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NORTH KINGSTOWN â€“ Warren Becker, who will turn 85 in a few weeks, is quick to point out thereâ€™s no such thing as an ex-Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine is the byword of this proud military branch.
In World War II, he explains, â€śI was a seagoing Marine, attached to Navy cruisers. I went to South America and around Cape Horn into the Pacific but not the actual war zone.â€ť
Itâ€™s easy to spot his tidy home in Duck Cove Condominiums by the enormous Marine Corps flag flying next to the garage door. Itâ€™s only a hint of what goes on with Warrenâ€™s organization, the Marine Corps League, South County Detachment, and its charitable work. The league is the countryâ€™s only official organization for veteran Marines.
There are four detachments in Rhode Island: Providence, Kent, Newport and South County.
With only a single fundraiser each year â€“ a dinner-dance and raffle in October â€“ the League has raised nearly $48,000 for community service organizations over the last 17 years. Warren says proceeds have benefited the North Kingstown Food Pantry, Toys for Tots, the Johnny Cake Center in Peace Dale, Bayside Family Health, Thundermist Health Center, Habitat for Humanity, the Womenâ€™s Resource Center and the Veterans Home in Bristol.
â€śI operate the North Kingstown part of it,â€ť he explains. â€śWe have very capable people in Wakefield and Narragansettâ€ť who coordinate the effort in those towns.
There are about 50 members of the Leagueâ€™s South County Detachment with only 12-15 who are active. Attrition, says Warren, has become a concern. â€śWe used to have many members but now there are so few of us left. The veterans of World War II and Korea are dying off fast and thereâ€™s hardly anyone new coming into it.â€ť
His group meets in Wakefield once a month and will soon switch from dinner meetings to lunch because the elderly members no longer want to drive at night. Meetings are where itâ€™s decided which charities will receive funds.
â€śWe get right down to business,â€ť he says. â€śOne of the members will suggest an organization and we hash it out. It feels good to help.â€ť
Once theyâ€™ve chosen a venue for the autumn event and set a date, Warren begins soliciting raffle items from businesses and monetary contributions from individuals about six weeks in advance.
â€śSome people donate a small amount and others give $100 or more. All the raffle items are under $200.â€ť He notes that heâ€™s â€śnever had trouble getting donations. Iâ€™ve worked with these people for many years; theyâ€™re very loyal. I walk in the door and they start writing out gift certificates.â€ť
Besides the campaign to support local causes, a new drive for donations has sprung up nationally called the Semper Fi Fund. He says, â€śItâ€™s for families of wounded Marines returning from Iraq so they can be there with them [in hospitals and rehab centers] during their recovery.â€ť
â€śMemorial Day is one of my major holidays,â€ť Warren says. â€śI go to the Veterans Cemetery and visit the Marine memorial.â€ť He especially remembers the sacrifice of Cpl. David B. Champagne of Wakefield, the only Rhode Island Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
He was killed in action in Korea on April 28, 1952, after first being wounded leading a charge up a heavily-fortified hill and then, when an enemy grenade landed among his men, seizing it and throwing it back. He died after the grenade exploded.
The Purple Heart and Medal of Honor were awarded posthumously to Cpl. Champagneâ€™s family at a ceremony at Old Mountain Field in Wakefield.
To donate to the Marine Corps Leagueâ€™s local charitable efforts or to the Semper Fi Fund, contact Warren Becker at 295-8289 or by writing to him at 510 Boston Neck Rd, North Kingstown, RI, 02852.