Jennifer Iddins cried Friday as the bus pulled away from the barracks on Parris Island.
She knew she would.
She's cried often over the past five years as she pressed SAM bags into the hands of brand new Marines after the weekly graduation ceremonies at the fabled Marine Corps boot camp near Beaufort.
SAM stands for Stand Alone Marines.
"No Marine should stand alone," Iddins says, her voice cracking.
It's been her mission to hand a personally-packed bag of goodies to the Marines who have no family or friends at the festive graduation. They quietly board a bus for the Savannah airport or bus station.
Friday was emotional because it was Iddins' last day of doing it. Her husband has been ordered from U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago.
For his work here, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Phillip Iddins earned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal as an instructor in the Drill Instructor School.
His wife earned a following that will ensure her "baby" stays alive.
We wrote last October that she needed a replacement to step forward, and it happened.
As she crossed the bridge over Archer's Creek Friday, light from a warm sun dancing on waters whipped by a cold wind, a string of cars followed her like baby ducks.
She'll be replaced by a team of nine to a dozen volunteers, so no Marine will stand alone on graduation day.
AMOUNT TO SOMETHING
Rosemary Gillet of Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton was the first to respond. She's a bubbly lady who also volunteers with the USO in Savannah. To try to understand Parris Island, she went to the Bluffton branch of the Beaufort County Library and checked out "Making the Corps" by Thomas E. Ricks, who followed the men of recruit Platoon 3086 for his 1998 book.
On Friday, she brought homemade cupcakes. She lingers so long on the bus, making friends and listening to stories, the other volunteers are afraid one day they'll take off with her and she'll end up in Afghanistan.
"While everybody is hugging and kissing, we look for the ones who are all by themselves," she said. "That's how we know."
Sarah Schoen of Dataw Island also stepped up. Her husband, Nate, served in the Marine Corps. The article about Iddins needing help made her cry. Nate was happy to keep their two children while she goes to Parris Island on Friday mornings.
On her first day, one of the young men shared that his father had always told him he'd never amount to anything. His father died and he wanted to prove him wrong, so he became a Marine.
"Thank goodness I had sunglasses on that day," Schoen said.
Helen Pappas Spalding of Habersham learned about the program through a neighborhood email. Her son is a Marine. Her father, Jimmy Lee Pappas, was a living-legend Marine fighter pilot who flew four tours in Vietnam and was a squadron commander at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. She lived in Laurel Bay as a child. Now she's giving back.
"The Marines are so appreciative, so polite, so thankful," she said.
Lenny and Chris Mokan of Coosaw Island also stepped up. He, too, served in the Marines.
"This generation, knowing what they're stepping into, still keep coming," he said. "I respect these guys for going through this."
HELP MAIL THE BOXES
Ten volunteers took the SAM bags to Parris Island Friday. Eight men and about four women were there to board the bus. Sometimes, it's as many as 60. Iddins used to lug the bags six at a time, all by herself. She said, "We should have asked for help a long time ago."
She will continue to work online with recruits' parents. She recruits a parent to organize collection of the goods for the bags through the website www.parrisisland.yuku.com.
Parents will continue to pack the bags each Thursday night at Gilligan's restaurant on Boundary Street, where Iddins has worked as a manager. Owners of the nine-restaurant chain based in Charleston support it. They bought a step van for Iddins to use as a storage unit. They support it financially. General manager Eric Horlback and manager Dana Aiken promise they won't let the SAM program die.
And its sister project will also continue. Military Overseas Package Project was started to box leftover items donated for the SAM bags and mail them to troops overseas.
Right now, 200 boxes are packed and ready to go in the restaurant. They need people to pick them up and mail them, for about $13 per box. They also need addresses of troops to receive boxes.
Iddins was up early Friday to clean their quarters for inspection, then deliver her last SAM bags and ship out for chilly Chicago. It's her fourth move with her husband. But her dad was in the Marine Corps for 28 years. She's used to moving. She's used to sending boxes. She's used to crying. But she will never get used to seeing a Marine stand alone.
Neither should we.
Contact columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.