TEMPLE TERRACE, FL (WFLA)–On a patriotic corner in Temple Terrace, a soft summer breeze gently nudges United States of America flags that hang from several trees. Inside the house, a family, rich in U.S. Marine heritage, celebrates Independence Day a little more than others.”I grew up in a very patriotic family, my entire family has served,” former marine Bernie Seeley said. His father Bernard fought in Korea, his brother Nick in Vietnam, son Mitchell is now with the U.S. Marines Special Forces. But Bernie’s assignment in the marines was unlike any other in his family. His unit guarded the presidential helicopter, Marine One.
“I was privileged to really be part of what i was part of,” he added. In his office at the Temple Terrace police station there is a photograph of president Ronald Reagan stepping off Marine One. A nearly 20 year old marine standing at attention, to the president’s left, is Bernie Seeley. “He had his own seat, the first lady had her seat, a little jar of jelly beans setting there next to him,” Bernie remembered.
The president, Bernie recalls, made it personal each time he boarded or left the chopper. “It wasn’t just like a haphazard salute, it was eye contact and salute. And you knew that he appreciated what you were doing. And that made it all worth while. It didn’t matter how hot it was, it didn’t matter how cold or rainy, you knew that you were going to get that from him,” Bernie said. One Easter Sunday, Bernie, in his dress blues, found himself guarding a cow pasture where Marine One touched down. As it landed the helicopter stirred up a dirt storm.
“We had dust and grass all over us” he said. When the president returned, he stopped to speak with the marines. “He turned around and he said, I’m really sorry that you got so dirty and dusty when we landed. I’m not going to let that happen again. I want you to gt inside the presidential limousine before we take off because you’re not going to get dirty like that again. That’s okay, right?” Bernie recalled the president asking. Perhaps it was a president endearing himself to a marine, or the patriotic blood that flows thru generations of family The great American experiment, Bernie believes, should be celebrated more than one day a year.
“It’s something that we should have every single day an appreciation for this country, for the freedoms that we have, and the liberties that have been bestowed upon us,” Bernie added. Those liberties and freedoms we enjoy were no accident. They have come at a cost, at times, the ultimate price.