BALTIMORE — In the winter of 1950, more than 100 Marines from the 11th Combat Engineer Battalion began their march down Fort Avenue in Baltimore. They carried a set of full combat gear, a few personal items, and a sense of the unknown. From Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, they stepped off along the road to the distant railroad tracks where they were sent on their way to fight in the Korean conflict.
Little did they know, some of them would assemble again 63 years later on the same stretch of road they once began their journey together. Even though their original battalion has since been closed down, they make their way to a mecca of sorts, an old firehouse built in 1901. For them it is their little corner of joy, but to others it is known as the Marine Corps League Baltimore Detachment headquarters.
And from this unique headquarters, “Baltimore’s Own” Marine veterans continue to serve their community. They help out their neighbors, wounded warriors, local kids and charities, and each other.
Taking care of their own and keeping faith with all the veterans and their families is one of the things that the detachment is good at, said Donald Rollette, a member of the detachment.
“We are all Marines and we stick together,” said Rollete, an 82-year-old Baltimore native. “You gotta be true to the country first, to Marines second, and family. It’ll all fall in place from there.”
Rollette, along with the other veterans, participates in many parades and memorials in order to honor fallen comrades and remind the rest of the country about the unselfish sacrifices of prior generations.
Every Memorial and Veterans day, he puts on his old khaki uniform from the Korean War era mounts up in his authentic World War II jeep and drives in parades, military shows, and community events. The rest of his fellow leathernecks also take part in a large Korean War memorial service at the Canton Water Park in Baltimore that includes all the military branches and many local war heroes congregating at the 11th hour on the 11th day of 11th month.
They then hold their own ceremony, at a second memorial site that belongs to the detachment, at Latrobe Park, near Fort McHenry.
The memorial provides pride and joy for the detachment says Jack Colleran, the chief-of-staff for the Marine Corps League Detachment 565 and retired sergeant major and Baltimore native.
Their other pride and joy is their headquarters, a previously run-down firehouse they purchased 20 years ago. Today, the renovated grand fire station now serves as a Marine ‘man cave’ for the detachment. The building undergoes constant improvement, like the recent addition of an antique spiral staircase so the three floors are accessible for the members who have hard time climbing ladders.
The first floor is a renovated banquet hall with a custom bar where the Marines display trophies won by their pistol and rifle team. Colleran said the bar is the only thing in the detachment built by an outside company, but members are still very proud of it.
Whenever the league isn’t using the hall room, the veterans either allow the community members to rent the room for personal ceremonies or occasionally hold bingo games.
The members offered other alternatives that would interest the community - and their second floor ‘jewel’ is catching people’s attention.
A 600 square-foot personal museum encompasses most of the second floor and gained the attention of Headquarters Marine Corps, the National Museum of the Marine Corps and others in the community. The free museum is open to the public during the weekends or by appointment.
One of the goals of the detachment is to raise the awareness in the community and gain support for their community programs such as Food for the Needy and Raven’s Roost, Rollette said. Raven’s Roost is a once-a-year food drive supporting the needy during Thanksgiving.
The detachment also interacts with younger members of the community. The league supports a scholarship program at the Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School. They award the three students with highest grades at both the elementary and middle school, and present them a scholarship bond, a gift certificate for school supplies and a plaque declaring them a good student.
“It’s all about setting an example; we talk with them, teach them and educate them so when they grow up they will become productive members of the community,” Rollette said.
The detachment also helps out other combat veterans.
Since the detachment is in proximity to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C, Colleran said that the members help the injured Marines of the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
“The Wounded Warriors noticed that once they left the hospital, the politicians and others stopped taking them out; so the league got involved in that,” Colleran said. “When the Marines go home, we try to notify a particular detachment in that area to look out for their homecoming and see if there are any needs or anything that can help them out.”
The veterans understand that being there for the wounded Marines is important. Last year for example, one of the detachment members found out that a wounded Marine wanted an IPad. The Marine Corps League members purchased the item and members presented it to the Marine at the hospital.
As the elders in the detachment face personal challenges, some require help from their friends.
“We help our own people,” said Colleran. “Just like in the past, we take care of each other in the present and the future.”
To assist those in need, the Marine Corps League joined with others in their community to donate medical equipment such as, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, and toilet seats.
If a Marine passes away, the rest of the detachment performs a funeral service, with military honors. They present the spouse or the next of kin a bible and a flag on the behalf of the United States and the Marine Corps. Many times they will render a 21-rifle salute and offer a cased flag after the ceremony.
Despite being out of the Corps for long time, the Marines still display their hard-charging spirits every single day, responding to the various needs of the community.
“Because that’s what Marines do,” Rollette said.