It’s the best kept secret in Pasadena. A reserve battalion of Marine Corps infantry is based in Pasadena on city–owned land adjacent to Victory Park. In their civilian life many of them are first responders including police officers, deputy sheriffs and firefighters. Last year they were called to active duty and during their deployment conducted bilateral and unilateral training exercises that spanned across four countries in the Indo-Pacific Area including Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The 2d Battalion 23d Marine Regiment was activated in July 1942 and participated in the World War II campaigns of Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. Of the Marines who seized Iwo Jima it was said that “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Since World War II our Pasadena citizen-marines have been mobilized many times: Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm; twice during Operation Enduring Freedom; and twice during Operation Iraqi Freedom during which they participated in the capture of Baghdad. Recently they were recognized as the best battalion in the entire Fourth Marine Division.
Many of them live and work in the local area. They provide their services for color guards, military funeral honors, and participate in the Toys for Tots program over the holidays. In case of a natural disaster or emergency the 2d Battalion 23d Marine Regiment can augment Pasadena’s resources for both planning and response. Six years ago our citizen-marines became the adopted sons and daughters of Pasadena when the City Council, joining a movement that has paired cities with US military units since the 1960s, formally adopted the 2d Battalion 23d Marine Regiment.
In his inaugural address, President Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” In placing service over self our citizen-marines have answered that question and in so doing are an example for all of us and a reminder of our obligations as Americans to our country. The measure of our worth is not fame or fortune but rather what we give back to our nation and our community. Prepared and professional, they stand ready to answer our nation’s call both at home and abroad.
On May 10, they will return home from their deployment to Pasadena. A welcome home ceremony will be held in front of City Hall. But instead of coming home to Pasadena they could have been coming home to March Air Force Base in Riverside. That almost happened 25 years ago.
The Defense Department was closing down bases all over the country and consolidating and merging military units and operations. In Pasadena, the Marine Corps Reserve had based for many years the Fourth Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, a stinger missile battery. The building that housed the battalion was old and dilapidated. Their commanding officer came to City Hall, with orders for the relocation of the battalion to March Air Force Base in hand, to see if the city of Pasadena could do anything to keep his troops in Pasadena. We agreed to accept the mission.
The first thing we did was to order a feasibility study. We determined that it would cost almost $7 million to build a new facility. We also made sure that the design would be of the highest quality and in a style in keeping with Pasadena traditions. We made the first of what would prove to be many trips to Washington, DC to lobby for the funding. We went to Marine Corps Headquarters and were told that the $7 million represented their entire annual construction budget. They told us that they had never had a city come to them to lobby to keep a reserve unit in their city. We convinced them to add it to their budget. Congress was convinced to add the project to the military appropriations bill and it was approved. And then President Clinton in the first exercise of the presidential line item veto removed it. We went back to Congress and got the two-thirds majority needed to override the presidential veto.
Pasadena accomplished the mission. That’s why our citizen-marines are returning to this city. Just as they have remained always faithful to America, Pasadena has remained always faithful to them.
Attorney William Paparian is a former mayor of Pasadena and a Marine Corps veteran.