MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (April 3) --
The Basic School molds lieutenants into leaders by teaching the traditions & lessons passed down from generations of Marines.
One such tradition is the presentation of a class gift to leave a little piece of the class behind to inspire new officers to keep the Corps’ best interests in mind. There are iconic statues, crisply folded flags and shining brass plaques that adorn the school. One of the little-noticed gifts to the school are the tontines: time capsules holding the aspirations and spirit of the class within, along with a bottle of fine liquor to be consumed under certain circumstances.
The tontines - unassuming wooden boxes, often labeled with a note explaining when and under what cicrumstances they are to be opened - rest aside many of the gifts donated to the school.
One reads: “The contents of this bottle shall be consumed by the last two surviving members of the U.S. Marine Corps Basic School Class of 3-64.” These solemn directions direct the final two Charlie Co. members from 1964 to gather and toast in honor of their brothers-in-arms and the legacies they left behind.
“Classes leave gifts as part of the tradition and as a way to give back to the institution that has already given them so much,” said Capt. Christopher Bumgardner, TBS’ protocol officer. “They leave something that can attribute to the history of the school and the Marine Corps.”
With each class that graduates from the six month evolution at TBS, that history grows.
“Every officer in the Marine Corps for generations has graduated here,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Tarbutton, executive officer for TBS.
According to Tarbutton, the Marines leave behind gifts and eventually return to the school because they have become better officers and bonded into a sort of family.
“That’s why they come back,” added Tarbutton. “And that’s why they donate things in the first place. ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,’ as they say.”
According to Bumgardner, the bonds Marines form tie them back to TBS and the number of class reunions held each year is a testament to this.
“Right now we have more than five classes that are interested in taking some sort of tour or donating monuments,” said Bumgardner. “They want to come back, because this is where they started.”
TBS maintains accountability of each gift and artifact donated to the school through their logistics shops. Many of the items the school showcases are on loan from the families and some from the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
“I remember my class gift,” said Bumgardner. “My classmates and I donated a pool table that is still here today. Coming back as staff and seeing Marines use it makes me realize how things came full circle for me, and I can imagine it is the same for those long before me.”
Just a short distance outside of Bumgardner’s office - between a tall glass case filled with engraved chrome and crystal plaques, and another case holding a stoic bronze statue of Chesty Puller leading a charge - sits a double padlocked wooden box emblazoned with the Marine Corps emblem.
The box was donated by Fox Co. in 1960 and holds a bottle of fine cognac distilled the same year. The final reunion of that class is slated for 2018, when the majority of the class is 80 years old. They will gather at TBS and share the spirits, remembering those who came before them and celebrating those who came after, in line with Marine Corps tradition.
“There are only two tontines here at TBS,” Bumgardner said. “They hold the memories of the Marines they served with and the very spirit of the Corps inside. Things like that keep the Corps running and continue to make our history as rich as it is.”