than ever. I have known many good men, and women, in my years of travel, but I have never known another like Mac.
Mac had been in and out of the hospital a number of times within a short reach of history but really had been given a fairly good prognosis concerning the rest of his life just lately.
And then, back into the hospital once more for one last trip.
Mac had been born and raised in Smalltown America, nearly two-thousand miles from my home. It was a little place just barely on a road map in the more central portion of the United States. He had come of age right about the time the United States interests in Viet Nam needed support and he joined the United States Marine Corps to do just that. Mac excelled at all things Marine Corps and became an endeared species of Marine while serving in Viet Nam.
Mac had even been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, one of the military’s highest awards, for his service, and a Purple Heart Medal for wounds received in combat.
And if such things can be paid for, he paid the price. And that price was high.
As with so many of the Corps’ warriors, Mac was severely wounded. An explosion in enemy territory resulted in the loss of his right arm. Seemingly undaunted by the event, while the Corpsman was stabilizing his life signs for medivac, Mac told his Commander not to worry. It was only one arm. He still had one more.
Well, all told, it was a bit more than just one arm. I will not go into that. This is not the proper venue for that. It is the venue to tell you that any physical wound also brings with it a myriad of wounds that the mind must deal with forever.
And those wounds are always formidable to the extreme.
The loss ended Mac’s military service, but, fortunately for so many who came to know him through the years, it did not end his life. I will not go into the many community service awards Mac received, nor will I even try to name the hundreds of Veterans he helped in the hospitals, and other places he visited. After surgeries and time healed what was left of him, Mac went to work for the Veteran’s Administration, in the wounded veteran’s prosthetics department. Many of the changes instigated by Mac in the making of artificial body parts used by wounded veterans made profound differences in useability.
I will also say that I believe many wounded warrior’s lives were changed for the better because of Mac’s encouragement and unrelenting zest for life. I know for a certainty that many still speak his name very kindly.
He had a very simple philosophy for success, Mac did. “Look at a situation. If it is broken, fix it. If it is not broken, use it.” His whole life, I think, put emphasis on “doing something.” Mac always felt compelled to do something. “It ain’t nuthin’ but a thang” he once told me. “Thangs can be done. Let’s do some thang.” He did not naturally talk with a twang like that but, what with me hailing from the south, I kinda did, and I think he was poking some fun at me.
He was not actually being unkind, really, just the opposite. We swiftly became lifelong friends.
He was never a couch potato. Something was always going on in his mind and with his hands. It would not be unreasonable to think that finding Mac in his garage at two or three o’clock in the morning working on someone’s motorcycle, or some neighbor kid’s bicycle, was related almost as much to his workaholic attitude for life as it was to his PTSD from combat operations in Viet Nam so many years before. As all combat veterans will tell you, the war was just yesterday, but it is my belief, stemming from my own personal experiences, that participating in combat adds a number to life that cannot be realized with a calculator. There are no simple words to explain it, or to fix it, and it never goes away. Something within changes and it makes itself known by an attitude that never knows defeat.
And, for United States Marines, that attitude is “adapt and overcome.”
Mac could and did fit in comfortably anywhere he happened to be, and without trying to become someone he was not. He was satisfied with who he was, and he was quick to explain that he wasn’t about to change. He had a real talent for telling the truth, and making friends in the process. You probably know from experience that the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.
In Mac’s case, they did. Friends and friendships were very important to him. And once made, he seemed to keep them forever.
He also had a real talent for storytelling. Adult and otherwise. Mac could put a spin on a simple story that would have made even the author Louis L’Amore wonder how to properly tell a tale. Telling stories to children though, and being a part of their laugh, helped to “make his day.”
Mac’s lifestyle caused him to have more friends, and know more people, than anyone else I know. I don’t properly know how many but I do know why. I attribute it to that incalculable change I spoke of a moment ago. Nobody ever left Mac’s presence without a smile. Mac seemingly had a brand new one to share with everybody he met.
All of those smiles returned one last time to see that Mac was not lonely on the trip that he would surely have seen as just another adventure.
“Just one more hump,” he would undoubtedly have said. And I know a number of names that would have readily stepped in the line in front of him to take his place.
Mac’s funeral procession consisted of what I calculated must have been nearly fifteen hundred people. Probably a lot more. I didn’t really attempt to count; I just gazed. And was amazed. It seemed that the whole town turned out. And more came to the ceremony from many, many other places. Some came from the surrounding countryside, but many of those “other” places were far away. You will remember that I already said it was a small town.
Somehow, after having known Mac for as long as I had known him, I wasn’t surprised at the number of people attending the gathering. I was a bit amazed as I said, but I was not surprised in the least. The people stood lined up on the sidewalk four wide for what would have measured more than a city block. They were packed into the funeral home as tight as BBs in a mason jar to see Mac off on his journey. The rest faced the biting cold of the famed Illinois Winter Wind while standing outside awaiting their turn to offer condolences.
And they did not go away until the deed was done.
Whether the tears were from the cold or from grieving hearts, they were there, streaming down faces of a loving town. Some families had come from as far away as the states of New York and Michigan. Some from North Carolina. A seventy-five or more year old man had loaded his wife into their car and had faced bad-weather-driving-conditions all the way from their own home near Macon Georgia.
That’s a long trip for an older man, but it wasn’t too long for him. He arrived, and he was welcome.
A United States Senator flew in from the other side of the country to let people know all the things that Mac had done for him and his family. And to say good-bye. A former pilot of personal jet aircraft for an ex-president of the United States was also present to testify to the importance of Mac’s service to his country. The Marine in charge of the entire Fourth Marine Division of the United States Marine Corps drove nearly a thousand miles in the face of severe weather to personally take part in the Memorial Honor Guard which gave Mac a twenty-one gun salute to send him on his way.
Seven rifles sounded as one three times, and grieving hearts skipped a beat for each volley. There was no shortage of pride or tears.
Earlier the day before I had walked into a quaint Mom and Pop restaurant twenty-seven miles away from the little town where Mac had lived and died. It was my first time to visit there. The waitress said good morning. She then said “You are here for Mac’s funeral aren’t you. You want your coffee black.” It did not sound like a question, but rather a statement of fact so far unstated. I do drink my coffee black. I asked how she might know that and she said that I had to be from out of town because she knew everyone else. With a “knowing finger” she pointed to the case my wife had made for me to carry my reading glasses. It had the Marine Corps Devil Dog embroidered in red very visible and she said “All Marines really are Brothers aren’t they. She then told me that anyone coming into town in this nasty weather would have had to be somehow connected to Mac.
Mac was just that kind of a guy. Impressive with every word.
After having breakfast I went to that town’s library to have some copies made of a document I had written the night before. The librarian gave me a very warm hello and the information that I was here for Mac’s funeral, wasn’t I.
It also sounded more like a statement of fact than it did a question. I figured it was pointless to ask her how she knew such a thing. One day after the funeral I stopped at a gasoline station to refill my rented car with fuel before turning it back in at the airport rental agency from which I had gotten it. The airport was a ways away in the next state over from the site of the funeral. The gas station attendant said to me that I had been at Mac’s funeral, hadn’t I. I didn’t hear that as a question either. Nor was I surprised when she said that she had seen me there.
Like I said, impressive. Mac. Impressive. Hand-in-hand.
As hearts and teardrops truthfully testify, it was sad. But for a funeral, it was no less than beautiful. It was also encouraging. To see such a turn-out for one humble family man who loved his country can be nothing less.
All had braved the inclement weather of blizzard conditions for their travels. None grumbled about the weather, but their sadness for Mac’s passing was evident, and it was genuine. Their voices accepted that he no longer walks among us, but their hearts held to the belief that he is not gone.
There are two things about Marines that must always be considered, ie, he will accomplish his task, and, he will not be forgotten.
A Marine set that up years back when Dan Daly, of World War One fame, stood up at the edge of a wheat field and yelled down the line that Marines who followed him across would live forever. And because they believed him the tide of the war, and the face of the world changed, forever.
Another good friend of Mac’s who passed some years ago had coined his own phrase concerning such matters. His Marine nickname was Cannonball, and he always said “Never A Day Goes By.” And he was right. A day never goes by but what those who really care, remember. He, too, has not been forgotten. Mac had attended Cannonball’s funeral ceremony, and moisture glistened in his eyes. Cannonball’s widow was in attendance at Mac’s funeral ceremony.
And she cried.
Forever friendship is to be treasured for a lifetime. Or, like the name implies, forever, which ever arrives last.
Something more should be added. He was not just my friend. Mac, as the legend of the Marine Corps designates “All Marines are Brothers,” was my Brother.
I thought you might like to see the document I spoke of earlier. It was written for “Mac.” I have titled it No Friend Of Mine.
No Friend of Mine
He was just a man, honest ‘til his day was through.
He was also a Warrior, tried and true.
The warrior was a Hero every day of his life,
And he was a friend throughout life’s strife.
But he was no Friend of mine…
He went away to war to protect you and me,
And he suffered Hell on Earth to keep America free.
He did not quit when the going got tough,
And finished the job so enough was enough.
But, he was no Friend of mine…
Days passed slowly for the years of his life,
And nights re-lived every moment of war’s strife.
Hardships he faced daily, now with only one arm;
The other lost in the war to keep Freedom from harm.
But, he was no Friend of mine…
And now that he lies cradled in the Earth
We hold to our faith in the Great Re-birth,
When Mac will walk among us once more,
Forgetting all those effects of having been to war.
But this Hero was no Friend of mine; He was my Brother.
-John R Cole