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Pa. Marine group celebrates 50 years

February 14, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - It's been more than 50 years, and although time may have brought some physical changes, a bit of the old ramrod remains in evidence.

They were Marines then, are Marines now and they will die Marines.

Six former Marines - the youngest is 63, the oldest 75 - are part of this week's celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Marine Corps League's Chambersburg chapter.

The anniversary celebration begins with a series of small events Monday, runs through the week and ends with a Feb. 22 banquet featuring speeches by the national and state commandants.

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The chapter, called the Landis-McCleaf Detachment, is named after two Franklin County Marines who left to fight in the Pacific jungles and beaches of World War II and didn't come home.

Paul Frederick McCleaf, a Marine air gunner whose plane was shot down near Rabaul, was killed there while a prisoner of war on March 5, 1944. Ralph Ambrose Landis died in the fighting on Iwo Jima on March 13, 1945.

Although the local chapter had its early struggle, today it is the largest Marine Corps League detachment in Pennsylvania.

Veterans groups like the VFW and American Legion weren't quite right for some returning Marines, said Marvin G. Etter, 71, charter member and past club commandant.

"The Marine Corps was an elite outfit. We had our own camaraderie and we wanted to keep it going," he said. "We wanted our own organization."

Wilbur H. Overcash is credited with getting the club started and becoming its first commandant, said Ben Bard, 71, a Korean War veteran, charter member and past commandant.

Things went slowly at first, but Overcash persisted, said Clark Gillan, 69, another charter member and current club commandant.

According to club history, Overcash spent months sending letters and making phone calls, trying to round up enough members to get a charter. He even enlisted a few World War I Marine Corps veterans.

The club was chartered on Feb. 11, 1947, and held its first meeting two months later at the VFW home. It met in different places around town until 1960 when the home on Grant Street was built.

There are about 380 Marine veterans in the club and nearly 2,000 social members, Gillan said.

Last week, the mayor and Borough Council of Chambersburg issued a proclamation honoring the club's 50th anniversary.

Other club members celebrating the anniversary include Lawrence Bookheimer, 69, who served in China during World War II, Robert Yourkavitch, veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, and Joe Baer, 75, who like Etter served in World War II and Korea.

All six said they volunteered for the Marines because it had a reputation for being the toughest, most elite of all of the services.

"If you have to fight, you might as well fight with the best," Bard said.

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