You’ve seen the bumper sticker proudly displayed on a vehicle of a Marine, Semper Fi, but unless you are a Marine yourself or know one personally, you may not fully understand the significance of this motto.
From the inception of the Marine Corps in 1775 to today, Semper Fidelis distinguishes the Marine Corps bond from any other branch of the armed services. It stands for more than just teamwork – it is a brotherhood. Latin for “always faithful,” Semper Fi is the motto that guides Marines to remain faithful not only to the mission at hand, but also to each other, to the Corps, and to country, no matter what.
Remaining faithful is what a local group of retired and active Marines continue to seek after. Members of the Sgt. Rodney M. Davis Detachment No. 1251 based out of Tooele look for ways they can continue to serve their fellow Marines, their community and their country.
As a tight-knit group, the Marine Corps League serves as an extended family to its members. They all have respect for one another and look for ways they can serve one another.
Joy Chamberlin, the detachment’s Adjutant/Paymaster, said: “Like they say, ‘Once a Marine; always a Marine.’ I do whatever I can to help them. Being a Marine is a proud part of my life. It is an honor.”
The purpose of the Marine Corps League is to “preserve the traditions and promote the interest of the United States Marine Corps as they foster love for the principles which they have supported by blood and valor since the founding of the Republic.” They also aid voluntarily and render assistance to all Marines and former Marines as well as to their widows and orphans.
Detachment No. 1251 was established in August 2007 after Harold McConnell attended the 40th reunion for the division he served in as a Marine. The reunion was held in Las Vegas, Nev., as part of the Las Vegas Marine Corps League Detachment. When McConnell returned home to Tooele, he thought for sure he would find a detachment to join in the Salt Lake area, but there was no such group. McConnell became a member of the Las Vegas detachment until one was organized in Salt Lake.
After being part of the Salt Lake detachment for a year or so, McConnell thought there must be enough Marines in Tooele that he could form a local detachment. He needed 20 Marines to sign a charter. He called around to the Marines he knew, and by word of mouth he quickly had enough members more than willing to join.
With the help of Joe Surace, a member of the Utah Department Detachment, the Sgt. Rodney M. Davis Detachment No. 1251 was formed. Today the detachment has a total membership of nearly 40 individuals, the majority of which are retired Marines with a few active Marines.
Speaking of the members of the detachment, McConnell said: “The detachment wouldn’t be the detachment it is without the Marines that form it. They are all great men.”
While serving in London, England, McConnell served alongside and became good friends with Sgt. Rodney M. Davis. During the Vietnam conflict, Sgt. Davis was mortally wounded when he threw himself upon a hand grenade to save his comrades from injury and possible death and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic and selfless act.
“When we needed to name the detachment, I thought what better name than Sgt. Rodney M. Davis, and what better way than to honor him,” McConnell said.
With a willingness to continue to serve their country and community, Detachment No. 1251’s members look for ways they can serve right here in Tooele. Among the service the detachment gives, they are most commonly known for their annual Pancake Breakfast. Each December, the group sponsors a breakfast and ensures their proceeds stay here to benefit the Tooele County Action Program.
For Cordale Gull, the detachment’s Chaplain, the pancake breakfast is one of his favorite activities to be a part of.
“The community really supports our efforts each year,” Gull said. “It is always so neat to be working hard together and know we are making a difference.”
But Detachment No. 1251 does so much more of which others may not be aware.
As one of the only detachments in the area with an active color guard, they are often called on to present the colors. Over the past four years, the detachment’s color guard has led and carried the colors for both the Tooele and Grantsville cities’ Fourth of July parades.
Gull recalls the Grantsville Parade last year when the detachment was asked to lead the parade. The city was honoring all Vietnam veterans in their parade as well. They gave the veterans certificates of appreciation, handed out ball caps to wear, and invited the veterans to ride in military vehicles along the parade route.
“The people were phenomenal,” Gull said. “I’ve never seen a group of people so sincere and appreciative as the ones in Grantsville. It brought tears to my eyes to receive that. It wasn’t just one or two individuals; it was throughout the whole parade. They would come up to the truck and thank us. And then, when we got off the truck and were walking to our cars, people came up with sincere hearts and told us thank you again.”
When called upon, Detachment No. 1251 will attend local Scout Court of Honor ceremonies or Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquets to present the Colors or retire flags. Members of the group have been seen at numerous Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day events speaking of their love of country and the respect they have for our country’s flag.
A memorable event for Detachment No. 1251 was a trip to Eureka for a scout ceremony where they taught the boys the importance of properly retiring a flag.
“The boys loved seeing the Marines in uniform. It was quite the celebration and a great privilege to be there,” Gull said.
Serving their country and their community is just a way of life for the members of Detachment No. 1251, and their current commandant, Donald “Duke” North, is no exception. North also serves as Tooele County Chief Deputy Sheriff. A member since the detachment was formed. North said being a Marine has made a huge impact on his life.
“I make a conscience effort with everything I do not to bring embarrassment upon the Marine Corps League, the Marines, the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office or most importantly, my family,” North said.
Each member of Detachment No. 1251 exemplifies the values of the marines: honor, courage and commitment in all they do as they seek for worthy causes in the community and throughout Utah. Among these worthy causes include a recent donation of $500 to support Tooele High School’s marching band in an upcoming appearance in the Pearl Harbor parade in Hawaii.
The group also supported a family out of Utah. This past spring, a new Marine Corps Information Operation Center was dedicated in Washington D.C. and named Walt Hall after General Lewis W. Walt of Utah. General Walt was the first four-star general in the Marine Corps to serve as the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. In support of the Utah Marine Corps League and General Walt’s daughter, Detachment No. 1251 helped send members of General Walt’s family to the dedication.
Although Detachment No. 1251 does not have an honor guard, a few members of the detachment’s leadership attend funerals dressed in uniform to honor those Marines that have passed. Since the formation of the detachment, McConnell noted that three of the members have passed away: Jack Tomlin, Ray Osborn and Larry Rupp.
Chamberlin said due to HIPPA laws, it makes it difficult for the detachment to find those Marines who may need help or assistance. The group members keep their ears open and look for fellow marines that may benefit from the detachment’s support.
When fellow marines are identified as needing support, Detachment No. 1251 is right there to give assistance. Chaplain Gull reports each month at their meetings of the well-being of the members and helps identify needs of the group. Gull recalls a time when for several months he drove and accompanied a fellow marine to his cancer treatments.
In honor of Sgt. Davis, Detachment No. 1251 has financially supported the restoration of his headstone. Several years ago, Sgt. Davis’ headstone was found in need of cleaning and repair. Although he could have been buried in Arlington Cemetery, Sgt. Davis’ mother wanted him buried at home in Macon, Ga. Today countless marines and volunteers work to ensure the Linwood Cemetery where Sgt. Davis is buried and his headstone are a proper representation of the valor Sgt. Davis exemplified.
Detachment No. 1251 also honors its namesake with a commemorative coin. These coins are used as a fundraising tool as well as token given to honor those who have exemplified the values of the Marines. Today the coins are being sold on the same ship that Sgt. Davis was assigned.
Currently there are nearly a dozen Marine Corps League detachments throughout the state of Utah. The Sgt. Rodney M. Davis Detachment No. 1251 meets once a month on the third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. in the Tooele County Search and Rescue Building at 900 S. 475 West in Tooele. For individuals interested in becoming part of the detachment, contact either Duke North at 435-884-6233 or Hal McConnell at 435-882-1179.