For Vernon and Jo Bowen and their “kids,” last weekend was a busy few days. They erected flags on the graves of soldiers Friday. Performed a community service project Saturday.
Monday, they served as escorts and other duties at the Memorial Day ceremony honoring American troops killed in action. Finally, Tuesday they were on hand to help welcome home members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from a tour in Iraq. It was exhausting, but what else would you expect from Colorado Springs Young Marines. “It’s really nice to be a part of those events,” said Sarah Martinez, 13, one of the Young Marines affectionately described by Jo Bowen as her kids. The Bowens — Vernon is 74 and Jo is 68 — are commanders of about four dozen or so area youths who are members of their Young Marines unit. Martinez joined in August and graduated at the top of her cadet class. But this is no ROTC program training kids to be officers in the military. And it’s not a recruiting tool for wannabe soldiers. The Young Marines exists to build character, self-esteem and solid citizens, with a strong emphasis on discipline, structure and, sometimes, tough love. “We go on campouts, learn first-aid, things like that,” Martinez said. “We do community service and learn things. It’s been a lot of fun.” There are two Springs-area Young Marines units and they are part of the national Young Marines of the Marine Corps League, which was founded in 1965. It was the idea of a couple Marines who wanted to give something back to their community and give youths in Waterbury, Conn., an opportunity to learn Corps values. Over the years, the program adopted a strong antidrug thrust. It now counts 290 units and 10,000 Young Marines nationwide, according to its Web site. But the program’s 40th anniversary finds the Springsarea units struggling. The Bowens — as well as Bill and Sue Marcotte, leaders of the Pikes Peak Young Marines unit — find it difficult to attract adult volunteers and financial sponsors to support their youth-building volunteer programs. “It’s hard to find people who want to get involved,” Jo Bowen said. “You’d think more people would care enough to help keep these kids straight — off drugs and off the streets — and get them on the way to becoming good citizens.” Money is another issue. The Young Marines charge $50 to join and $25 each year after that. Cadets buy camouflage uniforms and camping gear. They learn the creed and obligations during a 13-week recruit training course and then earn ribbons in weekly “drill sessions” as cadets. Despite the hardships, the Bowens and Marcottes have soldiered on since about 1996, inspired by their own experiences in the military. Vernon Bowen served 20 years in the Marine Corps, joining in 1948 upon his high school graduation. He fought in Korea, including the bloody battle at Chosin Reservoir when waves of Chinese troops attacked his 1st Marine Division. Jo Bowen was 17 when she joined the Army in 1955 for a three-year hitch. After raising a family, she joined the Air Force Reserve and spent 16 years as a security specialist at the Air Force Academy. She met Vernon in 1975 on a search and rescue mission — she handled news releases, and he was with the Civil Air Patrol. The Marcottes’ story also revolves around military service. Sue, 50, met Bill, 52, when he was serving in a Marine recruiting office in Colorado Springs in 1974. “He was my recruiter,” she said, noting they were married Aug. 6, 1974, eight days before she reported for boot camp. She served three years, and Bill stayed in the Corps for eight years. They’ve been married 31 years and still have close ties to the military — Sue works for the Army Reserve at Fort Carson. Both couples say all their spare time is spent working with the Young Marines. “We can be pretty tough on them,” Sue Marcotte said. “There’s a lot more discipline involved than in Boy Scouts. And some parents put their kids in the program for that reason. Their kids need a little discipline.” It doesn’t bother Martinez. “I’ve learned responsibility and self-respect, as well as respect for others,” she said. “It’s a really good program. I love it.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0193 or email@example.com TO LEARN MORE Anyone interested in learning more about the Young Marines programs can visit the national Web site at www.youngmarines. com. The Colorado Springs Young Marines have a Web site at www. csyoungmarines.org. Or reach commanders Vernon and Jo Bowen by e-mail at vibjab@cs. com or by phone at 596-7817. The Pikes Peak Young Marines unit also has a Web site, www.pikespeakyoungmarines. org; and commanders Bill and Sue Marcotte can be reached by e-mail at whmarcotte@pikespeak youngmarines.com and by phone at 598-2797.