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Celebrating veterans

Becky Vargo • Nov 13, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Close to 200 Marines ate breakfast off metal trays, swapped stories and honored those who lost their lives at a 242nd birthday celebration Saturday morning at the Grand Haven Eagles.

The event also served as a kick-off to the annual Toys for Tots collection with the contribution of more than $1,300 presented by the Eagle Riders.

Veteran Dan Groenendyk of Holland proudly posed with his son, Gerrit, 19, who only a week earlier graduated from boot camp at Paris Island.

The younger Marine, decked out in his dress blues, said he had always wanted to be in the military and wanted to do something bigger in his life.

“My dad is the reason I chose the Marine Corps,” Gerrit said.

The young man said he’s on a 10-day leave and ships out Tuesday to Camp Geiger in North Carolina for nine weeks of infantry training. After that, he will be assigned to a reserve unit in Grand Rapids.

Gerrit said he plans to continue his education studying criminal justice at Ferris State University.

As the youngest Marine in attendance, Gerrit was chosen to receive the cake during a cake cutting ceremony.

The highest ranking officer in attendance, Capt. Joe Motsinger of Grand Haven, used a sword to cut the birthday cake. He handed the first piece of cake to 1st Sgt. Richard Holbrook, 92, of Muskegon, the oldest Marine in attendance. Holbrook then gave the cake to Groenendyk as a symbol of passing along wisdom.

Rendezvous restaurant owner Bill Peak, who served in Okinawa and the Philippines from 1971-76, said he got involved in the annual breakfast after talking to the men who started the breakfast many years ago.

Gary Byle, 87, a veteran of the Korean war, said that he, Bob Holey and Chuck Lempke started getting together for breakfast at the Kirby. In 2004, they moved the event to the Rendezvous at Peak’s suggestion. After a couple of crowded years, the event was moved to the upstairs hall at the Eagles.

Peak said they have been average 150-200 Marine Corps veterans attending the event for the past eight years. He was taking a collection to help purchase more metal trays so that everyone could have that old mess hall experience.

“This is like a fraternity,” he smiled, looking out over the crowded room. “These are all my brothers.”

Veteran Ed Lopez told the group that he and his wife started the Toys for Tots program in 1989 after he came off active duty.

“We collected 500 toys,” he said.

Ten years and thousands of toys later the Marine Corps League became involved.

“We collected 45,000 toys last year,” Lopez said. The group serves Ottawa, Allegan and VanBuren counties.

All of the toys collected in the area also stay in the area, he said.

In Grand Haven, toys will be delivered all ready this week to Second Reformed and Hope Reformed churches, as well as the Salvation Army for distribution.

Money raised at the breakfast goes to the Marine Corps League for scholarships and distribution to causes that help all veterans, Peak said.

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