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Once a Marine Always a Marine

His weathered hands, aged by war and time, brushed across the fuselage of an aircraft. Like a gust of wind, old memories washed over him.

Stepping out from the hangar, the 99-year-old Marine took a firm grasp of his grandson’s hand as a Marine from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, escorted them onto Camp Pendleton’s flightline.

Nearly a century of experience, coupled with more than 20 years of military service, visibly weighed on his frame. Here was a man who had danced with death above the skies and oceans of the world and lived to tell the tale.

Now, on the day of his birth, Dick Cropley, a retired dive bomber, wanted nothing more than to breathe in the air with the Marines who faithfully carried on the legacy he helped shape.

On May 31st, his wish was granted.

“I can’t believe the Marine Corps would do something like this for me,” said Cropley while fighting back tears. “You get out or retire, and it just feels like the world forgot about you. I can’t express how much this means to me.”

Cropley started flying in 1942 and spent more than 20 years in the Marines. The retired Marine Corps Major operated a dive bomber during World War II and conducted operations across the globe in support of his Marine Corps family.

“The planes I flew could fit inside here,” said Cropley as he motioned toward one of the massive engines of an MV-22B Osprey.

It was a far cry from the small, single engine airplanes he had trained on and fought in during World War II.

The years seemed to fall from his shoulders as he peered across the flight line.  Hundreds of aircraft, aviation equipment and sensors welcomed him to the air strip with a rare and peaceful silence. He was home.

It was an emotional welcome for a Marine. Especially in a service that is typically seen as unflinching, hard, calm and calculated war fighters. It was a different and loving feeling on this day. The men watching Cropley soaked it all in and could only smile as they helped fulfill this Marine’s birthday wish.

“Aircraft change, aviation changes,” said Capt. Ross Studwell, the flight equipment and ordnance officer in charge at VMM 164. “But Marines never change. Cropley is a fine example of the commitment the Marine Corps is famous for.”

An endearing and welcoming attitude formed out of pure respect was extended to Cropley, who was invited as an honored guest to a change of command ceremony and a guided tour of VMM-164’s hanger for an inside and personal look at modern day Marine Corps aircraft.

What he didn’t expect was the surprise birthday celebration planned by the Marines. The “Knightriders” presented the former pilot with a cake, celebrating his 99th birthday, honoring his more than 20 years of service.

Semper Fidelis is a Latin phrase that means “Always Faithful.” The motto has been a guiding principle and the foundation on which every Marine is made. Marines have always and will always stay true to that foundation and show it through their actions.

“This is a true honor for VMM-164, but it’s just keeping with the fundamentals of Marine Corps tradition,” said Lt. Col. Joseph DiMambro, the squadron’s commanding officer. “We always remember our brothers and sisters and take pride in caring for our own. Keeping the standards of brotherhood set by Marines like Maj. Cropley means a lot to us and to the Marine Corps.”

The Marines of VMM-164 were honored to celebrate Maj Cropley’s birthday with him and many of them were enamored with his Flight Logbooks and WWII keepsakes from places like Guadalcanal and Bougainville.

Cropley’s voice broke as he held back tears. His words echoed in the small room as he thanked the Marines and expressed his pride in sharing the title United States Marine – a title few earn.

His parting words were brief, but carried the weight of hundreds of years of tradition. “Semper Fidelis.”

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Gary D Beard MGySgt Ret 1968 -1991 - April 13, 2020

Thanks to all the Marines that went before and to all the young Marines following today.

Paul Chacho Jr. SGT. E5 66to69. - April 13, 2020

Semper Fi to a brotherhood that can never be broken.

Ted Shimono - April 13, 2020

God Bless Major Corpley and what he said the Marine Corps meant to him all those years. Like many Marines that came before us, the present and future Marines, we will always be a very proud bunch of Marines. I served from 1959 to 1968 and used much of what I was taught in civilian life (28 years in the aerospace industry). My grandson served in Iraq and Afganistan and great grandson served as a combat engineer in and around the Middle East, Africa, etc. Like Major Corpley said when he left “Semper Fidelis”.

Pat Reynolds - April 13, 2020

I can almost see this Marine as he walks through the hangar reliving those battle days. My Dad was a Marine in WWII on Guadacanal and I’ve had the honor of meeting these men at 1st Division Association conventions.

Thanks to those Marines who honored him and gave him a day to remember.

Harry - April 13, 2020

Ditto Ed, Well said!! Harry

David jones - April 13, 2020

Yes the United States Marine Corp is without a doubt a brotherhood that cannot be broker. I served 166o to 1965. The pride in the corps is instilled in young men and it is something I can not explain. I love it as when I was a young man and never had a bad day. The uniform I wore was pride and honor. SEMPER

buzz alpert - April 13, 2020

I only wish I had the opportunity to thank him personally and shake his hand. I was in ’60 to ’66. I was introduced to a Marine a few years ago who landed on Tarawa on the 2nd day and got wounded the next day. He spent 11 months in the hospital and basically the war was over for him. As a lifelong scale model builder I made a diorama of an LVT with 12 Marines storming the beach around it. It was on a platform of wood with sand and drift wood and a sparse touch of foliage, that my wife created, and it looked pretty good. My oldest buddy, who was an Army officer, and I had lunch with the Marine and his wife in a small town where he lived. After lunch I put a paper bag on the table and carefully lifted out the model. It was on a base 14″ by 14″. They had tears in their eyes and my buddy and I were about the same. I drive down to his area to go target shooting and visit with him and his wife. We have all become good friends, Marine brothers and always greet each other with a sincere Semper Fidelis. My Marine buddy is 95 years old and I value every visit with him and his wife. I consider myself fortunate to have made his acquaintance. God Bless the Marine Corps, the men and woman who have served and those who are now serving. There’s no place like America and the Marine Corps has helped to maintain our freedom.

Don Harkness - April 13, 2020

This is what Semper Fi is all about

Deryle Anderson - April 13, 2020

Wonderful story about one of our brothers having served .myself from 82-88 I say Semper Fi

Daniel Foley - April 13, 2020

A great story about Marine Aviation and the closeness of its members. I was member of VMFA -542 AND HMH-463 during 2 tours in Viet Nam (Danang & Phu Bai) served in years 1960-1973.
Daniel Foley Sgt

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