Marine Corps 242nd birthday celebrated by Band of Brothers

BIRTHDAY NO. 242 — The 242nd birthday of the Marine Corps was marked Friday by members of the Band of Brothers during their annual observance at Zalenski’s in Wintersville. On hand for the occasion were, from left, special guests Gold Star parents Tim and Adriana Rock of Toronto, whose son, Marine Sgt. Nathaniel S. Rock, died 12 years ago while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom; Rick Oddi of Burgettstown, youngest Marine in attendance; Marine veteran Bill Shipe, master of ceremonies; and Len Masci of Wintersville, oldest Marine in attendance. -- Janice Kiaski

BIRTHDAY NO. 242 — The 242nd birthday of the Marine Corps was marked Friday by members of the Band of Brothers during their annual observance at Zalenski’s in Wintersville. On hand for the occasion were, from left, special guests Gold Star parents Tim and Adriana Rock of Toronto, whose son, Marine Sgt. Nathaniel S. Rock, died 12 years ago while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom; Rick Oddi of Burgettstown, youngest Marine in attendance; Marine veteran Bill Shipe, master of ceremonies; and Len Masci of Wintersville, oldest Marine in attendance. -- Janice Kiaski

WINTERSVILLE — There were no presents to unwrap and a cake likely too small to accommodate so many candles, but the 242nd birthday of the Marine Corps was celebrated just the same by a group of veterans and guests Friday.

They gathered for breakfast and a brief ceremony at Zalenski’s Restaurant, the site of weekly get-togethers for the Band of Brothers who are “always faithful” to mark the Nov. 10 birthday of the Marine Corps established in 1775.

Marine veteran Bill Shipe served as master of ceremonies at the event that included a toast and the ceremonial cutting of the birthday cake decorated with the Marine emblem and logo Semper Fi, meaning “Always Faithful.”

True to tradition, the first piece of cake is presented to the oldest veteran in attendance, Len Masci of Wintersville, who turns 94 on Sunday, and the second piece to the youngest Marine in attendance, Rick Oddi, 56, of Burgettstown. The gesture is symbolic of the elder Marine passing down his knowledge to the younger one.

Masci served from 1942-45 during World War II, a survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima. He is one of the original founders of the Band of Brothers. Oddi served from 1980 to 2010, including two deployments to Iraq.

The “great camaraderie” of the group is what Masci said he appreciates. “You can never meet a Marine who is a stranger.”

Oddi stands in awe of his elders. “It means a lot (to be here) because these guys all served in an era of which, although we read about it, most of us aren’t familiar with,” he said.

Band of Brothers member Charlie Green, who served six years in the Marine Reserves, introduced two special guests — Gold Star parents Tim and Adriana Rock of Toronto. Their son, Marine Sgt. Nathaniel S. Rock, was killed in Iraq on Aug. 1, 2005. He was 26.

“If you had someone in your family in the service from that household, you would hang a little flag with a blue star in the window,” Green explained of the origin of the Gold Star designation. “As long as that star remained blue, that person who was serving was safe, but when that star was changed to gold, that person had given their life in the defense of their country,” he added in introducing the couple he identified as good friends from a community that might be “one of the most patriotic little cities in the Ohio Valley,” given it is home to the first World War I monument.

“I told Tim many times I could only imagine what you went through sacrificing your son. I don’t think I could do it. Nathan had one of the biggest funerals I had ever seen, and they named part of Route 7 after him,” Green said.

“He was a Marine sniper, and there were 20 from his group killed that week in Iraq by enemy sniper or snipers. When I went to the funeral home, when Nathan was laid out, I got so choked up I couldn’t talk,” an emotional Green noted afterward.

In casual conversation later, Shipe told the Rocks how his mother had to sign a release for him to join the Marines, an admission that resonated with the Toronto couple.

“That’s what we did with Nate,” Tim Rock said. “He was a senior in high school,” Adriana noted.

“He was always in some sort of military garb. He just loved it,” Tim said, referring to pictures from childhood.

Nathan served with the 3/25 Weapons Unit of the Brook Park Reserve Unit — Cleveland and the Regimental Combat Team 2 — Second Marine Division — II Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq. He also had served six years previously in the Marine Corps before joining the Marine Corps Reserves, according to his obituary.

“He was in the Marines for eight years — six years in the regular Marines,” Adriana said. “He got out and said, ‘Mom, I can’t stand seeing my buddies getting killed on the news,’ and he went and joined a reserve unit that he knew was going to be deployed,” she said.

Shipe noted he could relate, sharing how his brother, Robert Norman Shipe, had spent all of World War II in England; and unscathed. He returned home, attended school, got married and because of a need for instructors was summoned to serve in the Korean War. He was killed in 1951.

Asked why it was important to attend the Marine Corps birthday observance, Tim Rock responded, “It’s just respect — all these guys went through hell.”

“And Nathan loved what he was doing,” Adriana added.

Organized more than 16 years ago for camaraderie and support, the Band of Brothers began as a group of Marine veterans whose service spans from World War II and the Korean War to Vietnam and more recent conflicts. Through the years, however, veterans representing other branches of the military attend the weekly breakfast meetings.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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