Bond between two Marines endures even after death

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By The Staff

Editor's Note: This column by Virginia Barton was published in the Seaford Star in Delaware and is reprinted here with permission.

Barton relates a reunion between her and husband, Chuck, with the children of the late Justin and Helen Etienne of Mount Pleasant. Chuck and Justin served in the Marine Corps during World War II.

Bonding. Just what is it all about? Last week, Chuck and I celebrated 61 years of marriage. Without a doubt, a good marriage involves a great deal of bonding. It involves trust, faith, caring and sharing, love and hope, and much more.

When a man and woman marry they form a certain bond and if the bond is secure they know the marriage will be secure and fill their lives with joy and happiness. There is a special bonding, a bonding not found in any other type of relationship.

But, bonding is not restricted to marriage. During World War II, very special bonds were formed among men who served our nation in the Army, Navy, Air Corps, Coast Guard and Marine Corps.

As a member of the United States Marine Corps, Chuck met a young man from Mount Pleasant. This young man was slight of build, slender as a reed, a welterweight boxer, a man of deep faith in God, a born-and-bred Catholic, a man who had hopes and dreams of the future and a good life, a man who enjoyed a good joke and a good laugh, a man with a sharp, keen mind who loved to farm and planned to do exactly that when the war ended.

Chuck and Peewee (Justin Etienne) formed a bond almost from the moment they met. It was a bond that would last well over 60 years, through the rough times as well as the good times, until Peewee's death last February.

The first night I met Chuck, I heard about Peewee Etienne of Indiana. I knew that this was not someone I would have to compete with, but someone who would always be a special part of Chuck's life.

These two young Marines trained together in the U.S. and served together in the South Pacific during World War II. They were barely out of high school when they enlisted to serve their nation. They were just young kids when they were shipped to the Pacific to battle zones in the Philippine Islands.

These two young Marines were no different from hundreds of thousands who have ever been in a battle zone, whether on land or sea.

A trust was formed immediately. There is no more special bond than that that forms when you put your life in the hands of someone else.

No words of trust are spoken, but each knows the other will always be there, through thick and thin. It is very special.

Last week, Chuck and I were the special guests of the 11 surviving sons and daughters of Peewee and Helen, the soft-spoken young girl from Florida he met and married while stationed in Jacksonville, Fla.

The gathering included not only those sons and daughters, but the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of this couple, each of whom has passed away.

Needless to say, there was a wide variety of foods, enough to have served the former unit of the two Marines, VMF-218.

As Chuck related times shared with Peewee in the Philippines, the entire gathering of 42 descendants were totally attentive.

Both he and I reminisced and shared stories of our friendship with Peewee and Helen through the years. We have maintained this special family relationship and will continue to do so as long as we are able.

The second day of our visit, we traveled to northern Indiana for a reunion of the sisters and brothers of Peewee. Here again there was 10 times more food than necessary, but it was delicious and was prepared with loving hands for one and all.

New bonds were formed as we met the "older" Etienne family members, Peewee's brothers and sisters, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren.

There was laughter and there were tears, as we all paid tribute to this special couple.

As young men and women of our nation serve their country, putting their lives on the line in the battle zones of today, we know that special bonds are being formed between many of them. Many are just young kids forming special bonds with a buddy.

As the gathering held at the former home of Peewee and Helen came to a close, their son Fred said, "Chuck, wouldn't Pap have loved to have been here." To which Chuck replied, "Don't worry, Fred, he and your mom are very much here with us."

And, at one point, as Chuck and I drove home through the mountains of West Virginia in the most severe rain and thunderstorm we have ever experienced, Chuck said, "Can't you feel Peewee's presence, Mike?

He's saying, "Hang on, you'll make it to the flatlands of Delaware just fine.' Those old blue eyes will be twinkling and he'll be grinning from ear to ear."

That special bond is with us every day.