ABOARD USS GERMANTOWN -- "Our flag's unfurl'd to every breeze, from dawn to setting sun; we have fought in every clime and place where we could take a gun. In the snow of far-off northern lands and in sunny tropic scenes, you will find us always on the job - the United States Marines." (Marines' Hymn, verse two)
Marines learn pride in traditions and service heritage that they carry from the time they set foot for the first time on the yellow footprints at boot camp until the end of their service, whether that is 4 years or 30 years.
SSgt. Shawn Demenkow, platoon sergeant for 1st platoon, Bravo Company, Light Armored Reconnaissance, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), has a unique piece of Americana he uses as a tool to instill that pride and heritage in his Marines - a 48-star American Flag Demenkow carries with him to every country he deploys to.
"It motivates the Marines when I tell them about the flag, where it's been," said Demenkow, who received the flag as a gift from his in-laws in 1993 and has carried it with him to exercises and operations in places such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Kenya, East Timor, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and recently during Operation Sweeney in Iraq with the 13th MEU.
"I like it because it's old. It's been around for a while, been through hard times," said Demenkow. "It symbolizes everything we stand for, and that's important to pass on to the junior Marines."
The flag is a way to kindle a sense of patriotism, said Demenkow.
"If they don't feel anything inside, then who will pass the traditions on to the next generation of Marines?
"Patriotism is important. Understanding that people fought and died in all these far off places because they believed in America, that's what I want to stress to the junior Marines," said Demenkow, who grew up hearing the stories of his uncle and grandfather who both served in World War II, one in the Army the other in the Navy.
"I remember Fourth of July parades, seeing the flag and getting this feeling, wanting to be a part of what the flag symbolizes," said Demenkow, who joined the Marine Corps in 1991.
"Having SSgt. Demenkow tell us about the flag was motivating," said LCpl. Christopher Colby, LAV Crewman with 1st platoon. "It brought the platoon together and symbolizes what we're here for."
"I have pictures with my platoons from each place I've been with the flag," said Demenkow. "Looking at them brings back memories and I'll take it with me through the rest of it until I retire."
Every time he brings the flag out to show a new group of Marines he gets the same feeling, a swell of patriotism, said Demenkow.
"It's a feeling that I want to be carried forward. We serve for a reason unknown to most," said Demenkow. "It's a feeling. I want the Marines to have that."
"It made us think about the Marines who came before us and the sacrifices they made," said Colby, a 20-year-old native of Beloit, Wisconsin.
"This flag is about us too, where we go," said Demenkow of his platoon.
"I only hope we can live up to the generations who have come before us. It's a lot to live up to," said Colby.
For additional information about the 13th MEU (SOC), view the official website at www.13meu.usmc.mil.