Marine Corps League leader: 'A lot of people don't realize we're out here'

2014-07-14T07:00:00Z 2014-07-14T12:02:05Z Marine Corps League leader: 'A lot of people don't realize we're out here'By CINDY UKEN The Billings Gazette

They have touched a lot of lives in our community, even if most people don’t see them at work.

They are U.S. Marines.

For the first time in four years, the Marine Corps League Eugene Sara Detachment is hosting Marine Day to introduce local U.S. Marines and their families to the community and celebrate the brotherhood. The day is also designed to raise the profile of the organization.

“A lot of people don’t realize we’re out there, or if they do, they don’t recognize us,” said Commandant Joe Aguilar, a Vietnam-era veteran. “We want the community to recognize that we’re there to support anybody out there.”

These are the men and women who spearhead the Toys for Tots annual holiday campaign to provide Christmas cheer for children who might not otherwise receive a gift.

They form the color guard at ceremonies big and small, whether it is the opening of the Big Sky State Games or the dedication of an expanded VA clinic on the West End.

They also comprise the Honor Guard at military funerals. And, they were a fixture at homecoming ceremonies for World War II veterans as they returned from Washington, D.C., aboard Big Sky Honor Flight.

They have worked tirelessly to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service organization that offers a variety of programs, service and events for wounded veterans of the military actions following the events of Sept. 11.

And, they just finished placing 66 headstones on the graves of indigents at Yellowstone County Riverside Cemetery in the Heights. Marines have spent much of the summer completing the project which was formally inspected on Wednesday.

“We’re a busy little crew,” said Burt Gigoux, a Vietnam-era Marine. “We are the smallest veterans organization in town but we do the lion’s share of the work.”

Perhaps most important, they serve as a support group to those coming home from their service.

“We are somebody to talk to who understand what they’ve been through,” Gigoux said. “The Marine Corps is a brotherhood and always has been. I didn’t know the Marine Corps League existed 15 years ago when I joined.”

Though specific numbers are difficult to come by, Gigoux said there are “certainly hundreds” of Marines in Billings — veterans who served from Guadalcanal to Iraq and Afghanistan. The plan is to get them and their families together on July 20 for a reunion that includes the public. Organizers are hoping for at least 200 people.

Marine Day is purposely not held as an annual event in Billings.

“It makes it more special that way,” Gigoux said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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