View Full Version : Marines spend Turkey Day with local families

11-23-07, 06:23 AM
Marines spend Turkey Day with local families

By: CRAIG TENBROECK - Staff Writer

In the eyes of Pvt. Caleb Ford, wolfing down thick slices of calorie-rich turkey and gravy-slathered mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner was just another part of his Marine Corps training.

"It's all going to get burned off," said Ford, 18, as he scraped stuffing from his plate at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Encinitas.

Ford said he will be roused early today for a 5-kilometer hike, and he was going to need some extra energy.

More than 750 fresh-faced Marines ---- just weeks out of boot camp and unable to leave town due to their training schedule ---- spent Thanksgiving with local families through a program sponsored by the Armed Services YMCA.

This year, 300 families volunteered as holiday surrogates, organizers said.

"It's so popular that we run out of Marines," said George Brown, the YMCA's executive director.

For many troops, Thursday marked their first holiday away from home.

"This gets them out of the barracks so they don't have to just sit and look at each other," Brown said, as uniformed Marines waited in a Camp Pendleton parking lot for their escorts to arrive Thursday morning.

Asked what about the holiday they were looking forward to, most gave the same answer:

"The chow, sir."

And what were they thankful for?

"Being a Marine."

The first host to pull into the parking lot was middle school Principal Rob Sousa, 41, who left his Menifee home at 6 a.m. with his son Nick, 11, so the family could spend as much time as possible with the troops.

Sousa's itinerary for the day was simple. Put football on the TV, set out some board games, and give the Marines room to decompress.

A homemade dinner was guaranteed to be a step up from the chow hall, Rob Sousa said, before backpedaling a bit: "Not that it's bad. But I bet my wife's cooking is a little better."

Soon, the vehicles were flooding in to pick up Marines two, three, four at a time. There were family sedans, trucks, luxury sports cars, even limousines.

"It's like Adopt-a-Marine for the day," joked Pvt. Alfred Bell, a 19-year-old Kansas resident.

Temecula resident Pat Vesey, 64, earned a cheer from the crowd when he hit the horn on his turquoise 1958 Ford Fairlane, and, instead of a beep, it chimed the Marines' Hymn.

As they waited to depart, some of the Marines were excited. Others looked a bit nervous.

"Jumping in a car, going with some family you've never met, it's kind of weird," said Pvt. Thomas George, 18, who traditionally spends the holiday with family in Oregon. "But after 13 weeks of boot camp, you learn you're going to be doing some stuff that's pretty weird in the Marine Corps."

After leaving base, about 30 Marines spent the day with volunteers at St. Mark Church, chatting, playing games, and watching football.

"It's really the days like this that make everything we go through worth it," said Pvt. Cameron Von Letkemann.

Observing with pride was Phil Shaw, a retired colonel with the Marine Corps flag pinned on his lapel. As he stepped outside, he watched 9-year-old Garrett Clark battling a pair of Marines in a game of pingpong.

Clark turned to Shaw for a little fact checking:

"Is it true that the second you become a Marine you're automatically good at pingpong? Because that's what they're saying."

Contact staff writer Craig TenBroeck at (760) 901-4062 or ctenbroeck@nctimes.com.