United States Marine Corps League celebrates 246 years of service
When the United States Marine Corps celebrates a birthday, members of the Santa Barbara area league don’t blow out candles.
Instead, the cake is sliced with a sword, and the first two pieces are given to the youngest and eldest marines.
On Wednesday, the Corps’ 246th birthday, Giancarlo Lopez — a 19-year-old Marine who graduated boot camp in August — and Sofia “Rusty” Meznarich — who served from 1943-1946 — gathered around the first slice of cake at the Santa Barbara Elks Lodge.
It’s a ceremonial gesture, often with the eldest passing the first piece to the youngest, which symbolizes the passing of tradition between generations.
United States Marine Corps League Detachment 024 Santa Barbara, which has enthusiastic members nowadays and celebrated the Corps’ birthday with Wednesday’s luncheon, once struggled years ago.
Marie Mackey and her late husband Francis Mackey helped the league and returned enthusiasm for the organization of Marines.
Ms. Mackey said her husband, a staff sergeant, was very active in the league.
Why did she want to refresh the league? “I just wanted to,” she told the News-Press.
Ms. Mackey was decisive about her decision to join the military, too.
She went to the post office to meet a recruiter for the Navy with intentions to enlist. The man wasn’t there, so she talked to the Marine Corps recruiter.
“The Marine Corps man said, ‘We’re better looking than the rest of them, and our uniforms are better looking too,’ ” she said.
So she signed up for the Marine Corps and served as a secretary to a one-star general in Washington D.C. It was there that she met Mr. Mackey, a basketball player with the Marine Corps.
“My mother was not a happy camper. You know in those days, women just didn’t fly out,” she said.
“But she got over it — especially when I brought my husband home.”
Ms. Mackey, a Santa Barbara native, told her husband (who hailed from New York) when they met that if he intended on marrying her, they’d live in Santa Barbara. He happily obliged.
“He was a good man,” she said.
She served from 1948-1951, including the first two years of the Korean War.
Ms. Mackey is one of four women active in the league. She met Ms. Meznarich, “Rusty,” at the Veterans’ Memorial Building and invited her to grab hamburgers.
Ms. Meznarich joined the Marines in 1943 — just 25 years after the first female marine, Opha May Johnson. She served until 1946.
She was one of 400 women stationed in Santa Barbara. She worked as a storekeeper, issuing sheet metal and tools for the repair of aircraft.
She enlisted because she felt it was her patriotic duty, she said.
“There were 56 young men in my block in Chicago that were drafted into the service. So I decided that a woman has to do a great job at duty too. So I was the only woman in our block and the only Marine,” she said.
Living in California was a dream she held from a young age, and serving made it possible. After she retired, her husband was stationed in Los Angeles, and they eventually moved to Santa Barbara.
Mr. Lopez, a private first class, has known he wanted to serve since he was a kid. His cousins enlisted, and the idea of serving the country interested him.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping people,” he said.
He graduated from Santa Barbara High School in 2020. His senior year, he met the local recruiter for the Marines and eventually enlisted.
Currently, he is assisting recruitment. He likes being a Marine because it’s “full of honor,” he said.
Wednesday’s luncheon was the first meeting he has attended at the local league.
“It’s great to see the tradition and see that we all have the same loyalty and respect for the Marine Corps. Everyone you meet is ‘Semper Fi,’ ‘oorah,’ ‘do or die,’” he said.
He pointed to Ms. Mackey and Ms. Meznarich, saying they served in the Korean War and World War II, respectively.
And the birthday? “It’s another year that we get to continue fighting on, protecting the country,” he said.