I started my path to become a Marine in 1962 when I signed on to the Platoon Leaders Class program as I entered Fordham College in New York. At Fordham, the Jesuits drilled me on the importance of ethics and integrity. The Marine drill was all about discipline, leadership and, indeed, legacy. Combined, these foundation values set a stage for who I’ve become.
My Marine active duty was from 1966-69 with a tour in Vietnam spanning 1968 and 1969. It was a time I was quite thankful for being part of the best of the best. I often describe my Marine experience akin to getting a master’s degree in personnel management. Learning and practicing leadership was an invaluable exercise. But what was really the greatest take-away in becoming a Marine? I became a lifetime member of a family, the Marine Corps family.
My experience as a Marine gave me an embedded asset. I was a veteran, particularly cherished by others who served. My first job when I left the Marines was with the New York Daily News, the largest newspaper in the U.S. Why? The executive corps throughout the News were veterans who, yes, saw in me valuable leadership experience but, more importantly, as a recently returned Viet vet, they saw in me the need to be supported and appreciated as a veteran. And there was, most definitely, that need. It was a transitional moment for me that set the stage for all my veteran involvements in years to come.
Twenty-five years ago a close friend of mine and a fellow Marine, Harvey Keitel, and I were having a coffee talking about what the Corps really meant to us. The Corps was at the center of our friendship and was our very important common denominator. We both enormously respected and appreciated what our time in the Marines gave us and we wanted the world to know. How could we accomplish that mission? I proposed that we create a USMC birthday gala in New York City, the media capital of the world, to amplify for ALL the importance of the Corps to us, to all Marines and, certainly, to America at large!
That was 25 years ago … no emails, texts or cell phones at our disposal. So I actually picked up a telephone, and called Headquarters Marine Corps and asked for the commandant, Gen. Charles Krulak. My logic, why not? Certainly he was the decision-maker. Headquarters answered and, after being passed around quite a bit, a “strong voice” asked, “Who is this?” I identified myself and he responded, “Well this is General Krulak!!” I launched my pitch about the importance of the Corps, NYC as the mecca of communications and my belief the definitive birthday celebration of the Corps should be in New York … and, on the Intrepid!! I’ll never forget the response. The commandant promptly said, “I agree” and “we’ll do it on the 10th, our birthday!!!!” Every CMC since, along with the Drum & Bugle Corps, has come to NYC for the birthday. Gala beneficiaries have included the Intrepid Museum Foundation, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, Team Rubicon, the Headstrong Project and this year, the Semper Fi & Americas Fund. My co-chairs for the gala now include Team Rubicon’s founder, Jake Wood, and Headstrong’s founder, Zach Iscol.
In 2007 we added a Marine for Life Award to recognize and thank individual Marines who have made a difference in the community post the Corps. Recipients have included Fred Smith, Ron Christ- mas, Ray Kelly, Sandy Alderson, Dick Terikyan, Tommy Lyons, Walter Anderson, Bob Parsons, Kim Foley, Adam Driver, Jim Jones, Peter Fitzpatrick, Chris Perkins, and this year, Rob Riggle. All outstanding Marines.
And even COVID did not slow us down! The pandemic allowed us to take the birthday to another level. Thanks to the Paramount Veterans Network and Viacom/CBS/Paramount’s chief veterans officer, Rich Jones (an Army Ranger who is also Paramount’s general tax counsel!), we now also produce a 75-minute virtual birthday that’s distributed on their PlutoTV platform and promoted on their network stations. While this will be the third year of virtual, we’re also back to a smaller live event on Intrepid with CMC general David Berger as the military guest of honor. The birthday is too important to our family of Marines not to make sure it’s properly celebrated both virtually and live.
One more addition to our gala. Three years ago we created the David Dinkins Vanguard Honor. David Dinkins was a Marine, in fact, a Montford Point Marine, who served as New York City’s mayor (1990-93). Eighty years ago, at the height of World War II, the first Black Marines arrived for basic training at Camp Montford Point, a segregated section of Camp Lejeune. Between 1942 and 1949, 20,000 men trained there. Black and Indigenous men were barred from being recruited into the Marine Corps until 1942 when pressure from Black activists led to President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing an executive order that banned discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government.
This award was created to acknowledge the importance to the Corps of diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2020 the Montford Point Marine Assn. was the first recipient. Last year retired Marine Corps Gen. Charles Bolden, a Viet vet and fighter pilot, Shuttle astronaut (four flights!), and NSA administrator under President Clinton, was the recipient. This year Montel Williams, an enlisted Marine, Naval Academy graduate and a career naval officer, will receive the award.
So that is, indeed, my birthday story and a taste of why the Marine Corps sits on a very special pedestal for me. My wife, Liz, and my kids, Megan and Gavin, have been part of it all. The family values, the ethics and integrity, those important “life value adds” are irreplaceable and components of the culture I absorbed starting in 1963 at Camp Upshur in Quantico.
Thank you, Marine Corps and happy 247th birthday.
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