Macy's has the Real Santa. 1st Civ. Div. has a mall stand-in. But here in the Marine Corps, we have Gunny Claus.
That's right, Gunny Claus. 1st Reindeer Division, Marine Corps Base North Pole.
I'm not even kidding.
Who is Gunny Claus? Now, if you’re a Marine Corps family, or a Navy family lucky enough to be stationed with some fabulous devil dogs, Gunny Claus is nothing new to you. You’d know him a mile away. His eyes - how they twinkle! His demeanor - so merry! His face is so jolly and his uniform’s cherry! The beard on his chin is all salty and white and to ring in the season is his USMC right.
He’s a part of all things holiday in the Corps, and rumor has it, it’s been that way for awhile. According to legend, Gunny Claus first made his appearance in the forests of Argonne, France during World War I, but Marine kids today know you can find him at bases far and wide during the holiday season. A battalion holiday party is incomplete without him, and you really can’t call it Christmas until you’ve had your picture taken with the big man himself. Since 2002, he's visited over 46,650 devil pups and adds to that list every year with a new generation of Marine Corps kids lucky enough to make his acquaintance.
But the thing about Gunny Claus is he’s not just a big, jolly old elf Marine. Much like Saint Nick stands for all the lessons we try to teach about Christmas, Gunny Claus embodies all that's magical about Christmas in the Marine Corps.
And the Corps is really something at the holidays. Gunny Claus says it best:
Marines gather toys across the Nation each year only to give them back to less fortunate children. We help families of deployed Marines, Veterans, handicap children, and homeless Veterans at Christmas. We do this without the need of reward or recognition; this is Honor.
While others celebrate this festive time of the year, we serve on the battlefield far away from our loved ones surrounded by adversities unknown to most. We call this Courage since valor is simply one of our assets.
Marines at Christmas are deployed at hundreds of locations around the world, protecting the interest of this great Nation at Embassies, on board ships, in the air, and on distant battlefields. Standing our post at Christmas is not duty, we define it as Commitment.
This is the Marine Christmas.
In this house, Marine Christmas is marked by the usual holiday lights, tinsel, and in our case an added menorah. We gather toys from our family, friends, and big box stores for the children in our community who could use a little extra love.
We tell our own children about the miracles, about the baby in the manger, and about Santa, the most easily understandable version of all of those big concepts for small children. Santa is someone who cares about you, remembers you, looks out for you, acknowledges you, and rewards your goodness - and someone in whom you have to believe for the whole thing to work. Those are some great basic lessons of faith right there. We love Santa.
With Santa, there's that leap of faith. With Gunny, you just have to listen. He's not just a symbol of faith and goodness and love, he's the real deal embodiment of all of those things, proof that hard work, selflessness, kindness, and Semper Fidelis mean something. He’s all the toys collected for children in need, the face of hope and determination that keeps us going through hard winters away from our loved ones, the promise that none of us will be left behind or forgotten. And like our spouses themselves, he’s a warrior for what’s good and honorable.
There are many gifts you can give at Christmas. If you are not deployed, protect the families and kids of those serving abroad as they are your family. If you see a Vet, thank him and wish him a Merry Christmas; take particular care of Kids, they are our future. We have Marines in medical facilities across the Nation; let us never forget any of them. If you have a moment or a free day, stop by and say Merry Christmas to any one of them; this in itself is a reward.
The gift you need to give to your fellow Marines and their families is simply to wish them a Merry Christmas. This gift requires no wrapping and is the greatest gift of all.
Never question if you or your family make a difference, as the answer is clear.
Semper Fidelis, friends. Happy holidays.
Photos of adorable kids with Gunny Claus courtesy of their mothers - thank you for sharing your cuties with us! Tampa Bay Toys for Tots collection photo by Bill Duttweiler.