A pin of protection

Wedding announcement parties are, of course, all about the prospective bride and groom. But when attending such an event in March, Sissy Bateman noticed a photo in Suzie Thompson’s home.

The photo was of Thompson’s grandson, Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher “Mack” Thompson. Bateman learned that he was soon to be deployed to Afghanistan.

“She said, ‘Oh, you must wear this pin that I have,’” Suzie Thompson said. “She brought it to me shortly after that, almost at the exact time he was deployed.”

That pin, a bejeweled replica of the Marines’ eagle, globe and anchor insignia, had been worn by four other women whose loved ones were deployed overseas in conflicts starting with World War II. When Mack Thompson returned to the United States in August, the pin maintained its perfect record of seeing Marines whose relatives wore it come home safe and sound.

Each, as far as can be determined, wore it every day, even days spent around the house.

“I wore it as a reminder, although I didn’t really need a reminder that he was deployed,” Thompson said. “I touched it a lot when I had it around my neck, and it reminded me to pray for him, and all of the deployed men and women that we have, and I still do that.

“It caused conversations, and people would say, ‘What is that, and why are you wearing it?’ It gave me an opportunity to talk about Mack and the sacrifices that our servicemen and women make and their families every day. It’s unbelievable.”

The pin apparently was first owned by Beatrice Farmer, of Muskegon, Mich., whose son, Edward C. “Cam” Farmer was wounded in 1942 on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal.

After recovering, he was assigned to duty in Alaska, where he spent the rest of the war. He then returned to Muskegon, where he became a judge.

Beatrice Farmer gave the pin to her daughter, Judy, who married C.L. “Todd” Garland, who owned several clothing stores in Baton Rouge. The Garlands did not have any children who served in the Marines, but one of their employees, Mary Miles Higgins Walker, had two sons who joined the Marines in the 1960s, as the American involvement was escalating in the Vietnam War.

Daniel Higgins joined the Marines at age 17 in 1964 and served two tours as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam. Roland “Skip” Higgins also joined the Marines and was stationed in Hawaii.

“Judy said, ‘I have something,” said Walker, who now lives in Bay St. Louis, Miss. “Her mother … wore a Marine pin. She gave me that to wear. She said that (her mother) had worn it and two of her sons had gone to war in World War II and they both came back, and she wanted me to have that until Danny came back. Then, lo and behold, after my older son graduated from LSU, he went into the Marines. I wore that all that time. They both came back. Everything was fine.”

With America not involved in major military campaigns for roughly two decades, Walker held on to the pin until Judy Garland called and asked her to give it to Bateman, whose son, Brian, a Marine reservist, was called to active duty in the Desert Storm in early 1991. His company entered Iraq from Saudi Arabia, then swept south into Kuwait as coalition forces expelled the Iraqi military, which had seized its small, oil-rich neighbor the previous year.

“I wore it because to me it was a symbol … to me of my son being away protecting the country, and I wanted everyone to know it,” Sissy Bateman said.

She didn’t keep it for long. When Bateman learned that a friend, Melanie Boyce, had a son-in-law, Marine Capt. Jason Paul Doiron, being deployed to the Middle East the next year, she sent Boyce the pin. Boyce kept it for his two deployments — the first involving covert operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Djibouti in 2002, the second in Iraq in 2006-07, by which time Doiron (now a lieutenant colonel) had been promoted to major.

Boyce usually wore the pin as a necklace, including while she attended a re-election campaign rally for President George W. Bush in 2004 in New Orleans.

“We were in the middle of the whole place, with thousands of people, and he looked over and he said, ‘You have a Marine,’ and he called me over to him,” Boyce said. “It was because of the pin. He wanted to know where Jason was and all this other stuff, and I thought this is amazing. … He wanted to know the whole story behind it. I thought that was kind of special.”

Bateman got the pin from Boyce when she learned that Suzie Thompson’s grandson was being deployed. Thompson still has the pin, but said she needs to return it to Bateman, knowing another mother, mother-in-law or grandmother will probably be wearing it in the future.

Walker said she was glad to learn that the pin tradition has continued, but has a greater preference.

“I wish wars would quit so they wouldn’t keep going,” she said.