Leathernecks motorcycle club giving donations to veterans
Saturday, February 7, 2009 7:04 PM CST

By Scott Richardson

BLOOMINGTON -- Members of the Black Sheep chapter of the Leathernecks motorcycle club remember two key phrases from their days in the U.S. Marine Corps.

One is “Semper Fidelis,” the Latin motto of the U.S. Marine Corps that means “Always Faithful.” The other is, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

For chapter vice president Cal Snelling, member Todd Fingerle and others in the club, the words mean ongoing service to their comrades-in-arms and their country long after their uniforms are put away.

And you don’t have to be a Marine to benefit when the club goes to work. Today, the Leathernecks and their families will distribute much-needed items to veterans from all branches of the U.S. military receiving treatment at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Danville. The donations, filling several vans, came from club members and area stores that support the effort to let veterans know their service was, and is, appreciated.

Snelling and Fingerle said the importance of their task is underscored each time they visit the facility and see men and women mending from war wounds and a variety of non-combat-related illnesses and disabilities. World War II veterans are aging and dying and have few, if any, visitors. One wears his medal from the World War II battle at Guadalcanal on his shirt. Several are veterans of the current war on terror.

“If veterans aren’t taking care of veterans, then who is going to?” said Fingerle, 54, of Bloomington, who joined the Black Sheep last year.

“They’ve got nothing, or their families never visit,” added Snelling, also of Bloomington, who joined the Leathernecks in 2004. “They enjoy people coming to see them. It cheers them up. A lot of these guys show up with the clothes they came with. They’re stuck in the hospital for who knows how long. We want to be sure they are remembered. We want to make sure they’re not forgotten. We get in there and talk to them, let them talk a bit. We acknowledge we are veterans, too. We are here for you.”

The Leathernecks is an international motorcycle organization. Membership is limited to Marines who retired or who were honorably discharged or who are currently on active duty. Navy corpsmen who were assigned to Marine units are the only exception.

Illinois has four chapters. The Black Sheep, which represents the East Central region of the state, has many members who held aviation-related jobs in the Marines. It’s named after a famous World War II Marine fighter squadron.

Snelling comes from a family with 25 veterans dating to the Spanish-American war, including his son, a Marine. His daughter will soon join the U.S. Navy. He said the statewide chapter started visiting VA hospitals shortly after it formed in 2001. Visits became more frequent as membership grew. The Black Sheep make trips to Danville about every four months. In the meantime, members collect items to give away.

The trips aren’t charity, Fingerle stressed. They are small payments on a huge IOU. A comment made by a graying veteran at the hospital put the effort in a perspective, he said.

“He asked me, ‘Do you know the definition of a veteran?’ I said, ‘Sure, it’s someone who served their country.’ He said, ‘No, it’s someone who wrote the people of the United States a blank check up to and including their life.’ ”

How to help

What: The Black Sheep chapter of the Leathernecks help patients at veterans hospital in Danville.

Things they need: The most popular items are related to personal hygiene and toiletries, including: tooth brushes, toothpaste and denture creme; mouthwash; deodorant and lotions. They also need decaffeinated coffee, new boxer shorts, T-shirts, shirts, stationary kits, playing cards and puzzles, books, Walkmans, batteries and anything else to entertain and pass the time.

Who to contact: Cal Snelling at (309) 828-8167, or e-mail calvinsnelling@yahoo.com

More information: Visit http://www.blacksheep-lmci.com