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233 YEARS OF SERVICE

A color guard of Marines from Eugene stand at attention as Fred Pate, chief of staff of the Northwest Division of the Marine Corps League, cuts birthday cake. (The Pilot/Marjorie Woodfin).
A color guard of Marines from Eugene stand at attention as Fred Pate, chief of staff of the Northwest Division of the Marine Corps League, cuts birthday cake. (The Pilot/Marjorie Woodfin).

By Marjorie Woodfin

Pilot staff writer

The U.S. Marine Corps never misses an opportunity celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Corps, with a Birthday Ball and a Toys for Tots fundraiser.

This year, on the U.S. Marine Corps' 233rd anniversary, the Brookings Elks Club was again filled with Marines and their friends and guests. All are celebrated as Marines whether on active duty or not because, as they always insist, "Once a Marine, always a Marine."

The Calvin E. Murphy Detachment 578 Marine Corps League of Brookings has not missed a chance to celebrate and donate since the first local Birthday Ball held nine years ago.

Marine Corps personnel from Eugene, who served as greeters, color guard, and cake presenters, included Sgt. Michael Kuenstler, Sgt. Alan Gomez, Sgt. Karl Strong, Sgt. Nick Johnson, and retired 1st Sgts. Chip Killen and Jim Barnett.

Dressed in their uniforms, the young men, accompanied by wives or friends, as well as two small children, set the tone for the evening's celebration.

This 2008 celebration, as always, was joyful and patriotic, with all of the moving ceremonies that are included in a traditional Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

The opening welcome was extended by Commandant Mike Noonan who introduced Past Commandant Dick Tylock to read the POW/MIA Ceremony.

Following the reading, Fred Pate, chief of staff of the Northwest Division of the Marine Corps League, presented roses to those who lost loved ones during this past year: Richard Mahanay in honor of his stepdaughter U.S. Army Pvt2 Jennifer Lynn Cole, who lost her life in Iraq and Dan Thompson in honor of his late wife, Bethany.

The master of ceremonies for the evening was National Vice Commandant for the Northwest Division of the Marine Corps League Bob Gilmore.

The one big surprise is always the presentation of the Legion of Honor Award recognizing special guests for outstanding service to the community, in memory of the four Army Chaplains who gave up their life jackets and their lives in 1943 as the U.S.S. Dorchester went down in the icy waters off the North Atlantic. It is always emphasized that the chaplains who stood on the deck, arm-in-arm, as the ship went under, included two Protestants, one Catholic and one Jew.

Cheers went up as this year's surprise recipients were recognized: David Boshart, Bill Hamilton, and Sam Vitale. Boshart was honored for his long and faithful volunteer support for the Brookings Food Share program; Hamilton was recognized for his long service to the Elks and the Boy Scouts of America; and Vitale, who is president of the Brooking Vietnam Veterans of America 757, was chosen for his outstanding community service. It was noted that all three of the men are members of the Elks Club.

The presentation and cutting of the birthday cake is always special, with the oldest Marine presenting the first bite to the youngest Marine. This year, after Fred Pate, as the senior Marine Corps League officer present, sliced the cake with a ceremonial sword, passed the first piece to the oldest Marine, Alvin Ferry, 84, who in turn presented it to Kuenstler, age, the youngest Marine.

Included among the long list of special guests recognized during the program, were Director of Oregon Veterans Affairs Jim Willis, who was the keynote speaker, Oregon State Rep. Wayne Kreiger, and newly elected Curry County Commissioner Bill Wadell, along with their wives.

Other special awards included a $200 donation to the Brookings Harbor Red Shirts to help with their gift packages for the troops; a National Gold Medal to Alvin Ferry, the highest award from Marine Corps League for 20-plus years of service to the League; and the Air Medal Challenge Coin to Pate to remember his service in World War II.

Exemplifying the generosity of the Marines and a highlight of the birthday celebration is always the Toys for Tots silent auction and fundraiser to bring Christmas joy to the children in this community who might otherwise have no Christmas joy or cheer.

Including the $2,500 donation from the Smith River Rancheria, the ball and auction generated more than $3,500 for Toys for Tots.

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