Conlon honored as Delaware Marine of the Year

Frank Conlan, center, stands with Department of Delaware Commandant Chuck Landon and National Vice Commandant Bruce Rakfeldt.

Coastal Point • Submitted

New York native Frank Conlon joined the Marine Corps in 1952. He served eight years in the Corps, as an air-traffic controller in the Air Wing.

“Like all young guys, you see something in your younger days and say that’s what you want to be,” recalled Conlon, noting that he had friends and family members who were in the Corps. “I thought they were the best, and I wanted to be a part of the best.”

Conlon said he’s proud to have served as a Marine and enjoyed his time in the service.

“Not necessarily in this order, but my job for sure — the comradery with fellow Marines, being part of what I consider the best. When you like your job and the company, it means a lot. Even after being in the Marine Corps, when you travel around and people ask you if you were ever in the service, ‘Yes.’ ‘What branch?’ And you say, ‘The Marine Corps,’ “Wow!’ … That’s a nice feeling. That we have the respect of people

“Even now, when we do things like Toys for Tots, people are very proud that we Marines would do this. When you look at the other branches of the service — there are so many people in the Army, so many people in the Navy, in the Air Force. We Marines truly are a band of brothers.”

Conlon was recently named Delaware Marine of the Year, after being nominated by fellow First State Detachment Marine Corps League Marine David Kline Sr., judge advocate.

“Frank has always presented himself as a true dedicated Marine and outstanding member and an asset to our First State MLC Detachment,” wrote Kline in his nomination letter.

Kline explained that each detachment may submit two people they believe possess qualities to be named Marine of the Year.

“The protocol is, if someone in the detachment feels that one of their members is worthy of the award, he has to submit a letter to the commandant. Then they have a vote of membership to make sure everyone is onboard,” said Kline.

“We have five detachments in the State and Frank was overall selected by the committee. It was well-deserved,” he said, noting that during the award presentation the Marine commandant told Conlon, “You’re one hell of a marine.”

Kline noted that Conlon goes above and beyond in the detachment, not only collecting for Toys for Tots, but heading the organization’s yearly fundraising journal, organizing a fundraising golf tournament, and placing flags in the Millsboro Veterans Cemetery at Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day.

“It’s not my unique idea. The detachment I belonged to up in New York in Calverton… Every year on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, we — along with other groups — would place the flags on the markers for the veterans’ part of the cemetery,” explained Conlon. “When I got down here, the only national veteran cemetery in Delaware is up north.”

He would later discover the Millsboro veterans cemetery and approached the staff about having the detachment place flags on the markers, as opposed to having staff do it.

“That’s how it started,” he said. “Once we had a couple years under our belt, the detachment over in Seaford asked us if they could join us, and now we have wives coming with us and even neighbors. If you look at all those gravesites prior to those flags going up and then look at them an hour later after all those flags go up… It’s quite a sight.”

Kline also called attention to Conlon’s efforts with the detachment’s youth physical-fitness program, volunteered to walk in the Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade, and is a member of the detachment’s funeral detain.

“He was awarded the Detachment Marine of the Year medal in 2004,” wrote Kline in his nomination letter. “Frank’s MCL ribbons include Detachment Marine of the Year, Distinguished Service Bronze, Detachment Staff Elected Silver, Detachment Staff Appointed Bronze, Individual Meritorious Commendation and Marine Corps League Membership.”

Conlon was recently honored at the statewide meeting held at Heritage Shores.

“Of course, I was very honored. My granddaughters, I told them I was nominated… The youngest, she just turned 19… She said, ‘Grandpop, you will always be my Marine of the Year,’” he said, noting that she put listed him in her phone as “MOTY.” “They got a kick out of it. That’s the nice part about it for me.”

Being a part of the Marine Corps League is something Conlon has done for years, having been a member when he was living in Long Island. When he and his wife moved to the area in 2001, he immediately found the First State Detachment.

“I went into the post office one day, and there was a poster on the bulletin board that said, ‘The Marine Corps League is looking for new members, and we want you,’” he recalled, noting the similarity to the Uncle Sam campaign of World War I.

“We perpetuate the image of the Marine Corps and its traditions and what have you. It’s just a matter of helping the community where it’s needed, meeting fellow marines… We have so much in common as Marines because it’s a small branch of the services. And as they say, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine.’ You just like that feeling.”

First State Detachment Marine Corps League in the community

The primary purpose of the Marine Corps League is to preserve the tradition, promote the interest and perpetuate the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.

According to its website, the First State Detachment Marine Corps League is a “non-profit organization which uses money raised from events during the year to support our community service programs such as Semper Fi fund, Toys for Tots, Youth Physical Fitness Program and others community events, in southeastern Sussex County, Del., and northeastern Worcester County, Md.”

“We’re the only branch of the service that has an after-military organization,” said Kline.

A big part of what the Marine Corps League focuses on is Toys for Tots, which, according to its website is designed to “collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.”

According to the detachment’s yearly journal, in 2016, they were able to distribute 7,241 toys to 4,074 economically disadvantaged children in the area.

“We put some major hours in with just Toys for Tots — you would not believe the number of hours,” said Kline.

During the holiday season, the detachment has 30 donation boxes throughout the Bethany-Clarksville/Route 26 corridor alone. They also have boxes along the Route 54 corridor and in Ocean City, Md.

“The community has been so generous to us,” said Conlon.

The League also offers a physical fitness challenge to students of Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Berlin, Md.

“We would meet these kids in first grade and work with them all the way up… They looked forward to us coming. We ate lunch with them in the cafeteria. It was really a good thing for everyone — the kids, the school and the Marine Corps,” said Conlon, noting that the program was once available to Delaware students before the State stopped the program.

The Marine Corps League also does a lot of work with the Semper Fi Fund, which is a non-profit that “provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.”

“Semper Fi Fund looks at all branches of service, not just Marines,” said Conlon. “We want to have each other’s backs.”

The Semper Fi Fund was started in 2004, and since its inception, more than $160 million in grants has been distributed, with more than 20,000 soldiers and their families being helped.

“A couple of Marine wives out in California were coming across veterans who were coming back from Iraq and Iran and so on, and they really had problems. They got together and with some local professionals they knew and said, ‘We have to do something about this,’” said Conlon. “They got some major corporations involved, and this thing has snowballed. Their overhead is about 6 percent. The money that people give goes right to where it’s needed.”

Kline noted that, at a recent Operation SEAs the Day event, members of the First State Detachment met a wounded veteran who had a service dog.

“He came up and thanked us, because the Semper Fi Fund got him that dog,” said Kline.

The detachment also helps wherever they see a need in their community, and even in other communities.

“One of our members in Laurel, two years ago, had the water pump in his trailer shorted out and caught fire. Burned their trailer to the ground,” said Conlon. The detachment contributed $4,000 to the family, and other detachments sent money to help as well. “We all help each other in times of need.”

Currently, the detachment has approximately 100 members, though not all of them are active.

“We’re constantly trying to recruit new members, but it’s hard,” Kline said.

Kline joined the detachment 11 years ago, as a way to support his community.

“I’ve had a real, super-good life. A good job, a good family — this is my way of giving back.”

Kline served two years in the Corps, spending 13 months in Vietnam, and was exposed to Agent Orange.

“I joined,” he said. “I wanted to be a Marine. My uncle was a Marine. I went to his wedding, and he had his ‘Dress Blues’ on… When my school was called up, you had 30 days to join something or you’d be drafted, so I joined the Marines. I haven’t regretted a minute of it.”

Kline said that when he would travel to Florida yearly, he would stop at Parris Island (“where Marines are made”) and attend graduation.

“Everyone just treats you like you’re one of them,” he said. “I always take pride that I am a Marine. I would take pride if I were in the Navy.”

Kline said the Marine Corps League is always seeking new members to join their efforts. Those who are eligible to serve as full members, with the right to serve as an officer, appointed officer or vote on changes within the detachment, must be Marines who have served at least 90 days, Fleet Marine Force Corpsmen or Navy chaplains. Anyone in the community is welcome to serve as an associate member, though they cannot vote or hold office.

“We give back through all of our volunteer work. We need more to join to help us with our activities. If you served in the Marine Corps, we would love to have you in the Marine Corps League. It’s a great organization,” said Kline. “We need you to help us meet the needs of our community.”

Those interested in joining the First State Detachment Marine Corps League should contact Junior Vice Commandant of Detachment in Charge of Recruiting Rich Pounsberry at (302) 628-2624.

By Maria Counts
Staff Reporter