Michael Boyd's conversation is sprinkled with "ma'ams" and "sirs." His posture is flawless, his demeanor so no-nonsense it's disarming. It's the kind of discipline you don't often see in a teen-ager.
That military bearing has helped make Mr. Boyd and five fellow members of the Young Marines of Baltimore an award-winning color guard unit. Come Wednesday, during the 1993 Inaugural Parade in Washington, they'll get to show off their ceremonial style for President Bill Clinton and the nation.
"We're kind of nervous because the whole world will be watching us," said Mr. Boyd, who at 18 is the oldest member of the unit and the one who barks marching commands to the others.
"Everyone will see who we are and what we are all about."
The six teen-agers who make up the Baltimore Young Marines' color guard will join their sponsor veterans group, the Montford Point Marine Association, in the parade lineup.
Baltimore's color guard has won first place in two national competitions and has twice taken the Director's Award in the "I Am An American Day Parade" in East Baltimore. The guard also has won recognition from the Marine Corps, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the city of Baltimore -- flattering stuff for a group of teen-agers that formed less than five years ago.
But nothing quite matches the honor of parading before the president.
"Ma'am, I never thought I'd be marching in anything like this. This is such an important event, ma'am," said Mr. Boyd, who prefers to go by Gunnery Sergeant Boyd, as the other Young Marines call him.
The senior at Forest Park High School is one of 70 youngsters in the Baltimore chapter of the Young Marines, a national group that teaches youths military drill maneuvers while encouraging courtesy, discipline and academic excellence.
A half-dozen of the local drill team's best make up the color guard.
As senior member of the color guard, Mr. Boyd will carry the American flag. Others in the group of four females and two males will carry the Montford Point, Marine Corps and MIA-POW flags.
Wednesday, the color guard will wear Marine Corps camouflage uniforms with black boots and white accessories. Marching right behind them in civilian blue and gray will be about 50 members of their parent group.
The Montford Point Marine Association was formed in 1967, on the 25th anniversary of the acceptance of the first blacks into the Marine Corps during World War II.
Fifty years later, the group has 24 chapters nationwide, with 2,000 black ex-Marines as members. At least one member of every chapter will march Wednesday, said Jerome Milburn, the association's national president and head of the Baltimore chapter.
Mr. Milburn wrote a letter to the Presidential Inaugural Committee about the association's history, securing the group a role in the parade.
"We were looking for entrants that matched our underlying theme: 'An American Reunion: New Beginnings, Renewed Hope,' " said Sally Aman, spokeswoman for the parade committee.
"Montford was established in memory of a very important group in this country. And they represent an important service to one's country.
"Basically, we looked for three things: talent, originality and diversity. Plus, we wanted to get at least one entry from each state."
They got two from Maryland. Two official marching units, that is. A third selection -- a donkey named Chester who lives on a couple of acres in Potomac -- also has been worked into the lineup.
The other marching unit from Maryland represents the Dewey Loman Post of the American Legion in Baltimore County. Calling themselves the Original 27 Flags, the Legionnaires carry one of every flag that ever officially represented the United States, beginning with the one whose 13 stars represented the 13 Colonies.
"We'll probably have close to 40 people in this parade," said Johnny Thompson, chairman of the Original 27 Flags unit and past commander of Post 109, which draws most of its 1,600 members from the Catonsville-Arbutus area. "Everyone wants to be in it," he said.
This will mark Mr. Thompson's first inaugural parade, but others in Post 109 marched on Jimmy Carter's Inauguration Day in 1977, the only other time the flags have paraded for presidential review.
Ms. Aman said the flag unit was chosen because it is "truly one of a kind."
"It makes a nice visual of the progression of this country," she said.
Because the Legionnaires march in a dozen or more parades a year, Mr. Thompson said, they aren't too concerned about getting in practice time in the few hours before they strut for Mr. Clinton.
"We don't really need that much practice. We don't do anything fancy," he said. "The most difficult thing we do are left turns."
Maryland will also be represented by eight of the 54 Special Olympics athletes who are to be in the parade escorted by celebrities.