Jim Lehrer, in effect, brought the PBS NewsHour to Naples on March 17. With a lot of green showing in the audience, it could have been in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, but the occasion was the sixth annual Honor the Free Press Day program sponsored by the E. T. Brisson Detachment of the Marine Corps League of Naples and Mr. Lehrer, a retired Marine Corps Captain, was the 2010 honoree.
The overflow audience which jammed the ballroom at the Naples Hilton saw a parade of heroes including Medal of Honor recipient Major General James Livingston and veterans of every war dating back to World War II. In fact, when all members of the audience who had served in our armed forces were asked to stand, it appeared that a large majority were on their feet.
But the Marines took front and center. In addition to Lehrer and Livingston, other notables from The Corps included Major General (Ret.) Mike Coyne who lives in Naples; Brigadier General Gary Brown from St. Petersburg; and Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s pizza and Ave Maria University, who is chancellor of Ave Maria University where the athletic teams are known as the Gyrenes and where Lehrer previously had been honored.
Another Marine, Bob Kemp, commandant of the Marine Corps League of Naples, joined this group at the Head Table and welcomed the audience to the event.
The Master of Ceremonies was the League’s Public Information Officer Mike Trephan who has been the driving force behind these programs. He also is a member of the Naples Press Club which was well represented in the audience.
Trephan called on Press Club President (and Colllier County Commissioner) Donna Fiala who expressed her appreciation for the event in honoring the free press and its importance to our democratic system. She and other speakers joined in stressing the role of a free press as guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.
But the speaker the audience waited for was Jim Lehrer who did not disappoint in his appreciation and acceptance of the Award.
He recognized the “coming together of two of my favorite institutions, the Marine Corps and the free press.”
He told of his family’s long tradition of involvement in the Marines including his father who enlisted in the Marines in 1928 and a brother who became a chaplain and officially a member of the Navy.
“And it was as a Marine that I became involved with the press as publisher of The Boot when I was stationed at Parris Island.”
He mentioned the NewsHour’s continued listing of the casualties sustained in our current war in the Middle East.
“These are individuals who gave their lives for our Country.”
He also saluted the “practitioners who had to learn how to implement freedom of the press” and mentioned “the new technology which makes it possible to hear from all voices. There is no way to control the flow of information.”
In closing he stressed that “we must all remember that in the beginning there is always a story and always a fact there and we must support all of those who get that first story.”
But perhaps his strongest statement came when he declared “I am still a United States Marine and will be one until I die.”