MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
“Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
It’s a phrase used to remind Marines – all Marines, past and present – of when they earned the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and that the title Marine stays with them forever. The phrase also reminds them of the legacy they share, bound by the same cloth.
The memories of his time in the Marine Corps, otherwise lost among even the most youthful, came to his recollection without hesitation. Pfc. Martin Bufano, a 93-year-old Marine, humbly welcomed four Marines and myself to his home to reminisce and shared his life story during and after his time in the Corps. Always a Marine, Pfc Bufano, made sure that we thanked our officer for allowing us to come visit.
The earliest memory of his life in service of his country was before he was even eligible to join. Almost 80 years ago, 16-year-old Bufano had a conversation with a high school buddy of his, who had just graduated from boot camp, about joining the Navy.
"What do you mean you want to join the Navy?!" The young friend of Bufano exclaimed. “You want to be a Marine!”
Bufano was convinced after seeing his good friend in his captivating Marine Corps uniform and devouring the stories that were created from his time in boot camp. He was determined to join the elite fighting force. Scrubbing decks with the Navy was not for him.
Fueled with motivation and passion to become a Marine, he went to his local recruiters office in the heart Philadelphia.
“When I got to the office, I had already erased and changed the five to a four on my birth certificate,” Bufano said with a chuckle as he mimicked an eraser. “My buddy was 16-and-half when he joined.”
“Son, did someone change this number?” The recruiter asked Bufano. He maintained his integrity, looked the recruiter in the eye and replied, “Yes sir, that was me, I want to be a Marine.”
Admiring the young man’s determination to serve his country, the recruiter told him to come back when he turns 17 if he still wanted to join; and that’s what he did, said Bufano as silence fell over the room, everyone hanging to his every word. Next thing he knew, he was off to Parris Island, SC.
Not long after graduation, Bufano shipped out to San Diego, as an anti-aircraft gunner in the 11th Defense Battalion. Within the next six months, the young Marine set sail for his next duty station aboard a massive reconstructed Japanese cargo ship called a Japara.
Within the two years of Bufano’s time overseas, he made stops at Hebrides in the North Atlantic, The Solomon Islands, and finally New Georgia. The enemy came over to the area (in New Georgia), Bufano said, while melancholy, as he continued to share his story. They sprayed and bombed them for the four to five months they were there.
“The time came where they allowed us to come home, although at the time we didn’t know it,” Bufano said, and his face began to brighten. “One day, by surprise, the colonel breaks out the band playing ‘California here we come!’”
When the ship came into port, Bufano recalled that he and a bunch of his Marines buddies scattered throughout the town looking for a good time.
“We went to a bar to get a drink but we weren’t old enough,” Bufano said. “Instead, we treated ourselves to a haircut, shampoo, shave and a manicure; the whole nine yards!”
Marines that Bufano served with soon started to accumulate Marine Corps tattoos after their time in service, but apparently he was too young to get one. Buffano shrugged as he explained that he always wanted a tattoo, but never got around to getting any. It was years before he had even considered it again.
“My wife asked me what I wanted for my 90th birthday,” Bufano said as he lifted up his arms and showed us the Marine Corps tattoos on his forearms. “I always wanted a tattoo!”
After nearly 80 years, the “young” Marine remains committed to Corps and country. He continues to exhibit the attributes and hallmarks in which every Marine swore an oath to abide by. He is proud everyday for those who have served our country. With clenched fists and a bursting smile, he exclaimed to the new generation of Marines, “Semper Fidelis!”