SYRACUSE, N.Y. --
Shouts of laughter echo against the walls of the old post as stories of service flow from the dozens in attendance while they sit, sipping on cups of hot coffee and reminiscing about the good old days when they were on active duty.
For members of the Syracuse Marine Corps League Detachment, this is just another average meeting where they lose their inhibition and slip back into their old selves, retelling the tales from decades past. By being a member of the Marine Corps League, these men say the Corps’ motto Semper Fidelis lives on in their hearts and through their actions.
“The best thing that I like about the Marine Corps League is that it gives you the opportunity to serve after you take off the uniform,” said Angelo Procopio, commandant of the Syracuse Marine Corps League Detachment. “We all continue to act and treat each other as Marines. It truly is a brotherhood.”
Procopio, who served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967 as a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, and has been a member of the Marine Corps League for the past 25 years, also said the organization “truly embodies the saying once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Founded in June 1923 by the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune, the Marine Corps League’s purpose is to preserve the Corps’ traditions and promote its interests. It was established during a reunion of Marines who served together in World War I. Today, the league boasts more than 900 detachments, 61,000 members throughout the world and is one of the few veterans organizations that increases in membership each year, according to the Marine Corps League’s national headquarters Web sitewww.mcleague.com.
“We don’t care whether you served in combat or not,” said Nick Zingaro, an 82-year-old member of the Syracuse Marine Corps League Detachment.” As long as you were honorably discharged you’re welcome to join.”
Zingaro, who served with the 4th Marine Regiment as a machine gunner on Iwo Jima during World War II, is trying to recruit today’s Marines to carry on the league’s legacy, because his generation is a dying breed.
“There aren’t too many of us World War II vets left,” said Zingaro, who spent 33 years on active duty and retired in 1980 as a sergeant major. “But I’m going to keep attending league meetings until I’m no longer able to get out of the house.”
While the majority of the Syracuse detachment’s 160 members are Vietnam, Korea and World War II veterans, a few Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are starting to sign up as well.
“I was a late bloomer when it came to joining,” said Jeff Marani, jr. vice commandant for the Syracuse Marine Corps League Detachment. “I knew everyone because I was the liaison between the league the and reserve center, but I just never got around to it until I moved about a block from where they held their meetings.”
Marani, who served in the first Gulf War and completed another tour in Iraq last year, also said he’s the youngest person who attends the monthly meetings.
“I think they’re starting to see the value in it, just as we Vietnam veterans did after the war,” said Procopio. “At our Marine Corps ball this year, there were 80 active duty or reserve Marines who attended. Some of them were about to deploy so they asked a lot of us questions about what to expect in combat. Others had just returned from the Middle East and they wanted to know how we dealt with our emotions after coming back to the states.”
Another reason Zingaro said many Marine veterans join the league is because it helps them keep in touch with individuals they served with. Zingaro has personally bumped into several Marines he knew while he was on active duty due to his ties to the Marine Corps League.
“Just the other day I ran into a Marine Corps League member from another detachment who said I signed his enlistment papers,” explained Zingaro. “There are numerous events year-round like our annual convention that bring different together detachments from all over the U.S.”
But the Marine Corps League isn’t just about keeping ties with old friends. Members are also involved with numerous community programs like the Boy Scouts of America, Toys For Tots and several other organizations that aid injured Marines after they return from combat.
“We’re here to help Marines if they need it; that’s our general purpose,” said Ernie Lombardo, a Marine Corps League member and the deputy north central area vice commandant. “One example that comes to mind right away is back during the first Gulf War, we heard about a Marine that was having some pay problems while he was deployed and his wife couldn’t pay the bills. So we gave them a no-interest loan to be paid back after he returned.”
Aside from the organization’s involvement in community service, the Marine Corps League also sponsors several scholarships for high school students and former Marines.
“Helping people is the most rewarding part to being a member of the Marine Corps League,” said Lombardo, who served in Korea from 1952 to 1953 as a radio operator and became permanently blind in 2000. “That’s one of the main reasons why I’m still an active member after all of these years.”
The Marine Corps League is the only federally chartered Marine Corps-related veteran organization in the country, according to the Marine Corps League’s national headquarters Web site. The 75th U.S. Congress approved its charter, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed on August 4, 1937. The league is also run by a national commandant and 14 national staff officers who serve as trustees. Each person is elected to office.
To qualify for membership, an individual must have served in the Marine Corps on active duty for at least 90 days or earned 90 retirement credit points in the Marine reserves. Navy Corpsmen who have trained and served with a Fleet Marine Force unit for 90 days or earned the warfare device are also eligible. Individuals who do not meet these requirements are not qualified to join as regular members; however, they may be accepted as associate members.
For more information on the Marine Corps League or to find a detachment in your area, visitwww.mcleague.com.