Local Group of Marines Raises Funds To Help Those In Need
Mar 21, 2016 01:18PM
● By Ryan Frisch
If you’ve ever heard the words “Semper Fi!” shouted by a couple of guys you probably recognize it as one of the consummate military greetings. But it’s really much more than that. Those two words, Semper Fidelis, are spoken only by U.S. Marines and the phrase means “always faithful.” It’s a code, even a lifestyle that Marines young and old live by. It’s also a cornerstone of a local organization in Mansfield called the Mansfield Area Marines.
The Mansfield Area Marines is a charitable tax-exempt organization created back in 2007 by four former Marines – William Frye, Thomas Mendonca, Matt Hehr and Rick Pollack. Each of them is still involved with the group today and they all live in Mansfield.
“In the beginning it was just four Marines getting together at a bar,” says Thomas Mendonca, founding member and former president of the group. That’s not so strange considering the Marines institution itself was founded in a bar, a longtime common meeting place for Marines. But word-of-mouth spread and the group quickly gained in notoriety and membership.
“Our primary mission was to provide immediate assistance to any local area Marine family whose Marine had fallen in combat,” says Jestwin “Tinker” Lee, a Marine, Vietnam Vet and current president of the Mansfield Area Marines. He says early on it was a “pass the hat” contribution process the group used to raise funds. Through the years they’ve become more organized and now have official fundraising events such as an annual Golf Tournament and Gun Raffle, among other endeavors. “We have 56 members, an official board of directors and organized meetings, but we still find time for the conversation and drinks,” says Lee.
Over time, the group’s activities and reach has continued to grow.
Lee is a self-professed “Army brat” who moved around a lot as a child. He joined the Marines and served from 1965 until 1969, spending 20 months in Vietnam. His GI Bill helped him go to college when he got back. He started out at San Antonio Junior College in 1969 before transferring to North Texas State (now the University of North Texas) in Denton in 1970 because it was a smaller school. He majored in Biology, graduated and enrolled at nearby Texas Woman’s University where he met his wife. Following graduation and marriage, the two moved around to other parts of the country such as Alaska and Houston).
“My job brought us back to this area and we chose Mansfield because of the excellent school system and there was enough wooded space to still be considered the country at that time,” he says. He’s been living in Mansfield for the past 16 years.
STRUCTURE AND OPERATIONS
As you might expect from a group of military men, the Mansfield Area Marines is organized and structured for efficiency, and its purpose is never forgotten. The group is made up completely of volunteers and all activities are overseen by a board of directors. The members work in tandem to decide what events and organizations they will support and participate in throughout the year. Lee says as a board their job is to plan the events in the coming year and to carefully vet the organizations they partner with.
Lee runs the monthly meetings and this year marks his second year as president. Though he says he typically avoids leadership positions like this because he’s “more of a grunt than a general.” But by all measures he’s done a great job and has enjoyed being a part of the group. Members must be Marines or Fleet Marine Force Corpsmen (Navy personnel who served alongside Marines as medics). It’s an extremely close group, says Lee. He explains there are a few other military groups that focus on national needs and concerns but the Mansfield Area Marines focus exclusively on Mansfield and its fellow Marines.
Today, the Mansfield Area Marines has grown in scope and reach but remains dedicated to helping whenever and wherever it can within the local community, while providing support for local area active and former Marines. Proceeds from their charitable events are donated to local organizations that support veterans.
The local impact of the Mansfield Area Marines is manifested in several specific ways. For example, they have partnered with recruiting stations to support new recruits as they enter the Marines. “We even send out care packages to Marines of families here in Mansfield – sometimes sending up to 80 care packages at a time,” says Lee. “We focus on charities that focus on veterans. VFW6111, Toys for Tots, Kiwanis Food Bank, United States Marine Corp Wounded Warrior Regiment, Heroes of Midlothian, Marine Corps Scholarship, Semper Fi Fund, CozyComfort, All Star Equestrian, and we have even adopted some families of Marines and Corpsmen at specific times of the year.”
It’s all part of the mission of Marines taking care of Marines and supporting the local community that makes the Mansfield Area Marines what it is.
Each spring the group gathers for what it calls its Mansfield Area Marines Night Out. On March 12, the group’s members and their families got together to socialize and meet with the sponsors and supporters who have helped out through the year. Next up, their Annual Charity Golf Tournament is on the agenda and is typically held in May or June.
The Mansfield Area Marines are always looking for partners, what they call “sponsors” and volunteers to join in the cause. Many local businesses such as Ray’s Pharmacy, Fat Daddy’s, All Pro Fence & Deck and Truck Accessory Outlet have been active supporters of the group.
Visit www.mansfieldareamarines.com to find out more about the group.
A Few Good Causes
The purpose of the Mansfield Area Marines is to be a supporter of the local community and the Marines within it. Here’s a look at some of the charities and activities the Mansfield Area Marines have been involved with since forming in 2007:
- Toys for Tots Toy Drive
- Marine Corps Birthday Ball
- Care Packages for Soldiers & Their Families
- Wounded Warrior Regiment
- Kiwanis Food Bank
- Heroes of Midlothian
- Semper Fi Fund
- Marine Corps Scholarship
- Annual Charity Golf Tournament
Courage and Valor
The Mansfield Area Marines, a local non-profit organization that exists to help the community and Marines, is currently led by President Jestwin “Tinker” Lee. He’s a Vietnam Veteran who served from August 5th, 1965 until July 11th, 1969, with 20 months in Vietnam. Lee saw action in some of the biggest combat zones of the war – Que Son, Quang Tri, Hue City and Do Hong. These were the toughest places to be in Vietnam. “And that’s where Marines go when there is war,” he says. “We go to the toughest places.”
Lee, like many other Marines, doesn’t like to talk much about himself. Although he’s eager to let you know he’s a happy grandfather today who loves spending time with his family.
He’s proud to have served and he’s proud to be a part of the Mansfield Area Marines. “In our organization we have vets who served everywhere from Korea to Afghanistan,” he says. “Now with this organization, we can serve Marines and our community right here at home.”
By Kerry Pipes