The Marine Corps League is the only congressionally-chartered United States Marine Corps-related veterans organization in the United States. Its congressional charter was approved by the 75th U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aug, 4, 1937. The league holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code.
The mission of the Marine Corps League is to promote the interest and to preserve traditions of the United States Marine Corps; strengthen the fraternity of Marines and their families; serve Marines, FMF Corpsmen, and FMF Chaplains who wear or who have worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor; and foster the ideals of Americanism and patriotic volunteerism.
The Marine Corps League perpetuates the traditions and spirit of all Marines, Navy FMF corpsmen, and Navy FMF chaplains who proudly wear or who have worn the eagle, globe and anchor of the corps. It takes great pride in crediting as one of its founding members, the World War I hero, Maj. Gen. Commandant John A. Lejeune. It takes equal pride in its federal charter. Since its earliest days, the Marine Corps League has enjoyed the support and encouragement of the active duty and Reserve establishments of the U. S. Marine Corps. Today, the league boasts a membership of more than 60,000.
In 1922, retired Maj. Sidney W. Brewster had a vision in which there appeared thousands of Marines who had seen service with the corps, and as they marched before him in a large parade, he conceived the idea of making his vision a reality. “Once a Marine, always!” was embodied in the thought of “Why not?” from then until February 1923, the vision became an obsession until others with whom Brewster talked also became impressed and they, too, echoed “Why not?”
From 1919-1923, veteran organizations sprang up in all parts of the country and in almost every section enthusiasm for such gatherings became a very vital factor in the community’s life. The Marines were not behind in these matters, and clubs, associations, and groups were formed in keeping with the prevalent feeling of comradeship and good fellowship. They had served and fought together, and now, they met to recount the days of 1917 through 1919 spent in Parris Island, Quantico, France and Germany.
A gathering was convened on Nov. 10, 1922, by Brewster at the Hotel McAlpin in New York City to talk over the problem of making contacts and cementing relationships with other Marine Corps veteran organizations which had been formed in various parts of the country. Others in attendance were First Lt. Paul Howard, retired; First Lt. James Duffy, retired; Second Lt. Frank D’Ipoli, Albert Lages, Milton Solomon, Roy Hagan, Frank Lambert, Miss Ray Sawyer, Mrs. Mae Garner, Webster de S. Smith, Merle McAlister, Rev. J. H. Clifford, and others were present. After lengthy discussion, the major’s vision materialized, and at this meeting, he was elected temporary chairman and Miss Sawyer temporary secretary, and Raymond Wills, temporary treasurer.
A committee was then appointed to lay plans for a national organization and the name of Marine Corps Veterans Association adopted. The titles of officers were then changed to commandant, adjutant, paymaster, etc.
The first national commandant, Maj. Brewster, was elected by acclamation, holding that position until the election of Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune at the second annual convention.
The work of the association was a terrific task, but National Adjutant Ray Sawyer worked almost day and night during those early days to obtain a place for the new organization.
The Marine Corps Veterans Association began to organize posts across the country. The first New York post was organized, unanimously electing Col. George C. Reid as commandant of the first New York post on Dec. 11, 1922. Detachments began to organize in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis, Houston and Pittsburgh. The New York post and the McLemore Detachment are the only remaining detachments of the Marine Corps Veterans Association, predating the Marine Corps League and has been in continuous operation since.
The Marine Corps League was organized at the All-Marine Caucus held at the Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City, from June 3-6, 1923. It was the offspring of the Marine Corps Veterans Association headed by Maj. Sidney W. Brewster, who presided at the caucus.
Marine Corps veterans from many states attended the caucus. Brig. Gen. John A. Lejeune, commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, was unable to be present, but kept informed of the proceedings by telephone. Brig. Gen. James G. Harbord, U.S. Army, who commanded the Second Division, American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.), which included the Fifth Marine Regiment and Sixth Marine Regiment, addressed the closing session and was made an honorary member. At the end of the caucus, the Marine Corps Veterans Association would change its name after a bitter battle on the floor, to the Marine Corps League.
Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune was unanimously elected to the position of national commandant and Maj. Brewster became the first past national Commandant. An amendment to the constitution was also passed at this convention, as follows: “All Past National Commandants shall be members of the Staff for life, with vote, and shall also be life delegates to the National Assembly with vote.”
The Marine Corps League supports various programs to promote and honor the spirit and traditions of the Marines:
• Injured Marines-Marines Helping Marines-Wounded Marines Program: Supports injured Marines in the following, Brooke Army Medical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Naval Hospitals, National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia, Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.
• Marine-4-Life/Injured Marine Support Program: Mentors and provides support for transitioning Marines.
• Youth programs – Young Marines: A youth program emphasizing the core values of the Marine Corps.
• U.S. Marines Youth Physical Fitness Program: For elementary and high school students.
• Boy Scouts of America: One of the largest youth organizations in the United States.
• Scholarship program: Provides academic scholarships to children of Marines and former Marines.
• Toys for Tots: A program of the U.S. Marine Reserve.
• Veterans benefits – Legislative program: Participates in national and state issues which impact the military and veterans programs.
• Veterans Service Officer Program: Assist with claims resulting from active duty service.
• Veterans Affairs Volunteer Service Program: Volunteer assistance in VA hospitals and clinics.
The Marine Corps League is headed by an elected national commandant with 14 elected national staff officers who serve as trustees. The National Board of Trustees coordinates the efforts of 48 department, or state, entities and the activities of community-based detachments located throughout the United States and overseas.
The detachment is the basic unit of the league and usually represents a small geographic area such as a single town or part of a county. There are over 1,000 community-based detachments supporting veterans and their families while being active and involved in the local community. The detachment is used for formal business such as meetings and a coordination point for community service projects. A detachment member is distinguished by a red garrison cap with gold piping.
Marine Corps League Detachment 1437 meets at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at AMVETS Post 102.
For more information, visit www.mclnational.org or call (740) 417-9112.
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at [email protected]