Warning: Nostalgia ahead.
When you leave an old job under favorable conditions, like because you’re on your way to a different department or maybe even a different company or because you’re retiring, it’s not uncommon for your co-workers to go in on getting you some kind of parting gift. Something for your desk, shelf, or mantle, or maybe to hang on your wall; whatever.
So it was when I was in the service, too. Whenever the time came for someone to leave the unit, either bound for another duty station or because their enlistment was up or they had put in for retirement, the rest of the group sprang for some kind of going-away present. This often took the form of a plaque of some sort, and during my travels I ended up with half a dozen of these things. Mostly, they’re reminders of the places I’ve been and the people with whom I served, and so they occupy a place of distinction on one wall of my home office. The most elaborate of these is one rather large plaque with a built-in clock and a gold foil etching of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. Another one is a plaque one of my fellow Marines carved and stained himself, rather than going to an awards or trophy shop, with a gold Marine Corps emblem and a full-sized Ka-Bar knife affixed to it.
One of my favorites, on the other hand, is a plaque I got when I left one duty station in 1992. I was cleaning stuff this morning and for whatever reason this plaque caught my attention. It’s not like the others; instead, this one takes the form of an award citation or certificate of promotion, mounted under plexiglass on a wooden base. As part of the joke, I was called to the front of the group by our commanding officer, and stood at attention while the following was read aloud:
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
Certificate of Non Achievement
who distinguished himself through exceptionally mediocre service during an indefinite period while serving in a position of absolutely no responsibility. During this period, he was confronted by a variety of consequential challenges and his reaction to these trivial matters was to clutch completely. Unlike his cooler, more level-headed contemporaries, he repeatedly crumbled under the slightest pressure. His flaccid standards could not fail to be attained by even the most indolent individual, although he had difficulty maintaining them himself. He has consistently displayed a total lack of knowledge of–or interest in–any facet of his position. During his tenure, because of his lackadaisical and indifferent approach, the position rapidly deteriorated to utter shambles. His inability to produce results under any circumstances characterizes the insignificant effort he put forth. His selfish and uncooperative personality soon permeated his entire section to the extent that all with whom his unit has dealt were treated with hostility and contempt. His complete failure to accomplish even a single task is a tribute to those who wish to do away with the military establishment. His inebriated appearance, sloth, lack of ambition and odious traits of character, coupled with his “to hell with it” attitude have brought the utmost disgrace to his superiors and contemporaries alike. His ineffectually sub-standard performance of duty is in keeping with the lowest traditions of humanity and reflects discredit upon himself, his country, and society as a whole.
And yes, the commanding officer signed it as he would any other award.
The whole setup and presentation was flawless; I never saw it coming. Though the entire group busted a gut laughing, I was (barely) able to maintain my bearing long enough for the CO to finish the reading and hand me the plaque, after which I snapped off the required salute and did the rest of the military protocol dance to round out the presentation. Once everybody calmed down, the real award and gifts were given. I still have those, too, and this one hangs on the wall along with them and the others.
I did have my vengeance, of course…but, that’s a topic for another day.