Marines cross country to reunite

Published 11:55 pm Saturday, August 22, 2009

Within minutes of arriving at the 15th annual Marine Corps reunion, it is obvious these men share a strong bond.

“There is a camaraderie in the Marine Corps, like no other military service,” said Wayne Keeys, an organizer of this year’s event. “I’m not trying to knock the Army or the Navy or any other branch, I’m just saying the Marine Corps has been a proud service.”

It’s a proud service that wants to keep intact.

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For the past two decades, a group of Marines – who at one point or another in their careers were stationed at Cherry Point Base in North Carolina – have been holding annual reunions to keep their bond of service alive.

“We’ve stuck together because of the camaraderie,” said Jimmy Jones, a former Marine who lives in North Carolina. “It’s more than that, it’s a brotherhood.”

Roosevelt Smith, better known as “Smitty” to his friends, came to Suffolk this weekend all the way from Costa Mesa, Calif., to spend time with his comrades.

“I hadn’t been able to make it to any of the reunions in the past,” Smith said. “I retired last year, and I said, ‘That’s it. I’m coming this year.’ A lot of these guys are personal friends, and it’s been great to see them all and meet people who I have heard a lot about.”

Over the years, the reunion has been held at various cities throughout the East Coast, including Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Orlando. But this year, Keeys and fellow organizer Max Jenkins brought the reunion here.

More than 30 former Marines made their way to Suffolk, and many brought family members as well to make the journey.

“It’s been great,” Keeys said. “We’ve mostly sat around and told war stories.”

When asked what brings about such a strong sense of camaraderie, Keeys said it was simple: A Marine is a Marine for life.

“There is no such thing as an ex-Marine,” Keeys said. “Now, we’re all retired. And if you were a Marine for four or five years before retiring, you’re still a Marine for the rest of your life.”