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Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council banquet ‘There’s something unique about being a Marine’

Area military leaders came together recently for the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council’s 21st annual Salute to the Troops banquet and an evening of camaraderie, military pageantry and some good-natured interservice rivalry. DeSales University hosted the annual event during Armed Forces Week.

Lehigh Valley AARP received Patriot of the Year Award during the event. AARP’s PA State Director Bill Johnston-Walsh was on hand for the award.

The annual event features as its guest speaker each year a representative of one of the armed services. This year it was time for a representative of the U.S. Marines to speak.

Keynote speaker, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Richard Kramlich, a Whitehall HS graduate, Naval Academy graduate and now Allentown resident, focused on what it means to be a Marine and why the Marine Corps is essentially a team player in wartime operations.

First, he thanked his host, LVMAC, because, “What it does is very critical [for the community] and very good to see.” The mission of LVMAC, according to its website, “is to improve the lives of our local military service members, veterans and their families by fostering and coordinating support from businesses, organization, institutions and communities; and by promoting awareness of the military’s role in defending America through educational programs and public events.”

“If you know anything about the Marine Corps, you know that there’s no one that self-promotes to more effect than the Marine Corps does,” Kramlich said, eliciting laughter from a room filled with representatives of other services. “You just have to know that my remarks will be a little parochial here this evening. I’m sure you will take that in stride.

“In all seriousness, while I’m going to be focused on the Marine Corps, that’s not the way the United States goes to war, that’s not the way we fight, that’s not the way we do joint operations. We operate in joint environment and that means we bring the best of each of the services together in a unified manner. This became the law 1987 as a result of the disaster that was the Desert One trying to get the hostages out of Iran. That’s how we fight.

“Anyone who is promoted to general office or flag officer spends five weeks in the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., and they learn how each of the components operates what their capabilities are. So, if they get put a position to command a Joint Command they understand what the Army brings to the fight what the Air Force brings to the fight. During that time, we tour the major bases of the United States and see what the capabilities are from the commanders.

“We go overseas and see the support troops over there. and probably that point is making connections to your fellow officers and other services. I know, personally, when I went to Iraq as a logistician, the friends I made during that capstone time at the National Defense University were the people I ended doing business with [as] general officers. They understood what I was asking for and why I was asking for it. They made it happen even though we wore different uniforms. So that was a very crucial thing.”

Kramlich touched on his childhood and some of the reasons he ended up in the Marines.

“But how did I get immersed in the Marine Corps? I grew up here in the Lehigh Valley in Whitehall, close to the Lehigh River. There were ruins down there. As a 10- or 11-year-old I was down there with my friends from the neighborhood playing combat. And the older guys about two years older than me when we came to a hill or an obstacle or [tried to] do something faster, he would always say, “Be a Marine! Be a Marine!” His father wasn’t in the Marine Corps, so I don’t know where he picked it up, but he had a notion about what it might be to be a Marine.

“In about the late 50s early 60s, my Dad had been in the Navy, so we spent a lot of time watching ‘Victory at Sea.’ He really loved the Navy life, but he didn’t make a career of it. So, I picked up on all this. The ‘Victory at Sea’ [film] was based on the Pacific Theater, the Navy and the Marine Corps and I took an interest in military history. My high school teacher in my senior year was a Marine veteran who landed at Saipan and Iwo Jima. He became such a mentor. He was an excellent teacher. I had an interest in what he was teaching. It was sort of a symbiotic thing.

“When I graduated, I was fortunate enough to get into the Naval Academy. I chose the Marine Corps out of the Naval Academy, and I kept in touch with Mr. [Walt] Ebling. He passed away a few years ago.

“But it was very inspirational to see his feelings about the Marine Corps and to try and encompass that. I could tell that just by the way he felt about being a Marine. What I learned from history, what I learned at the Naval Academy and what I saw in the Marine officers there … I could tell there was something unique about being a Marine, about being in the Marine Corps.

“So, I selected the Marine Corps. My dad thought I was going to be in the Navy and asked what ship I got. I said I didn’t get a ship. ‘What do you mean you didn’t get a ship?’ I joined the Marine Corps.” There was a silence. “So, you’re going to be seagoing bellhop?

“My initiation into the Marine Corps was to go to Quantico to the Basic School. It’s called the Crossroads of the Marine Corps. As soon as you go in the gate there is a replica of the Marine Corps War Memorial Monument. This is a bronze statue of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. So. you go in there and you already sort of feel the mystique of what the Marine Corps is.”

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Richard Kramlich, the keynote speaker for the banquet and Lehigh Valley native son, said, ““In all seriousness, while I’m going to be focused on the Marine Corps, that’s not the way the United States goes to war; that’s not the way we fight; that’s not the way we do joint operations.”
LVMAC board member Douglas Graves congratulates Bethlehem Detachment 284, Marine Corps League member Fred Gould is congratulated for his leadership in greatly improving the Veteran Visitation Program in the Lehigh Valley.
PRESS PHOTOs BY DOUGLAS GRAVESBill Belknap and Cassi Forkin, founders of The Twilight Wish Foundation, receive citations for their leadership in bringing wishes to veterans from LVMAC board member Douglas Graves.