Marine Corps still does family proud, and Everett mother shares the story

Brig. Gen. James Kessler of Mountlake Terrace has a kind message to share about U.S. Marines.

“I’m happy to report we still have no problem finding the highest quality of young men and women to join our ranks,” Kessler wrote his mother in an e-mail. “Nearly a quarter of our Marines in uniform today are not yet old enough to drink in most states. Two thirds of our Marines are 25 years old or younger. It’s not hard to figure out that all of these young men and women joined the Marine Corps while we have been at war.”

His mother, Nancy Thurmond, of Everett, recently shared her son’s words with me. I wrote about her three years ago when she was making Corps Coolers, a refreshing scarf to wrap around military necks in the hot desert. She sent them to her son, who said temperatures in Iraq hit 120 degrees.

Thurmond has been a Marine mom for 37 years. In 1973 her oldest son, Mike Kessler, was commissioned at the University of Washington as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

“Evidently his younger brother took all this in,” Thurmond said.

When Jim Kessler graduated from high school in 1976, he received a scholarship in the NROTC program at the UW.

“He chose to follow his big brother’s footsteps and went with the Marines instead of the Navy, she said. “His commissioning was in June of 1980.”

Jim Kessler received his military oath from his older brother.

Mike Kessler retired in July 1998. His parting ceremony happened on parade grounds in Washington, D.C., with marching bands and all the formalities.

“Jim, then a major in the USMC, had the honor to retire his big brother,” Thurmond said. “It was a touching moment and I had a lump in my throat too large to swallow, so it came out in tears. They were in their dress blues and gave each other a hug that only blood brothers and Marine brothers can give each other.”

Mike Kessler is executive director for Young Marines of The Marine Corps League. He lives in Falls Church, Va.

“He didn’t get very far from the Marines,” his mother said.

She said Jim Kessler was the president of his senior class at Mountlake Terrace High School, spoke at graduation and was one of those high-achiever types. He is now stationed at Albany, Ga., where he lives with his wife and high school sweetheart, Debbi. Their daughter, Kristen, was a Navy nurse.

Thurmond was a single mother as she raised her three children, including her daughter and best friend, Colleen Jones of Arlington.

The whole family grieved when Jim Kessler reported deaths in Iraq.

“Twelve Marines, two sailors and one soldier,” Kessler said. “Fourteen men and one woman. All of them younger than 25.”

He sent a message to those who doubt the quality of those who serve.

“We live in challenging times, no doubt,” he said. “Our forces are entirely volunteer forces. They joined, volunteered, at a time when they knew they’d most likely be going into combat.”

He said young Marines, corporals and sergeants and young lieutenants are frequently out operating with their squads and platoons in very isolated combat environments.

“We expect them to always make the right decision on when to pull the trigger, and when to reach out a hand in support of a small village in desperate need of someone who gives a damn about whether or not they live or die,” Kessler said. “There are more life-or-death decisions on the shoulders of these young Marines that at any time in our history.”

He applauds the Greatest Generation and those who answered the call in Korea and Vietnam.

“They were all great,” Kessler said. “However, we should not lose sight of the hundreds of thousands of young men and women today who have also agreed to put on a uniform and wear the cloth of the nation in defense from a new evil and tyranny.”

“He’s a great writer,” his mother said.

“And he’s a very nice general.”

Columnist Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451 or

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