'No Such Thing as an Ex-Marine'


From their debut in America's infancy back in the 18th century to the blistering sands of Iraq, the Marines have earned -- and maintained -- a reputation as the nation's elite and reliable fighting unit wherever put into combat.

Come Nov. 10, the Marines plan to land at McBee's Irish Pub in uptown Beckley to cut the cake in a 236th birthday bash.

Around the globe, the service traditionally marks its birthday, celebrating its 1775 origin with the Second Continental Congress, which, in a Philadelphia gathering, decided that two battalions of Marines be created to act as landing forces for the fleet.

Ever since, the Marines have been wed to the U.S. Navy and have distinguished themselves every time America was thrust into war.

Marines are still looking for a few good men -- and women, in keeping with the times -- and in this region, the recruits are still signing up on a steady basis, said Staff Sgt. Joe Lewis, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Beckley recruiting station.

Lewis covers some 16,000 square miles in a dozen West Virginia counties and three others in Virginia.

"Absolutely, we're the few and the proud," Lewis said Thursday.

"What we're looking for are people who are above average physically, mentally and morally. And probably the main thing, someone's moral character has to be without reproach. If they're just constantly making poor decisions, involved with drugs or on the wrong side of the law, or a failure in school, normally this is no place for them."

In recent years, he said, the Beckley recruiting office hasn't had any difficulty rounding up recruits.

"Not only are we getting the numbers, we're also getting an excellent quality of young men and women," he said.

"Young men and women enlisting out of this region are going to boot camp and doing well in coming back as Marines. They have a strong desire to see self-improvement in this area. They understand if you want to be successful, you need to work for it. We're finding that. We're picking the best."

Marines retain a sense of pride that never leaves them, long after they have put away their dress blues for good, Lewis said.

"Absolutely, there is no such thing as an ex-Marine," he said. "Once a Marine, always a Marine. When people say former Marine, most oftentimes, it refers to someone who formerly served in an active or reserve capacity. I never met anyone who said 'former Marine' and meant it in any disrespectful manner. Definitely a taboo phrase would be 'ex-Marine.' "

The Nov. 10 event begins at 6 p.m. The public is invited.

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