November 10, 2005 marked the Marine Corps’ 230th birthday. Marines here celebrated with Chicagoland Marine Week Nov. 6 - 13.
The celebratory week was designed to unite the Marine community—past and present—in Chicagoland—and spotlight the Corps in area communities.
“We just built on a great idea,” said Sgt. Kimberly Leone, event coordinator and Recruiting Station Chicago's Marketing and Public Affairs Representative. “And it was a huge success from the perspective of community awareness. We had more than 60 communities including three counties and the state of Illinois officially proclaim Marine Week.”
Area Marine veterans, Marine reservists, and Marine recruiters supported the official proclamation ceremonies at council and board meetings in their areas of responsibility. According to Leone, this is an excellent way to open doors for the Corps to community influencers and assets.
“Because of Marine Week, more recruiters have had the opportunity to meet, face-to-face, some of the decision makers in the communities where they recruit,” Leone said. “The whole week serves to remind our communities that the Corps and her Marines are still here and serving proudly.”
Marine Week kicked off Sunday, Nov. 6, with the Heroes’ Ride and Heroes’ Rally. Local businesses and area motorcycle clubs united for this motorcycle ride from the northwest suburbs through Chicago and out to the southside of the city. More than 200 motorcyclists braved a cold, windy Chicago morning to celebrate the Corps’ birthday to generate support for Wounded Heroes, a non-profit organization for veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The ride was a huge success especially for the first time out,” said Tom Maloney, president and founder, American Firefighters Motorcycle Club and Association and lead organizer of the Heroes’ Ride.
Maloney responded to an e-mail from Leone asking for assistance and guidance from “every Chicagoland motorcycle club whose e-mail address I found on the Internet.” Along with numerous Marine Corps Leaguers, Marine reservists, and Key Volunteers, Maloney helped make Marine Week a reality, Leone said.
“Without all the volunteers and incredible support from the veteran community, Marine Week is little more than a great idea and a piece of paper,” Leone said.
No sooner had they cleaned up from the rally, they rolled into Monday and a birthday commemoration at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. The commemoration featured Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, along with representatives from Cook County and the city of Chicago.
“We need to make sure that every week is Marine Week,” said Quinn. “The United States Marines have been there for us as a nation for 230 years. The Marines are fighting for our democracy and our freedoms. I am proud of the service that each and every Marine from our state is demonstrating day in and day out.”
Eileen Byrne, a local radio newscaster, emceed the well-attended commemoration ceremony that garnered television and radio coverage. Byrne also interviewed Leone on her daily radio broadcast on Tuesday to publicize Marine Week activities and say “Happy Birthday” to the Corps. The USO troupe provided all ceremonial music.
“While the commemoration ceremony is short and sweet, it has a lot of moving parts and involves many VIP and protocol issues,” said Leone. “The reserve units, the USO, and the government offices working through the Marine veteran community came through in a big way getting the proclamations and bringing out support from folks like the lieutenant governor.”
On Tuesday, active, reserve and veteran Marines went to area middle schools and high schools to give presentations about their military experiences in the Corps or on the history of the Corps.
On Wednesday, Chicagoland’s Marines stuck to tradition. The tradition of “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” was displayed as veterans, reservists, and active-duty members visited medical facilities and retirement homes to present formal cake-cutting ceremonies for Marine veterans.
“It was great to see the smiles on the faces of the older Marines,” said Sgt. Hugo Gonzalez, after driving the District’s Event Marketing Vehicle to the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration hospital in Chicago to participate in a cake-cutting ceremony. “It’s important that we take the time to let them (veterans) know they are truly still a part of the Corps.”
Thursday, the MCCC hosted the first Chicagoland Marine Corps Birthday Breakfast at the Union League Club of Chicago. The event attracted more than 160 attendees and featured guest of honor, Lt. Col. Mark Smith, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion 24th Marine Regiment when the unit deployed to Iraq last year. Smith presented a Bronze Star Medal with combat device to Sgt. Ramon Bejarano, who earned the award while serving with a Lejeune-based unit.
Following the breakfast, the United States Postal Service unveiled the new Marine Corps stamps featuring four heroes from the pages of Marine history. Marine reserve units provided representation and a color guard.
Friday, the city of Chicago dedicated the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in front of a crowd of more than 1,000. Maj. Lance Jackola, RS Chicago commanding officer, was in the ceremony, which featured a Marine color guard and Vietnam veterans from every service branch.
Saturday, the Marines from Lake County, Ill., invited everyone to attend the Tom Grosvenor Memorial Marine Corps Birthday Toys for Tots Breakfast. The event attracts more than 200 attendees and typically collects more than 1,000 toys and more than $5,000 for the Toys for Tots program.
“And on Sunday, we slept,” Leone said, laughing.