Linda Birkitt and Clifton Jones have an unlikely friendship. Separated by 2,000 miles, it might be surprising that the two met in the first place, but considering the U.S. Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fi,” meaning always faithful, their story makes complete sense.
Birkitt lives in southern California while Jones, a Marine Corps veteran, calls the Flowertown in the Pines his home. The two connected via social media and due to Jones’ deep love for the Marines and the bond of “brotherhood,” that still unites him to other marines and their families, he set out to help restore the military records of Birkitt’s late husband.
“When a marine spouse passes away, they usually have military honors at the funeral and they give recognition in certain publications but she didn’t get any of that due to a clerical error,” Jones said.
Birkitt’s husband, John Birkitt, died in 2016. Many of his military records had been lost in a fire but he had served in the Marines for six years. He was injured during a parachute training exercise at Fort Benning in Georgia and had to be discharged from the Marine Corps. Birkitt said her husband of 35 years never completely recovered from the injury but he remained a “gung ho marine,” and went on to work in Aerospace engineering.
As Jones helped Birkitt contact the right people in California to get her husband’s records reinstated, he learned that she had never attended a Marine Corps Ball-the annual celebration of the Marine Corps birthday marked with a traditional ball and cake-cutting ceremony.
This year Marines celebrated the 244th anniversary of the birth of the military branch. As a Marine Corps veteran, Jones regularly attended the balls during his time in service but he admits that obtaining invitations to a ball is quite a feat.
“I went on a campaign of getting her an invitation so after lots of phone calls I got her two invitations because I didn’t want her to go unescorted,” Jones said.
Birkitt chose Jones as her escort so Jones accepted and then flew from the East Coast to the West Coast to be her date for the special occasion. Jones, a widower, pointed out that the date was platonic and based on their mutual respect of one another.
The ball was held on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. It included the traditional ceremonies of cutting the cake with a sword and recognition of the oldest and youngest marines present. Jones said he noticed the discipline of the marines participating in the ceremony, their position of attention was perfect and it reminded him of his training at Parris Island.
Jones had no idea at the time, but the commanding officer had learned that Jones was the only Vietnam Veteran attending the ball. He also knew of Birkitt’s history of supporting the Corps by volunteering her skills as a physical therapist to help marines. He asked the pair to stand up and then he shared their stories.
“Everybody gave us a standing ovation, it caught us completely by surprise,” Jones said.
Birkitt said she was amazed by the traditions she saw at the ball and she was grateful that everyone she met was friendly and hospitable.
“Neither of us knew anybody there but everyone was so friendly, they came up and introduced themselves to us, they were very gracious,” Birkitt said. “It was one event that I won’t forget, I was really touched by the fact that (Jones) made that effort to make it happen.”
Jones served 22 years in the Marines with assignments in Japan, Hawaii and Vietnam, among other places. He served in Vietnam between ‘68 and ‘69. Later he worked as a Marine recruiter in Chicago. He retired from the Marines in 1982, with a meritorious award. He went on to become a teacher at schools in Sumter and Walterboro. Jones later coached the women’s basketball team at Charleston Southern University, where he finished his bachelor’s degree.