Photos and article by Mary Alice Murphy


Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Dean Bearup of Marine Corps League Gaffney-Oglesby Detachment 1328 served as master of ceremonies at the 242nd Marine Corps Birthday celebration at the Western New Mexico University cafeteria.

WNMU President Joseph Shepard made a brief appearance before he left for Albuquerque.

"Last year, Master Gunnery Sgt. Dean Bearup made me an honorary gunnery sergeant," Shepard said. "So I have studied about how to be a gunnery sergeant. Because I support the troops, I will again provide the meal for you. Enjoy."

The colors were posted by Marines George Morrison Jr, and George Morrison, III.

Bearup introduced those at the front table. To his right were Robert "Doc" Lopez and his wife Danna, and Pam and Commandant Frank Donohue. To his left was his daughter Wendi Farmer, Jessica Claire whose Army husband has recently been deployed to Kuwait and the featured speaker Sgt. Major Stephen Bates, Retired.

The master of ceremonies asked members of each branch of the armed forces to stand, with Army called out, followed by Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Each Marine in the audience was invited to stand one at a time and introduce themselves.

Capt. Robert Schloss of Deming read an essay he created about what it means to him to be a Marine, titled "I Am a Marine."

John Sterle manned the P.O.W.-M.I.A. table as the symbolism of each item was described.

Marine Felipe Ortego y Gasca read the message from Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John A. LeJeune from Nov. 1, 1921.

Donohue read the present Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller's 2017 message.

Sgt. Major Stephen Bates, retired, was the guest of honor and guest speaker.

"It is an honor to be here this evening," Bates said. He laughed about how he ended up being the guest speaker. He called his old friend Bearup and told him he would in in Arizona the days leading up to the Marine Corps Birthday and wondered if he could come to Silver City to celebrate. He hails from Tennessee. Bearup told him he would pick him up. A few minutes later Bearup called him back and said he would pick him up if he would be the featured speaker.

Bates talked about a young Marine he had once had in his unit. "I had 1,800 in my unit, but one stood out. I mentored him and Chris Lovejoy ended up flying for Clinton and Bush and served in 277 combat missions. He became a Lt. Colonel at Beaufort."

Master Sgt. Bearup and Master Sgt. Bates served together. "I was nurtured by two senior Marines. Bearup was my greatest encourager. He fired me. Except he didn't really fire me. My lifelong ambition was to serve on the ground side rather than in avionics, where I was stationed with him. We have to have steadfast courage to go beyond ourselves."

"I'm convinced our country remains in good hands," Bates said. "I pride myself for dedicating 23 years of my life to allow those sports figures to have their free speech. Everyone who goes into the armed forces signs a blank check to offer everything we have, including our lives. It troubles me deeply to see citizens dishonor the flag that represents those who fought for it.

"Freedom must be fought for continuously," he concluded. "It is a challenge to continue to defend our country and to show those who follow us. I have nothing but respect for everyone who has served this great nation."

The cake cutting ceremony honors the oldest Marine and the youngest Marine in the room. The cake was cut by Capt. Schloss with a ceremonial sword, with the first piece being given to the oldest Marine, Leonard Pritikin, 97½, who takes the first bite, then passes it to the youngest Marine, who that evening was Gene VanDran, 22.

A bottle of wine had been placed at each table for the toasts. The invocation at the beginning of the evening and the benediction at the end were presented by Detachment Chaplain Robert Lopez. Everyone joined in the singing of the Marine Hymn.

After the colors were retired, the dance began and lasted until midnight.

Live from Silver City

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