Connor, Matthew and Griffin Wehr came into the world together so tiny and frail they required neonatal intensive care before their parents Michelle and Kenneth Wehr of Marshfield, Massachusetts, could take them home.
The triplets were a big surprise to the Wehrs. Only two showed up on the ultrasound. “I always say one of them was a stowaway,” mom Michelle says.
They grew up strong and competing at everything. Living near the ocean, the boys loved fishing. Connor and Matthew ran track. Griffin played rugby. Like all teenagers, they had their “blips,” as Michelle puts it, but they were good kids. She was stunned when not one or two but all three of her boys decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps. She couldn’t understand it and still wonders. All three?
On Friday, the Wehrs will be in the audience at Parris Island in Port Royal when Connor, Matthew and Griffin graduate together as Marines. They will march across the parade deck wearing white covers and crisp blue slacks and tan shirts as members of one of the world’s elite fighting forces.
It’s been a long journey that began with a difficult pregnancy and the neonatal intensive care. The all-consuming job of raising triplets followed.
Even though they are now Marines, Michelle Wehr says, “They will always be my babies.”
Major Philip Kulczewski, a Marine spokesman, said the graduation ceremony will mark one of the few occasions in the history of the 105-year-old Parris Island — maybe the first time — that triplets have gone through boot camp together.
A museum staffer at the base said it would require checking more than a century’s worth of graduation records to confirm it. To say the very least, it’s a rarity.
“Everybody is amazed by it,” Griffin says of the reaction of fellow recruits and Marines to the triplets.
Matthew adds: “Everybody knows us, so it’s not bad.”
Not only did the 19-year-old brothers complete the same 13-week course, but they landed in the same platoon, living in the same barracks with 96 other recruits. By the time boot camp was over, 82 remained, including the triplets from Massachusetts everybody knows.
They managed to stay together, along with two additional friends from their hometown, through the Marine Corps “buddy program.”
Their mom and dad were expected to arrive for family day Thursday and will be in the audience at the Friday graduation along with a sister, niece, aunt and uncle. It’s been a difficult 13 weeks for Michelle being apart from her sons. They’ve not been separated this long since they were born Sept. 10, 2004.
“The whole thing is so overwhelming,” Michelle says. “The day we dropped them off, they said, ‘Don’t cry. We’ll see you in three months.'” Then the letters started coming from the boys about how homesick they were.
The boys were born just minutes apart, becoming the youngest in a family of seven children; they have two older brothers and two older sisters. Griffin, the oldest, came first, followed a minute later by Matthew.
Connor and Matthew are identical and both 5-foot-10. But Griffin, who is fraternal, looks a little different and is slightly shorter at 5-foot-8. Griffin, fellow Marines are quick to point out, bears a resemblance to the actor Jake Gyllenhaal, the star of the 2005 film “Jarhead,” which chronicled the military service of Anthony Swofford in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War.
With their hair cut high and tight and wearing green and tan cammies, the brothers sat shoulder-to-shoulder Tuesday on two foot lockers pushed together in their barracks as they talked about what it’s like to be triplets in the Marine Corps. They looked fit and ready for anything. The white hats, or “covers,” that the newly-minted Marines will wear during the graduation ceremony sat on shelves behind bunk beds made up with drab green blankets.
The process started with learning how to stand at attention on yellow-painted footprints and ended with a rigorous 54-hour training exercise called “The Crucible.” Finishing the Crucible and earning the treasured Corps’ Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem was “the proudest moment of my life,” says Connor. “I was crying like a baby.”
Growing up, the brothers fought and competed. “There’s that sibling rivalry,” Michelle Wehr says.
Boot camp brought them together.
“It was definitely better having them here,” says Matthew. While they did not get to talk much during the grueling physical and mental experience of boot camp, there were opportunities during free time at night.
At the same time, Matthew added, they were the same as any other recruit. “I woke up each day,” he says. “I had to give it my all.”
Connor says he struggled with homesickness, so it was good to have his brothers by his side. “They don’t have families with them like we did,” he says of other recruits.
What might be the most difficult experience is coming up, Matthew says. The brothers will go on separate journeys in the Marine Corps. It will be the first time in their lives that they won’t be together.
“I can definitely say I changed for the better,” says Matthew of boot camp, citing the discipline he gained.
Connor says he thought boot camp would be more difficult than it was. “I thought it was going to be wicked hard,” he says. The hardest part, he says, was adjusting to getting up at 4 a.m. and getting quickly dressed.
Matthew decided to joined the Marine Corps first. He wanted to fight for freedom. “I think the Marine Corps helps make the world a better place, if we need to go to war,” he says.
Griffin decided to join next. He had always thought about joining a branch of the military one day. After Matthew joined, “he got a recruiter to talk to me.”
Connor was third to enlist. At first, he didn’t want to but changed his mind after talking to a recruiter. “Since my two brothers were also joining, I just decided to do it,” he said.
For her part, Michelle Wehr said she was concerned. An older son had served in the Iraq War the entire first year of the triplets’ lives. She admits it got a little “nerve-racking” when Matthew and Griffin committed. She was totally caught off guard when Conner made it three.
“She got upset,” Griffin says of his mother. “She was a mess.”
“I still don’t understand why they all went,” Michelle Wehr says. “How do you have one, two and the third one, and then they’re all gone? It’s really emotional to be honest.”
Still, she is very proud of her sons.
She recalls when the triplets were towheaded little boys with white hair. “They were so cute,” she says.
“We’ve never been separated this long, so it’s definitely hard,” Michelle says. “It will be nice to be able to see them again.”
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