Four years ago Joe and Linda Mealey approached Marco Brewery owners Frank and Lynette LaCava to see if they would be interested in putting together a little party to celebrate the Marines 236th birthday.

The LaCavas thought it was a great idea and so did Jamie and Shawn Shea. The Marine birthday celebration has grown every year. What started with four Marines has grown to be quite a Marine birthday celebration, with veterans from the Korean conflict, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan on hand.

Tuesday, Nov. 10, marked the 240th Marine birthday celebration, with Marine veterans numbering about 70 celebrating at the Brewery in Town Center.

Joe and Linda Mealey decorate the Brewery and provide the Marine birthday cake, raffle baskets and favors. The festive party included pizza, chicken and fish donated by the Brewery owners. Eighteen baskets raffled off.

Jack Stringer, at age 83, was the oldest Marine at the party. He was in the eighth grade in Moweaqua, Ill., at the end of World War II. Stringer remembers being mad that he was too young to fight for his country.

“All the young boys were very patriotic,” said Stringer.

Ted Kline spent 28 years in the Air Force but wanted to come celebrate with Joe Mealey, his Marine buddy.

Ted and Bob Warren were the first arrivals along with Lil John Reichenberg, who came last year. Lil John wears a special hat covered with swords and pins and a leather vest showing the outfits he was part of in Vietnam.

“I wear it for the guys I lost,” Lil John said as his eyes welled up. “You never forget.”

Marine vets Andy and Brittney Lazo brought their daughter, Coraline. Both are former Marines living on Marco. Brittney is a utility engineer and Andy works for the Department of Defense as squadron commander, contracting aircraft units.

“We do surveillance in Afghanistan, so I’m out of the military, but not totally out of the military,” said Lazo, who works as a civilian contractor.

Pat Raney’s husband, Tom, passed away four years ago, but she wanted to honor him by coming to the Marine celebration. Pat wore her husband’s 1954 induction card pinned to her shirt.

“This is what keeps the Marine Corps alive,” said Joe Mealey, proudly introducing ROTC 11th grade Lely student Ulises Sanchez Alpha Company 1st Sergeant to the different groups at the party. Sanchez plans to join the Marines when he graduates.

Chaplain Mike Stapleton gave the prayer. Marine veteran Preston Stiner read the birthday message from the 13th commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. John Lejeune, written in 1921, which is read at all Marine birthday celebrations around the country. Stiner cut the cake with his Mameluke Marine sword. Jason Cooper, 30, was the youngest former Marine at the party.

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