Eye on San Clemente: Freedom Fighters
San Clemente Times | By Nathan Wright
Painting “Our Marine Family” | By Mary McMenamin
Through nonprofit efforts and public observances, San Clemente bands together to remind people of the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day means different things to different people. For some, it’s a day to remember fallen soldiers, veterans and those currently serving in the United States military. For others it’s a day off from work, a barbeque or a long-weekend getaway. It’s a time of
flags flown from neighborhood porches and of long lines at local grocery stores. However the individual decides to observe Monday’s Memorial Day, Camp Pendleton Chief of Staff Col. Stewart Navarre believes that all should take a moment to consider the significance of the national holiday and everything it represents.
“Each of us should think about what our fellow Americans have done, whether it’s back in Valley Forge, or in the Civil War, or in the World Wars,” says Navarre. “I think we should take some time, step back and consider what America would be like if these folks hadn’t done what needed to be done. Remember those who either merely served or those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve this country against bona fide enemies.”
For those looking to involve themselves in Memorial Day beyond the backyard barbeque, San Clemente is home to both ceremony and support to the nation’s past and present military. A Memorial Day Observance and a Marine Corps Music Fest will be held on Monday to honor and celebrate, and two local nonprofit groups are hard at work providing welcome and support to returning soldiers from the Middle East and to Marines in need of help.
Words of Comfort, Hope & Promise is one of those nonprofits. It’s holding a welcome home party for the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines on June 14 at Camp Pendleton. The party will include a barbeque, entertainment for the Marines and their families, and gifts. “We’re going to have the Surfaris playing ‘Wipeout,’ clowns to entertain the children, and we’re going to give gifts to all the troops, their wives and their children,” says Cynthia Martinez, president and founder of the organization.
Martinez can use all the help she can get. The 2nd Battalion 4th Marines includes 1,200 soldiers who are accompanied by 400 wives and 300 children. The nonprofit is well on its way to planning the event for the 1,900 invited, but Martinez is still looking for gifts and other donations to help make it happen.
Navarre and all those at Camp Pendleton welcome the party warmly. The return from a long deployment is, according to Navarre, “kind of like a family celebrating a birthday. It’s a recognition that the public feels that you are important and we are glad to have you home. Literally this is like having your child come home from college after a year, except the soldiers have been exposed to danger every single day.” While Martinez is preparing her party, another San Clemente resident is raising money to help support injured Marines and their families through financially difficult times.
James Birdsell’s Miles for Marines hopes to raise $100,000 by this Memorial Day, and the funds will be donated to the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, a national charity that provides assistance to Marines injured in combat or training, to families enduring financial burdens from the extended hospitalization, recovery and rehabilitation of an injured Marine, or to affiliated service members injured while supporting the Marines.
“I didn’t know any Marines when I started this project,” says Birdsell. “This is our time to step up and help. Generations prior to us have always done something when military struggles have come up. It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are, it’s more about caring and loving one another.”
Miles for Marines isn’t simply looking for a handout. It provides interested community members with the opportunity to hold their own small charity events. “We recently had an outrigger paddle from Catalina to Dana Point and that raised about $1,000,” says Birdsell. “We’ve had a 5K bike ride from San Clemente to San Diego, and that raised between $1,000 and $2,000. We’ve had a 5K run inPhiladelphia that raised a few thousand dollars.”
By running a personal charity event, Birdsell says, the community is able to take ownership of their contribution to a bigger cause. “This whole project has been an opportunity for people to express themselves in any way they want,” he says. “Instead of just writing a check, once you get involved and step outside of yourself to help others you get a deeper appreciation for what you’re doing.”
No matter what event or cause supported, Navarre is proud of his community for its support of the troops who make Camp Pendleton their home. “ San Clemente has a real commitment to fellow Americans in uniform and in honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,” says Navarre. “This community has always been very welcoming to the young men and women in uniform who have come here. I think San Clemente is a real example to the nation of how we treat others as fellow Americans.”
May 24, 2007