MIFFLINTOWN - About 60 Marines and their families celebrated the 238th birthday of the Marine Corps on Saturday at the Central Juniata EMS building. The event was hosted by Juniata Area Detachment No. 687 of the Marine Corps League.
"Bless our Marines, past, present and future," said guest speaker Lynn Van Leaven, who leads the Perry County Veterans Affairs Office.
A 20-year veteran of the Navy, Van Leaven encourages all veterans to contact their local Veterans Affairs office to meet the people who can help smooth the way when it comes to issues that affect former and current military members.
"There are all kinds of reasons to visit your county veterans office," she said.
For instance, the office can help obtain replacement medals and proof of service papers. Staff easily can access current forms veterans may need to complete and submit for a variety of reasons. Local offices also can help veterans learn how to navigate changes in health care laws.
"We coordinate all local, state and federal benefits to determine eligibility status," Van Leaven said. "We owe it to our fellow soldiers to put in claims."
A New York state native, Van Leaven joined the Navy to "get out of dodge."
"I was stuck in a soft, comfortable rut," she said.
Joining the armed forces enabled Van Leaven to challenge herself. She worked her way up in rank to a chief petty officer E-7, just two steps below the highest petty officer rank. She handled administrative and human resource duties throughout much of her career, retiring in February 1994.
Though she was tasked with finding a new job, Van Leaven was unsure of her next steps.
"I wasn't thinking about local government," she said, but when the opportunity arrived, everything clicked into place.
She began working in Perry County that June.
Van Leaven said the services the office offers are vital to veterans of all ages.
"Wars evolve. Our military evolves and our VA continues to evolve," she said.
During the birthday celebration, guests shared in cake and ice cream after a ceremony in which a second cake was sliced with a sword. Pieces from this cake were given to Van Leaven and to the oldest and youngest Marines present - Charles Daughenbaugh, of Newport, and Andrew McCoy, of Elizabethtown.
Detachment Commandant Bruce S. Nielsen addressed the group as well.
"Marines take particular pride in our motto: Semper fidelis - always faithful," he said.
Notable birthday messages penned by Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune, the 13th commandant of the Marine Corps, and Gen. James F. Amos, the 35th and current commandant were read.
"Each year on Nov. 10, Marines from all generations gather together, in groups large and small, to celebrate the birthday of our Corps and to reflect on the proud legacy and warrior ethos we share," Amos wrote in his address. "Throughout history, Marines have faced tough times and there will be tough times ahead, but there is no challenge we cannot overcome if we remain honorable and always faithful to our nation, our Constitution and each other."