243rd birthday of Marine Corps observed

HAPPY BIRTHDAY — The local Band of Brothers marked the 243rd birthday of the Marine Corps during a breakfast held Saturday at Zalenski’s in Wintersville, which included, Charlie Green, left, main speaker with comments also given by Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin and Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla. -- Janice Kiaski

WINTERSVILLE — Camaraderie, comments and cake combined to make Nov. 10 the special day that it is to members of the Band of Brothers, a local group of Marine veterans who have made their weekly breakfast gatherings a tradition for more than 16 years.

On Saturday at Zalenski’s in Wintersville, the 243rd birthday of the Marine Corps, established in 1775, was celebrated with approximately 70 in attendance.

While it began as a group of Marine veterans whose service spans from World War II and the Korean War to Vietnam and more recent conflicts, the group expanded to include veterans representing other branches of the military.

That was evident Saturday as veterans stood when their branch of service song played.

Marine veteran Ron Millanti served as master of ceremonies, and Marine veteran Bill Shipe gave the invocation and benediction. Jay Beadling led in the pledge of allegiance.

Len Masci, one of the founding members of the group, read a list of “our departed brothers,” including Howard Clutter, Abe Bryan, Jim McClain and Len Ellis. Like Masci, all were Iwo Jima veterans. Other names read were Jock Dickinson, Paul Thomas, Sal Pate, Jules Sferrella, Don Bradley, Ray Simmons, Russ Hathaway, Fred Rogers, George Glikes, Ken Kromer, John Nichols, Frank Bengier, Nick Drazich and Butch Irwin.

The remembrance included a toast.

Band of Brothers member Charlie Green, who served six years in the Marine Reserves, introduced two special guests — Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, a Vietnam veteran and bronze star recipient, and Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin, whose father, John Cucarese, is a Marine and member of the group.

Abdalla noted that the weekend brought not only the observance of the birth of the Marine Corps but also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.

“Every time I see that flag,” Abdalla said, “I ask God for all those who gave their lives and died in all wars may they rest in peace.”

“I knew my dad was a Marine before I knew anything else about him,” Hanlin said of her father and what is her “greatest source of pride and honor.”

As a child she said she was taught patriotism.

“I see your families with you here today, and it makes me so happy,” she said. “What we see today is that children aren’t born patriotic, they’re taught patriotism, and they are taught patriotism by men and women like you who raise their kids to respect the flag, to respect the United States of America, to respect the rule of law, to respect other veterans and when they see those people to offer their thanks and their gratitude for our ability to live in the greatest country in the world,” Hanlin said.

“Those of us who never served stand in awe of what you did, of what you endured, of what you fought for and above all what you came back and did with your lives afterward. My father was awarded the purple heart in Vietnam. I cried at night wondering what he went through. I know that men like you got him through those days and nights, and I know that he got his brothers through those days and nights as well,” she said.

As the main speaker, Green said there are three holidays he considers sacred — July 4, the day America was born; Memorial Day, set aside to remember and honor those who died to protect the American way of life; and the most sacred, the Marine Corps birthday, Nov. 10. “Only Marines will understand how sacred Nov. 10 is to me,” Green said. “No other American organization leaves such a deep and permanent mark on its members as does the U.S. Marine Corps.” He said only two kinds of people understand the Marines — “other Marines and the enemy.”

The event included 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, Masci, who turned 95 on Monday, and the second piece to the youngest Marine in attendance, Rick Oddi of Burgettstown.

The gesture is symbolic of the elder Marine passing down his knowledge to the younger one.

Also participating was Marine veteran Master Gunnery Sgt. George Wilson.

The retiring of the colors and ceremonial folding of the flag involved Jay Beadling, Bill Harrah and Oddi.

Among those on hand were representatives of the local Tri-State Young Marines, who were having their annual dinner-dance that evening. Comments from the audience were welcomed throughout the event, an opportunity young recruit Shaun Lebbano of Carrollton took advantage of, standing in a show of respect and thanking the veterans for their service.