Veterans Day celebrations were held across Santa Barbara this weekend, and while veterans gathered and the public turned out to honor them with parades and speeches, a group gathered Sunday in the back room of the Moby Dick restaurant on Stearns Wharf for a special birthday celebration.
Members of the Santa Barbara chapter of the Marine Corps League and their friends and family celebrated the 244th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. The Continental Marines were created Nov. 10, 1775, even before the nation itself was established.
“Ever since the birth of this great nation and even before, our country was protected and defended by some pretty amazing men and women serving in state militias and then our armed forces,” League member Daryl Skare told the crowd. “They answered the call, many volunteering, many drafted, to put themselves in harm’s way to guard against the forces of evil and to ensure that the values, ideals and principals that this country was founded on were protected and preserved,”
Gatherings like this happened all across the country Sunday, as Marine veterans and their families celebrated and honored the immense legacy of the Marine Corps. Nov. 10 is always a big day for the League, which is active in Santa Barbara year round.
“This one is special because this is our birthday. Pretty much, if you were to go anywhere around the world, wherever there are two <arines together, they celebrate,” said League member Denise Sanchez.
The Marine Corps has a camaraderie, fellowship and brotherhood that she doesn’t see in many organizations, Ms. Sanchez said. That camaraderie was on full display Sunday.
Men and women from all branches of the armed forces, of all ages, some born Santa Barbara and others not, with large families and small, gathered to celebrate each other, comrades who have fallen, and the country that they gave so much to protect.
Veterans at the celebration served in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some came from families with a history of military service, with fathers who fought in World War II and grandchildren who are serving today. Around the room, generations of Marines broke bread together and remembered their commitment to the Corps.
League members honored their fallen comrades with a ceremonial “Missing Man” table. A table was set in the middle of the room, with a Marine Corps cap, an empty place-set, and various symbolic items.
“We call your attention to this small table which occupies a place of dignity and honor. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed services are missing from our ranks. We call them POWs, MIAs, and KIAs. We shall call them comrades and brothers and sisters in arms. They are unable to be with their families and loved ones today, so we join together and offer a humble tribute to them, and bear witness to their continued absence,” said League member Bruce Bennett.
A birthday is not complete without a cake, and the Marine Corps’ is no exception. Every year, the oldest and youngest members of the League take the first two pieces of the birthday cake in a special ceremony. This year the oldest was Sofia “Rusty” Meznarich at 96, and the youngest was Devon Sachey at 39.
Ms. Meznarich was born and raised in Chicago and came to Santa Barbara in 1944 when she was stationed at the Marine base here, right after her 20th birthday. Her husband, her high school boyfriend at the time, had enlisted, and if he could do it, Ms. Meznarich figured she could too.
“I had to have my parents’ OK it because back then you couldn’t get into the Marine Corps until you were 21 for women,” she said.
Ms. Meznarich was in the assembly and repair department at the Santa Barbara Marine base, issuing sheetmetal and tools, and said some of the “temporary” buildings they used can be found today scattered around Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. At the time, her pay was $56 a month, but now she enjoys nice benefits in retirement, she said. She stayed involved with the Marines and various veterans organizations her whole life.
“I’m very patriotic. I sing ‘America the Beautiful’ whenever I’m in the car,” she laughed.
Ms. Meznarich thinks that her patriotism must have come from her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Poland.
“I’ve been thankful since I was a child that my parents met in Chicago, married, and I was a product of their marriage, so I was always very patriotic and thankful that we lived in America, and that patriotism goes on to this day,” Ms. Meznarich told the News-Press.
Ms. Meznarich is proud of the Marines she sees today, like Ms. Sachey, a mother who served for several years in the 2000s and now owns Sachey Consulting, a consulting firm that serves veteran-owned businesses.
The Santa Barbara League chapter also invited Joe Fletcher, a veterans service representative, to share his information, go over changes to Veteran Affairs benefits, and answer questions. The League works year-round to put veterans in touch with people like Mr. Fletcher, providing tremendous practical support as well as camaraderie.
The League is always on the lookout for new members, and invites any Marine Corps veterans in the area to the monthly Marine Corps League meeting from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Veterans Memorial Building, 112 W. Carrillo Blvd. They can also find the League on Instagram at marinecorpsleague_santabarbara.
The League something all Marines can get something out of, said Ms. Sanchez
“I was seeking that camaraderie that I had when I was in the Marines, so I looked up the chapter here, I walked into a meeting, I felt I immediately had 10 new friends,” said Ms. Sanchez.