The historic residence of the Marine Corps commandant on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row is hallowed ground for the nation’s 196,000 active-duty Marines. December is the busiest month of the year because the house is decked out with 15 trees and hundreds of yards of garland. About 2,000 military families and supporters will attend parties and concerts there this holiday season.
“We invite many wounded warriors as well as foundations that help us,” says Bonnie Amos, wife of Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant, or senior officer, of the Marines. “We like to open it up as much as we can and let as many people see it as possible.”
Every top Marine officer except for the first two has lived in the 1806 house, known officially as the Home of the Commandants. Guests are fascinated by its long history. “They want to know everything about this house,” Bonnie Amos says. “It’s a touchstone that captures people’s imagination.”
So it has become a tradition for military spouses to hang wreaths in the windows and weave greenery up the three floors of the grand staircase. The week after Thanksgiving, 20 volunteers from local branches of two organizations, the Marine Officers’ Spouses’ Club and the Marine Aviation Officers’ Spouses’ Club, gathered for the festive job.
“This house is almost like the White House of the Marine Corps,” says Rebecca Fausett of Stafford, whose husband works at Quantico. “It is formal, yet it’s a real home and everyone always feels welcome here.”
Giant tubs of decorations are pulled from storage and ladders are put up to get the job done. Kelly Rupp, a Marine wife who lives at the Navy Yard, supervises the decorations. She created the family tree in the music room, hung with framed photos of Marine families and big silver stars. On the second floor, a tree in the commandant’s study is decorated with aviation-themed ornaments sent by far-flung squadrons. Amos is the first Marine aviator to become the commandant.
One room on the third floor has holiday decorations and a Christmas tree on display all year. Known as the Children’s Christmas Toy Room, it has been turned into a museum of antique dolls, boats and rocking horses collected over the years. A wooden high chair made by John Philip Sousa’s father is one of the special pieces gathered here.
“I love military families’ homes, especially this one,” says Laura Gutzwiller, a volunteer from Hanover, Md. “It’s a journey through their lives, where they have been stationed and trips they have been on.”
The decorations have to last five weeks, until the final holiday event hosted at the commandant’s house, called the Surprise Serenade. It is a reception and concert for 300 people on New Year’s Day.
The Amoses plan on spending the holidays with Marines.
The first holiday the extended Amos family spent at the house required some Santa damage control involving their four young grandchildren. With seven fireplaces in the commandant’s house, how would Santa know which chimney to choose?
“Just to be safe,” Bonnie Amos says, “we put milk and cookies at every single mantel.”