MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Marines often speak of the camaraderie found in the Corps, whether among battle-weary grunts in a foreign fighting hole or between peacetime troops training for wars that may never come.
In the 1970s, this brotherhood formed between a group of Marines who were stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., and remains to this day.
For more than 35 years, 12 retired service members and their families have been traveling here from California, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Indiana for an annual reunion and campout.
Even though not all of the members of the group were Marines, most were pilots stationed here in the 1970s, and all served in Vietnam. Most of them retired from military service in the 1980s.
This year’s bittersweet reunion started Nov. 4, with a memorial ceremony recognizing members of the group that have passed away in recent years at the Yuma Armed Forces Park. The members of the group recently purchased 12 plaques, which have been placed on the park’s central wall.
Plaques for Bill Kerekes, Neil Koch and Phil Brennan had a red rose taped to them, and a small Marine Corps flag that waved in the light evening breeze.
“This is an event to remember the three members who have passed away,” said retired Lt. Col. Jay Bibler. “Most of us aren’t very young anymore, so we decided to buy the plaques now. It wouldn’t be fair for the last one of us; he’d have to buy his own plaque!”
Another two more members of the group could not attend this year’s reunion for health reasons.
As the friends and families of the seven members of the group present at this year’s meeting sat in the park, they spoke of memories that have lasted for decades. Some moments brought tears to people’s eyes, while other memories brought bursts of laughter.
“It’s all about the camaraderie that started back in the 70s,” said Gary Bibler, Jay Bibler’s son. “From that bond, it’s grown to include three generations.”
As the years passed the Marines moved on to other assignments and duty stations, but that didn’t stop them from carrying on the relationships they formed here.
The next morning, most of the group gathered their gear and drove into the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge for the annual campout, like they did most weekends when they were stationed here.
“The guys go out to the campsite in the Kofas,” said retired Lt. Col. Gordon Pirtle. “But it’s a big family. The wives spend time with each other in town, and the children who were young when all of this started, still come, too.”
“It’s really a special bond that took place while we were stationed here that has carried on for 35 years and will be there forever,” said Pirtle.