USMC eagle, globe, and anchor emblem

Salute to a WM

Maybe it’s because I’m in limbo between books, or the approaching holiday season with its maudlin whispers of auld lang syne, but last Friday I went searching online for a friend with whom I’d long ago lost touch.

I first knew her as Staff Sergeant Sandy Winget in a graphic arts class my senior year at the University of Texas at Austin. We were both pursuing a Journalism/Public Relations degree, but she was like no one I’d ever known, in college and in life.

To begin with, she was a US Marine, a woman Marine, or what was known as a “WM.” A complete badass, because she was the coolest, calmest, smoothest-sailing-through-life person I’ve ever met.

Several years older than me, and so much wiser to the ways of the world because she’d already spent years on active duty as an enlisted Marine. She was now attending college and would become a USMC officer upon graduation.

I remember being fascinated that she had her own furniture. She was a real, live grownup in a keg-party world, but she was also so much fun.

Sandy Winget, this amazing woman who hailed from Rockford, Illinois, gave me the gift of friendship, and steadfastly and with unwavering purpose set about introducing me and indoctrinating me on all things Marine Corps. Determined to sway me away from my Army ROTC boyfriend of several years, and bring me over to the scarlet and gold, Semper Fi side of life.

If I wasn’t going to actually become a Marine, I should at least end up marrying one, according to this formidable former recruiter. And I did. Sandy Winget introduced me to him over the Fourth of July weekend in Virginia in 1983, two months after we’d both graduated and she and he were attending the USMC Basic School for new officers at Quantico.

Nine months later I married, and Sandy was one of my bridesmaids. I have a framed favorite picture of me in my wedding dress with her, my sister, and another dear childhood friend also named Sandy getting me ready to walk down the aisle.

WM Sandy herself would eventually also marry a Marine, I think it was in the early 1990s, and she became Sandra Winget Jellison, ultimately earning the rank of major.

Today, December 12, would have been, should have been her 65th birthday.

The awful irony is that as my marriage was ending in late 1998, the death of a relationship between two people who had irrevocably grown apart, I didn’t reach out to Sandy that December, most likely because I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was leaving my Marine.

Had I done so, had I attempted to contact her back then, I might have learned that she died, November 1, 1998, of an inoperable brain tumor at the ridiculously young age of forty. I am so devastated and heartbroken as I write this. In mourning, 24 years after this harsh reality, and all of this time I never knew.

I now know Sandy, like my ex-husband, had retired from the USMC in the summer of 1997, so I estimate that I lost touch with her in the years just preceding that. We were in California, and she and her husband were stationed in North Carolina.

Sandy was a fierce friend, a great writer, an excellent dancer, and a dedicated Marine. The embodiment of Semper Fidelis, as in always faithful, the USMC motto.

In my Other Worldly novels, I joke about how my protagonist Rowan Layne can’t seem to get away from Marines. It’s actually Sandy Winget who is responsible for that. When I first began writing Alienable Rights it was at a very difficult time in my life, and I brought someone who had recently passed way too young, a former Navy officer, back to life as the character George.

Like Sandy, what a character George was in real life, gone too soon, but having lived on his own terms. With this recent devastating discovery, it may now be time to introduce a new character into my seventh novel. I so need Sandy Winget, along with George, to help me remember not to take life’s tribulations too seriously, to go with the flow and roll away from the bad stuff.

All of these years I had a guardian angel because I did not realize you were no longer of this earth. Fair winds and following seas to you, Maj. Sandra Winget Jellison, USMC (Ret). You were quite simply the best and I miss your smile.

You are remembered on this day, your birthday, and will always be thought of with love and fondness and appreciation. Semper Fi, Sandy.

4 thoughts on “Salute to a WM”

  1. I am sure the energy and force what was the life of your friend join the energy of the All and make us all better. From the Stars we come to the Stars we return.

    I grieve with thee, my friend.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *