CORNELIUS – The term “Hollywood Marine” always draws laughter, especially from those who endured the sand-flea, mosquito-infested South Carolina paradise so many know by its initials – PI.
On May 13, three men, two adorned in bright red Marine Corps League covers (caps), the other wearing a baseball cap with a Marine Corps logo, sat down at the Acropolis Cafe & Grille to talk about patriotism and as members of the MCL's PFC Bruce Larson Detachment in Cornelius.
Though different in ages and when they served, each had similar commonalities: The legendary dress blue uniform was an enticement to join, they were told they wouldn’t make it to become Marines and each said, without hesitation, that they would serve again if called.
Each also gave a nod to the work and camaraderie at Richard's Coffee Shop, a veterans' gathering place and military museum in Mooresville.
“I always wanted to be a Marine and serve my country. I think it started in the Boy Scouts,” said Frank Christmas, who is the epitome of his name with a full-length gray beard, a zen for storytelling and a wholesome mid-section.
Christmas, who served from 1962-66, was trained as a machinegunner, spent time in an infantry unit at Camp Lejeune before getting orders to Parris Island.
Even though he missed Vietnam, as a primary marksmanship instructor, Christmas trained thousands of Parris Island Marines who saw action. Later, some of them thanked him for saving their lives by teaching them how to shoot.
Christmas beamed when talking about his son, Joseph Aaron Christmas, a 15-year Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The younger Christmas, a staff sergeant, now teaches in the Non-Commissioned Officers course at Camp Geiger, a training center which is part of Camp Lejeune.
Charles Gunter, an 18-year Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, also sounded a patriotic tone.
“It’s love of country and the willingness to give all to keep America free and safe. Not just for us, but for everyone,” said Gunter, 46, who served in a Marine Corps Reserve unit in Greensboro for five years during the 1980s.
Jerry Jacobus, a past commandant of PFC Bruce Larson Detachment, served from 1954-57 in California - Camp Pendleton, Twenty Nine Palms and El Toro - as an infantryman and later in supply and bulk fuel. He was the "Hollywood Marine," having undergone basic training in San Diego. Though in his 70s, he is currently on MCL rifle teams in Troutman and Allentown, Pa., and at an American Legion post in his native Wisconsin.
"I tell the young guys to do what you must, then come home," he said, noting that he was first drawn to the Corps after seeing the Freedom Train after World War II. "It was in the 40s. I was about 10 or 12. It was guarded by Marines."
Each man also pitched for the 32-member Larson Detachment, highlighting the group's work with Wounded Warriors, the USO, Toys for Tots and fundraisers such as free gift wrapping sessions.
To Jacobus and the others, helping others is a calling.
"We're Marines," he said. "And, our mission is to always serve."