Marines never stop giving

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY,Ga. -- Don't make the mistake of calling Tom Newton a "retired Marine" unless you're tough enough not to wilt under his steely glare as he educates you.

"Marine veteran," Newton corrects, adding just a little extra pressure to his already firm handshake. "There are no retired Marines. ... Once you're a Marine, you're always a Marine."

While those words are applicable to every man or woman who has uttered a heartfelt "semper fi," it's especially true of Marine veterans like Newton, Ernie Elmore and some 80,000 others who are members of the Marine Corps League.

Founded in 1923 by World War I hero Maj. Gen. Cmdt. John A. Lejeune -- yes, that Lejeune -- chartered in 1937 by an act of the 75th U.S. Congress and made official with the signature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Marine Corps League preserves the traditions of and promotes the interests of the USMC.

The League bands together those currently serving in the Corps and Marines -- or Navy corpsmen who have served with a Marine unit -- who have been honorably discharged so that they may, in the words of the League's charter, "effectively promote the ideals of American freedom and democracy."

For veterans like Newton, Elmore and the 70 other members of the local Marine Corps League detachment, involvement in the League is simply a continuation of the service they've already provided as members of the Corps.

"When word gets out about the Marine Corps League, people want to know what we do and why we do it," said Elmore, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts with three Purple Hearts among his collection of medals. "But the League is not about us, it's about those we serve. It's about giving back to the community."

And when Newton, commandant of the local Maj. Lawrence DesJardines Detachment No. 1260, discusses projects the group has gotten involved with in the community, it's plain to see that League members take their community service as seriously as they did their military service.

Some of the local detachment's programs:

-- Marines Helping Marines/Wounded Marine Program: Includes visits, financial support, aid with other needs of injured or ailing veterans;

-- U.S. Marines Youth Physical Fitness Program: Working with and developing a physical fitness program for students, particularly those participating in JROTC programs;

-- Fallen Marine Program: In which comfort and support are offered to the families of Marines upon their death;

-- Marine Corps League activities: Including support for the Young Marines program, issuance of Eagle Scout awards, participation in Marine Corps birthday balls;

-- Community Activities: Collecting toys for the Toys-for-Tots campaign, regular cleanup of the local Riverwalk area, visiting veterans in nursing homes, assisting in Rebuilding Together projects, performing flag-folding ceremonies, taking part in patriotic celebrations, participating in the local Field of Flags ceremony and welcoming home Marines and "citizen Marines" from Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany upon their return from active duty.

"We want to remain active in the community, particularly when it comes to doing things for military folks," said Newton, who served in the Corps from 1971 to 1979 before being discharged from active duty at MCLB-Albany. "The Marine Corps is about service, and the Marine Corps League allows us to continue that service.

"And while regular membership is reserved for active-duty and veteran Marines, Marine reservists and those same groups of Navy corpsmen who served with a Marine unit, we do have associate memberships. To be an associate member, you must be of draft age and have a love for your country and for veterans."

In addition to Newton and Elmore, current DesJardines detachment officers include Senior Vice Commandant Ron Kirstatter, Junior Vice Commandant/Quartermaster Gale Rodgers, Judge Advocate J.J. Krause, Adjutant Jim Rodgers, Paymaster Bob Adams and Sergeant-at-Arms Kelly Fisk.

Kirstatter, Elmore and Newton are also members of the League's honor society, the Military Order of the Devil Dogs. Only 8,000 of the organization's 80,000 members have been selected for Devil Dog membership.

"It's a great group; we fine each other for silly infractions to raise money for children's hospitals," said Elmore, a native of Washington state who became a Baptist minister after serving in the Marines from 1953 to 1977. "But it's an honor to be selected for membership."

In addition to their other service activities, members of the local Marine Corps League detachment also hold regular fundraisers, such as the May 22 yard sale at 1656 Maryland Drive.

"Every penny we collect goes for programs that benefit veterans and youth programs in the area," Newton said.

So, retired Marines? Obviously, there's no such animal.

"Our service continues," Newton said. "I joined the Marine Corps League so I'd have the opportunity to meet and talk with Marines of past generations. And since I joined, I've had a chance to get involved with Marines of just about every generation since World War II.

"It is an honor."

Semper fi, indeed.

(To find out more about the Marine Corps League, call Newton at (229) 446-2209 or Elmore at (229) 886-3017.)