Chris Eaton was a spit and polish Marine. The lance corporal was a member of Alpha Company, Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. His company was part of a special contingent of “Leathernecks” who presided at military funerals held in Arlington National Cemetery, at Tuesday evening Sunset Parade in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial in the cemetery and at the Friday Night Parade outside the home of the Marine Corps Commandant near 8th and I-Street in D.C.
“Two weeks after I graduated from Venice High School in 2009 I joined the Marine Corps,” the 22-year-old Marine said. “I ended up at Parris Island for boot camp. It was a cultural shock.
“After that, I went to Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, N.C. for further infantry training. While I was there three recruiters came through looking for guys who were six feet tall or more who had unblemished records,” Eaton said.
He fit the build.
“They selected 20 guys from our company. Then they did a 15 page background check on each one of us,” he said. “They asked us questions about everything we’d done in our lives up to then and everyone we knew. They told those that passed that we were going to Washington, D.C. for training to take part in military ceremonies in the D.C. area.”
The new recruits were bussed to the Marine Barracks in the south eastern part of the Washington. The barracks had originally been a five story brick hotel near the parade ground in front of the commandant’s house.
“For the next three or four months we spent our time marching in the basement of our barracks for hours on end. When we weren’t marching we were learning muscle memory–by holding our rifles in one hand off the ground for hours,” Eaton explained. “I think we were all pretty ticked off that we were trained to fight, but here we were and all we were doing was marching. After three months our unit was split into different marching platoons. A month later we were ready to make our first appearance at a funeral in Arlington.
“Arlington was a 20 minute bus ride from our barracks. We arrived in Arlington two hours before the funeral and spent most of our time at the company office getting ready,” he said.
“The burial contingent consisted of six body bearers, followed by a drum and bugle corps, guidon bearer and the platoon commander marching side-by-side. They were followed by the three squad leaders marching in front of the caisson being pulled by horses.
“Behind the caisson was the marching platoon carrying their rifles,” Eaton said. “I was part of that group that marched in three lines, eight rows deep. At the back of the 24 rifle bearers was a ‘Super.’ If somebody’s hat blew off it was the Super’s responsibility to walk slowly over, while no one was paying attention, retrieve the hat and put it back on the marcher’s head.”
“Marching at the back of the rifle platoon with the Super was the Platoon Sergeant.
“It didn’t happen while I was marching in a funeral, but it did happen. A Marine in his wool uniform marching in 100 degree heat would collapse. If that happened, it was the Super’s responsibility to try and awaken the fallen Marine and get him on his feet and back into position. If that didn’t work then the Super and the Platoon Sergeant would carry him to the bus. The Super would take his rifle and fill in his stead.
“I took part in a funeral for a retired general. For that funeral the entire battalion marched behind the caisson,” Eaton recalled. “A colonel was in command of the burial unit.
“We buried plenty of Marines killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Those were the hardest to bury,” he said.
During his first year or so at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington Eaton took part in upwards of 50 or 60 funerals. The remainder of his time in D.C., Eaton was transferred to company headquarters where he ran a computer until he was discharged for medical reasons 2 1/2 years early.
After getting out of the service the young Marine decided to attend State College of Florida, south of Venice. He signed up last year and is more than halfway through his two year course of study after which he will receive an Associate of Arts Degree. He hopes to continue his education and eventually obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in mechanical engineering.
His wife, Alexis, is on the verge of joining the Air Force.
Eaton said after he graduates from State College he plans to join her wherever she is based in the service. He will continue his education while she soldiers.
Name: Christopher Eaton
D.O.B: 18 Dec. 1990
Hometown: Sarasota, Fla.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: June 2009
Discharged: Nov. 2011
Rank: E-3 Lance Corporal
Unit: Marine Barracks Washington D.C. Alpha Company
Commendations: Global War on Terrorism, National Defense Ribbon
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 11, 2011 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view Eaton’s collection in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
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