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Local Marines gather to celebrate, reminisce

On November 10, 1775, the Marine Corps, the newest branch of the United States Armed Forces, was formed. Each November 10th, groups of proud Marines around the world gather to pay homage and honor to both their branch of the service and their country. This year, a group of local Marines gathered at Iron Mountain Inn in Butler to celebrate and reminisce.
The motto of the Marine Corps League is “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Once the title of Marine has been earned, it is kept for life. There are no former Marines or ex-Marines. Their motto, Semper Fidelis, translates to “Always Faithful.” The shortened version of “Semper Fi,” indicating their loyalty and commitment to all Marines, is often used. This brotherhood was evident at this year's birthday party as the newest of Marines mingled with the oldest. “The bond in the Marine Corp is unbelievable, unforgettable,” said Major Roger Pollard. “Every Marine here knows what I'm talking about.”
Bernie Cowan, who will soon turn 88 years ago, was the oldest member at this year's Marine Corp 236th birthday. Hailing from Danforth, Maine, just five minutes from the Canadian border, Cowan joined the Marines in 1942 and served until 1950. “I was with Company F, Second Battalion, 24th Regiment, Fourth Marine Division,” Cowan said proudly. He served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. It was during this time that he met his wife, Beryl, a Navy nurse.
Surrounded by his fellow comrades, Cowan recalled that during the war he was shot at four times, twice in the head, once in the stomach and once in the leg. “I was a squad leader in Uncle Sam's Marine Corp.” He became a demolition expert. “I like to blow things up,” he said with a smile on his face. Cowan lost his entire squad, comprised of 23 men, on his first landing in the Pacific on Marshall Island. He explained that everyone, regardless of their job description, carried a rifle Cowan worked as a glass blower before retiring and eventually settling in Johnson County.
James Reece, 19 years old, and Michael Garland, 17 years old, both Johnson County High School graduates, were the two youngest in attendance at the Marine Corp birthday party. He has already taken his physical and signed his contract with the Marines. He is expected to ship out December 4th for Parris Island, the Marine Corp training location. Reece will serve as an infantryman. Garland has not yet signed his contract and is looking at enlisting for four years. He will be working as a combat engineer. He made his decision years ago to join the service as he sat watching the events of September 11, 2001 unfold when he was in the second grade. “I remember the feeling that went through my mind,” Garland said, “That's what made me decide.”
Steeped in tradition and following Marine Corp tradition, the birthday party began with the introduction of colors, the National Anthem and the Marine Corp prayer. Each year, a message from Major General John A. LeJeune is read, as well as a message from the current commandant, General Amos. The birthday cake is cut with a sword, and true to the Marine Corp tradition, the first piece of cake was given to the oldest Marine present, Bernie Cowan. The second piece of cake was given to the youngest Marine present, James Reece. Retired Commander United States Navy Jim Gee was dressed in full Scottish attire, complete with bagpipes. He played several songs, including “Amazing Grace.” The celebrations continued as the room soon hummed with conversation and laughter as stories were shared among the Marines and their friends.