March 06, 2013 - The North Oakland County Young Marines is looking for a few good boys and girls to join its ranks.
The North Oakland County Young Marines marched in Oxford’s Memorial Day parade last year. Photo by CJC. (click for larger version)
"We could really use some more members," said Commanding Officer Clarence Cameron, of Oxford, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953-56. "We started out with quite a few (members), but we've dwindled down quite a bit (due to scheduling issues between divorced or separated parents)."
Youth ages 8 through the completion of high school are eligible to join this international education and service program, founded in 1958, that promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members.
"It's a lot of fun seeing the young people in their uniforms, teaching them how to march and helping them develop self-discipline. It's very rewarding," said Cameron, who spent 14 months in Korea during the mid-1950s and left the service as a corporal.
Consisting of eight youth members, the North Oakland County unit is one of more than 300 units made up of 10,000 youth and 3,000 adult volunteers spread across 46 states, the District of Columbia, Germany, Japan and other countries.
"The Young Marines are not a recruiting tool for the Marine Corps," Cameron noted.
According to the organization's website www.youngmarines.com, the program focuses on character building, leadership and promoting a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
"It teaches the kids old-fashioned values that they probably don't teach nowadays like self-respect and respect for others," said Training Officer Mike Ledford, of Addison Township, who served in the Marine Corps from 1967-72 and fought in the Vietnam War.
"It teaches them how to handle themselves in different situations. We're big on keeping them away from drugs of any kind. We preach that monthly."
"It just makes them a better all-around individual," Ledford added.
Sponsored by American Legion Post 108 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 334, the North Oakland County unit meets at 6 p.m.on the first and third Thursday of the month at Clear Lake Elementary School, located at 2085 W. Drahner Rd.
Around town, the Young Marines can be seen marching in Oxford's Christmas and Memorial Day parades and participating in the Oxford Middle School choir program's annual Americana Concert held around Veterans Day.
"I have a couple of Young Marines who perform their community service by working the weekly fish fry at the Legion (hall)," Cameron noted.
To become a Young Marine, a youth must be in good standing at school to the best of their personal abilities.
Upon joining a local Young Marines unit, each member undergoes a 26-hour orientation program, which is spread out over several meetings. Known as "Boot Camp," the orientation involves learning about history, customs and courtesies, close order drill, physical fitness and military rank structure.
After graduating Boot Camp, each member is given the opportunity to learn other skills, rise through the ranks, wear a uniform and earn ribbons for leadership, community service, swimming, academic excellence, first aid and drug resistance education.
Ledford enjoys watching the Young Marines grow in self-confidence.
"After three or four months, you can see them change," he said. "They start to stand up and speak up for themselves. They're a little more mature."
Leading the North Oakland County Young Marines is a way for Cameron to help repay his own debt to the Marine Corps for making him the man he is today.
Prior to enlisting at age 17, Cameron didn't see much of a future for himself.
"I came from a very dysfunctional family," he said. "My mother and father were divorced and there were about 10 of us living in a small, single-family house in Detroit. I saw myself going nowhere."
Being a Marine taught Cameron discipline, gave him motivation and helped him develop "a love for my country."
When asked how his life would have turned out had he not enlisted in the Marines, Cameron replied, "I have no idea. I probably was flirting with disaster."
Serving as the Young Marines commanding officer isn't Cameron's only involvement with youth.
For about 20 years, he's coached the girls golf team at Romeo High School.
"I've been working with youngsters for quite some time," he said.
To learn more about the North Oakland County Young Marines, please contact Commanding Officer Clarence Cameron at (248) 535-8811 or Executive Officer Wes Klein at (248) 935-7157.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.