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Four boyhood friends -- all now Marines -- reunite for holidays

HARWICH PORT, Mass. — Dan Ross has known since he was 4 years old that he wanted to be a Marine.

He wore camouflage, dressed up as a Marine for Halloween and made a foxhole in the backyard, said his sisters, Ally Ross, 23, and Beth Ross, 20, of Harwich.

Fifteen years later, Dan Ross' lifelong dream has come true.

In June, Dan Ross and three of his closest friends graduated from high school and then, one by one, left for Marine Corps boot camp, reuniting just this week after coming home to Harwich for the holidays.

Pvt. Justus Dings, 18, Pfc. Chris Oliver, 18, Pfc. Dan Ross, 19, and Pfc. Zach Simkins, 19, all of Harwich, met up Sunday afternoon at Bonatt's Bakery on Route 28 to join friends and family for a buffet-style dinner and a homemade cake before they start new journeys in the military.

"They're really good kids," said Alice Bonatt, the grandmother of Dan Ross and the owner of the bakery. "And now they're men."

Wearing their Marine Corps blue dress uniforms, the boot camp graduates dutifully posed for multiple pictures with proud parents and followed orders when someone said, "Don't move, boys," as photos were snapped.

"I'm real proud of him," said Mike Ross, Dan's father. "He actually pursued (his dream)."

Ross graduated from Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in June and left for boot camp on June 17.

After graduating in September, he started training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina.

"The brotherhood is like nothing you'll ever experience in civilian life," said Ross, who will resume military police training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri after the holiday break.

Then, he'll be stationed at a base either in California or Okinawa.

Like Ross, the other men don't know exactly where they'll end up in the new year.

"Wherever the Marine Corps needs me to go, I'll go," said Simkins, who will be given his orders in the next week or so after he finishes infantry training at Camp Geiger.

"I really couldn't see myself going to college, sitting behind a desk," he said.

Oliver will also finish infantry training at Camp Geiger soon and be sent out on duty.

"It was something I've always wanted to do," Oliver said. "I couldn't be happier."

Dings, who joined the Marines when he was 17 with the help of his mother's signature, said he was a little hesitant before he left for boot camp in September, but he has no regrets.

"It's the worth the hard work," Dings said. "It's like joining a brotherhood."

Dings leaves Jan. 6 for combat training before heading to Pensacola, Fla., for several months of aviation school.

"I always assumed he'd go to college," said his mom, Wendi Dings. Though she doubted her son's decision at first, she said she realized she needed to let him go.

"I respect him being his own person," Wendi Dings said.

As Justus Dings held his nephew, 4-year-old Kobe Smith, his sister, Jasmine Smith, 24, looked on.

"He's changed a lot," she said.

"He's more polite, and he's physically changed, but he's still the same brother."

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