Marines celebrate 237th year

MANCHESTER -- Marines from across Bennington County joined together over the weekend to commemorate the origins of the Corps.

First established as the Continental Marines on Nov. 10, 1775, predating the nation's independence, the U.S. Marine Corps has served in every American armed conflict. The date of the Corps' founding became a reoccurring celebration in 1921 under the direction of the 13th commandant of the Corps, John A. Lejeune, as an annual reminder of that service.

Various traditions on the anniversary date each year at every command post and function include a reading of General Lajeune's birthday message and a cake-cutting ceremony involving the oldest and youngest marine present.

"We all enjoy seeing one another," said 89-year-old Gedeon LaCroix, a lifelong local resident and veteran of World War II who served in the South Pacific.

LaCroix, who helped start the local reunion approximately 20 years ago, said the event paid tribute to those who served and the Corps; a tradition he called "one of the most outstanding military groups" in the nation's history.

Among the approximately three-dozen servicemen in attendance at Garlic John's Restaurant for Saturday's luncheon, veterans of every conflict from WWII to the present conflict in Afghanistan were represented. Restaurant co-owner Frank Shattuck served during Vietnam.

Don Keelan, an organizer Saturday, said the assembled group reflected a lengthy portion of the Marines, "70 years of our history."

The oldest participating Marine was 90-year-old Robert Dombrowski, a veteran of WWII and Vietnam. Both Dombrowski and LaCroix served at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

LaCroix, an intelligence scout in the Marines, said he enlisted after finishing the semester at Middlebury College following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. "I participated in activities at Guadalcanal and Bougainville in the British Solomon Islands" in 1942 and 1943, respectively, he said.

"In 1944, I landed in the first wave on Guam," LaCroix continued. "Thereafter I landed in Iwo Jima, which was the most difficult battle in the history of the Marine Corps. There were two flag raisings on Iwo Jima and I witnessed them both."

LaCroix said he spent roughly 38 months in the South Pacific.

A message read from current Marine Commandant General James F. Amos tied the Corps' service during WWII to current conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. "We carry that same legacy of resolute commitment and valor today" as those who served in the Allied counteroffensive in the South Pacific, Amos wrote. "Now, more than ever, America needs its Marines as we confront a dangerous and unpredictable world. Faced with difficult days ahead, we will continue to draw strength from our rich heritage and ... shared values."

The youngest Marine Saturday, Thomas Chionchio, said he had served two deployments to Afghanistan.

During a roll call of introductions, some participants said they had served in other military branches or had family in the Marines. Peter Macksey, a high school student from Arlington, said he attended because he was thinking about joining after college.

The recent local recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal, Nathaniel Boone of Manchester, had a prior commitment but loaned out the medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, for Saturday's luncheon.

Boone received the recognition during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., earlier this year along with some 200 other Montford Point Marines who were the first African-Americans integrated into the Corps in the 1940s.

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