OCEAN PINES – There are few things Ted Rollings enjoys more than going to the annual US Marine Corps ball, but this year, the ball came to him.
In a small room adjacent to the dining hall at the Woodlands independent living facility in Ocean Pines on Tuesday night, a group of Marines from Virginia and their families recreated the pomp and pageantry of the often grandiose annual celebration of the Marine Corp’s birthday. Nov. 10 marked the Corps’ 240th year of service.
“We did this all for Ted,” said longtime friend and Marine pilot Lt. Col. James Schafer. “He had some health issues earlier this year and moved to Ocean Pines from Virginia. So, we wanted to bring the ball to him.”
The five-hour drive was well worth the trip, according to Schafer, as they made Rollings, a former Navy Corpsman who served with the US Marines in Korea, the guest of honor.
Dressed in a sharp red blazer and pushing a walker, Rollings, who is now in his 80’s, was visibly moved by the ceremony. He wiped back tears of joy throughout the playing of the National Anthem, and the ceremonial cutting of the Marine Corps birthday cake with a sword as his best friend, Marine Corps and Korean War veteran Kenny Latham stood by his side.
“I’ve known Ted for many years and we went to a lot of the Marine Corps ball celebrations together,” said Latham. “It’s not the same without him around Reedville, so it’s great to see him again.”
Schafer met Rollings and Latham at the local American Legion in Reedville and a close friendship was quickly formed, rooted in the rocksteady bond created by the Marine Corps brotherhood and fortified for a love of cold beer and lighthearted conversation.
“These guys are like the brothers I never had, and my wife and I just have fallen in love with these two guys,” said Schafer. “They are both widowers and became quite the infamous pair back home. They were joined at the hip and never went anywhere without each other, so it just didn’t feel right to go without Ted this year.”
Rollings suffered a minor stroke in early September, and upon his release from the hospital, his daughter, Judy King, moved him to the Woodlands, which is just a few minutes away from her Ocean Pines home.
“I think he’s adjusting very well to his new life here,” said King. “The people at the Woodlands have been so incredibly kind to him, and we are trying to help him get set up with his new doctors and find a new routine. But, I know it meant the world to him to see his friends here.”
King’s husband, Scott Guay, thought it was a mere coincidence that Ted’s friends were making the trip to the Pines on the Marine Corps’ birthday, but soon realized Schafer and Latham’s plans to honor Ted.
“I got on the phone right away because I knew we needed more space than what his small apartment could hold,” said Guay.
Like many veterans, Judy King admits her father never liked to talk about his time in Korea, but a peek into the history books shows that Rollings’s work as a Navy Corpsman was unabashedly heroic, utterly vital, and undoubtedly saved countless lives. Statistics show during the Korean War, hospital corpsmen like Rollings earned 281 Bronze Star medals, 113 Silver Star Medals and 23 Navy Crosses. All five enlisted Navy Medals of Honor were awarded to Navy Hospital Corpsmen who served with the Marines.
In recent years, Schafer talked Rollings into joining the Marine MAFIA (Marines Always Faithful In Action), a non-profit organization he co-founded that aims to help Marines personally, professionally, and spiritually.
“Ted is just one of the most amazing guys you’d ever want to meet. He grew up with Patsy Cline, so he always refers to her by her real name (Virginia Hensley),” said Schafer. “He’s full of amazing stories like that.”
The 240th birthday of the US Marine Corps was celebrated all over the world on Tuesday, but while the celebration for Ted Rollings may have technically been one of the smallest, the room was brimming with brotherhood, swelling with patriotic pride, and more than once, became an echo chamber for loud and boisterous “oorahs”.
Ted Rollings sat back in his chair, quietly sipped his beer, traded jokes with his family and friends and his best friend Kenny, and smiled.
After all, the US Marine Corps Ball is one of his favorite things, and this year, he didn’t just attend, he was the guest of honor.