ARLINGTON, Va. --
Since the Honorary Marine Program’s inception in 1992, the Marine Corps has awarded the title, Honorary Marine, to individuals in the civilian community who have made extraordinary contributions to the Corps.
“The title of Honorary Marine is different from actual Marine,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Shelato, community relations chief for public affairs, Headquarters Marine Corps. “They’re not receiving a paycheck or housing allowance but a title of respect for doing amazing things for Marines.”
The Marine Corps has awarded the title to 71 individuals ranging from the flag raising on Iwo Jima photographer, Joe Rosenthal, to philanthropist and famous actor, Chuck Norris.
“Everyone knows how difficult it is to become a Marine, so to be called an Honorary Marine is even greater,” said Shelato.
According to Marine Corps Order 5060.19B, only commanding generals, commanding officers, officers-in-charge and retired general officers are authorized to nominate individuals deemed deserving of the title Honorary Marine.
A decision is normally made within 45 days after submission of a nomination package.
“The only approving authority for the program is the commandant of the Marine Corps,” said Shelato. “He has eyes on every single package and makes sure that it’s a good thing for the Marine Corps and the community.”
The order also states the qualifying criteria for nomination.
A terminally ill child who has a unique link to the military or the Corps, an individual who has given extraordinary support to the Corps or deceased individuals whose actions on behalf of the Corps would have merited consideration.
The most recent Honorary Marine, Ike Skelton, former United States Representative for Missouri's 4th congressional district and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was awarded the title Dec. 1, 2010.
Skelton is the first U.S. congressman to be awarded the Honorary Marine title.
“It was a thrill of a lifetime receiving this award,” said Skelton. “Knowing Marines and the type of people they are, it’s as special as it comes.”
Skelton’s appreciation for the military was made apparent throughout his time in congress.
“He has made a life-time commitment to the armed services, the people who serve and their families,” according to a recommendation letter from the commandant of the Marine Corps. “Skelton is, in many ways, the father of the modern Professional Military Education system.”
The Professional Military Education system prepares military officers for leadership. It includes various basic level courses for junior officers, command and staff colleges for mid-level officers, and war colleges for senior officers. Skelton helped improve and evolve and the system, including emphasizing education in modern day strategy and joint matters.
For individuals who have supported the Marine Corps through extraordinary service as Skelton has, the Honorary Marine Program is the Corps’ way of thanking them.
“It makes the recipient extremely proud to be associated with America’s Marines,” said Skelton. “It’s difficult to describe it adequately because it is such an honor and it comes to very few people.”