Though she be but little, she is fierce. – William Shakespeare
story by Cindy Reid photos by John Wollwerth
Molly Monroe was a teenage beauty queen who had her future planned out for her. When she makes an impulsive decision to join the Marine Corps the summer after high school graduation, her boyfriend breaks up with her, her brother bears the burden of guilt, and her mother feels betrayed.
As a Combat Camera Marine, Molly observes and records her environment from behind the lens, where image shapes day-to-day life. This story unfolds through multiple perspectives, and as the negatives and positives develop, an image of the Model Marine is sharpened into focus.
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. -William Shakespeare
Author Sondra Sykes Meek says she “didn’t even know women could be in the Marine Corps” until a female classmate in her hometown of Lakeland, Florida joined. She said, “I told my Dad I was thinking about joining the Marines and he laughed so hard that I had to enlist just to prove him wrong!” She credits her Marine recruiter for preparing her for boot camp. “He really helped me and although boot camp was a big challenge, I knew what to expect.” Ultimately Sondra says she joined the USMC to find “stability, direction, and to be part of something bigger than myself.” She soon discovered that joining the Marine Corps also increased the size of her family. She developed bonds that she will always treasure.
Clearly it was a good fit. Sondra spent twenty years as a Marine, retiring in 2010 at the rank of Master Sergeant after serving at six duty stations, including two combat deployments, in Iraq and the southern Philippines. Simultaneously pursuing her love of writing and literature, Sondra earned a BA in English while she served on active duty and an MFA in Creative Writing after she retired while living in San Diego on her husband’s orders. Since 2011 she has been working full time as a Project Manager for the Department of the Navy.
Sondra has recently published her first novel, Model Marine, which she has dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces.
To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. -William Shakespeare
Although Model Marine follows the events in a female Marine’s life, Sondra says, “The events in the book are all fiction but the characters are composites of many of the Marines I served with, who are some of the most extraordinary people I’ve known.” Regarding her title character, Sondra says “there are a lot of ways I empathize with Molly, but she is not me. All of the characters in the story have pieces of me in them, but I wanted them to have different opinions and perspectives. The main female characters include Molly Monroe, who is my idealist; Ramirez, who is my cynic; and Baptiste, who is my spiritual guide in the story. There are several male Marine characters, but among them Sergeant Hicks is an enigma, in that he may be easy for some readers to dislike but he embodies the same characteristics of many Marines who are willing to die for you. He is ultimately a chivalrous character.” Sondra says the diverse cast of characters is an accurate reflection of the diversity found in the Marines. She says, “I loved that about the Marine Corps and I love that about my characters!”
When discussing the themes of the story Sondra says, “Molly‘s previous life as a model put her in front of the camera whereas her career in the Marines puts her behind the camera. What I wanted to show in the book is that joining the Marine Corps is a transformation. My main character, Molly, is a beauty queen, which shows what a ‘girly girl’ she is at the beginning, and she is the centerpiece of her family unit. By the end of the book, she is no longer the centerpiece. There are subtle shifts and eventually it’s not just about her anymore. She has made a full transition, and other Marines’ stories are as relevant as hers. In my opinion, all of the characters are ‘model Marines.’
Shakespeare quotes are found throughout Model Marine and Sondra says “I do love Shakespeare because Shakespeare touches on big subjects like death and other human experiences that are still so relevant today. The play Hamlet moves me emotionally on a deep level.” When asked about her favorite authors she says, “Shakespeare of course. I love the classics; Wuthering Heights is my favorite book, and I adore To Kill a Mockingbird. But I also read and love modern books; The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of my absolute favorites.”
“I wanted to incorporate my love of literature into the Marine Corps storyline in my book. There is a lot of symbolism in the story. Liberal arts may seem to be distinctly different from the military but they have several similarities I tried to draw attention to in the book. I think the reader will discover how meaningful they both can be when you take the time to learn about them.”
The golden age is before us, not behind us. -William Shakespeare
Sondra has a long history with Beaufort. She says “I went to Parris Island for basic training. I was so disappointed when I received my orders after military occupational school and learned I was headed back to Parris Island for my first duty station because I wanted to travel somewhere new. But it all worked out because that is how I met my husband Eric, who was also a Marine. In fact, we were married here in Beaufort.” Sondra and Eric are the proud parents of two daughters, Breanna who is the model on the cover of the book, and Amanda who took the picture on the cover and is moving to Arizona soon with Jason, her Marine husband.
Because they still owned the home on Lady’s Island they purchased in 2005, the Meeks chose Beaufort to return to after their mutual retirement from the Marine Corps. Sondra says, “Before we only knew Beaufort as Marines, but this time we are able to really enjoy it, especially using our boat and being on the water. Now I love Beaufort!”
Although she has written short stories she wants to turn into novels, right now Sondra is focused on promoting Model Marine and looking forward to the day when she will be devoting herself to writing full time. She says, “I feel very connected to the natural beauty of the lowcountry and I look forward to becoming more connected to the larger community, especially writers and the literary community.” Until then, wise words from the Bard…
“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive: They sparkle still the right Promethean fire; They are the books, the arts, the academes, That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”
Follow on Instagram @modelmarine and on Face book as Model Marine
Model Marine by Sondra Sykes Meek is available locally at the Beaufort Bookstore and The Corps Store. It is also available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.