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Detroit native, born in 1923, Cpl. Leonard B. Turner enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 following the example of two of his brothers who had already signed up for World War II military duty ahead of him; Bob via the Coast Guard and Bill through the Marine Corps.

Turner served under Lt. Col. Evan F. Carlson on New Caledonia; was sent to Guadalcanal, Efate, and Espiritu Santo; and was a part of the first waves during the battles of Bougainville, Guam and Okinawa. After the war was over, Turner returned to his hometown of Detroit and served in a supervisory capacity at General Motors Headquarters, retiring after 42 years.

Appearing in authentic 1945-1948 Marine Corps dress blues with his original regalia, Turner marched into the ballroom behind the traditional birthday cake as the slow version of the Marines Hymn played, during the Marine Forces Special Operations Command’s 244th Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Wilmington, N.C., Nov. 2, 2019. Turner, a 96-year-old World War II veteran and Marine Raider, affectionately nicknamed “Raider 96,” served with 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and was the oldest Marine in attendance at the ceremony. He stood proud and tall as he was announced as the oldest Marine present and generations of Marines responded, without hesitation, with a standing ovation as Turner passed a piece of birthday cake to the youngest Marine present, 19-year-old Pfc. Ivan K. Lopez.

“The experience was humbling and exhilarating,” remarked Turner. “It filled me with a sense of great honor and pride to be a part of this timed-honored tradition, allowing me to pass the torch to the youngest Marine, who in fact is actually from 2nd [Marine] Raider Battalion, as was I, over 75 years ago. It ranked high on my life’s most memorable events, along with the announcement of Japan’s surrender in World War II, my wedding day, the births of my daughter and my son, and my retirement day from General Motors.”

Every year, each Marine Corps unit comes together and hosts a Marine Corps Birthday cake cutting to celebrate one more year since the birth of their Corps. This celebration is an event that brings together Marines, old and young – enlisted and retired, and allows them to celebrate their commitment and dedication to the Marine Corps and strengthen their camaraderie and organizational esprit de corps. Throughout the ball, different Marine Corps traditions are upheld, paying homage to the organizations’ heritage.

“You can’t force heritage, it just happens,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Otto E. Hecht, the senior enlisted leader at MARSOC’s Marine Raider Training Center. “Heritage is the result of the people, artifacts, symbols and traditions that have been provided by those that served before us. Our heritage defines who we are and shapes where we are going as Marines. [The ball is] a time of reflection on our past accomplishments combined with our newest generation of Marines and their contributions that make our future both exciting and meaningful.”

This connection between the past and present can be seen throughout many traditions during the Marine Corps ball and is the foundation of this event each year. One such tradition is the passing of birthday cake from the oldest Marine to the youngest Marine, which represents the passing of experience and knowledge from older generations to the newest generation of Marines. The birthday cake is traditionally cut with the Mameluke sword, to honor Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon’s assault of Derna, Tripoli in 1805, as a reminder that Marines are a band of warriors, committed to carrying the sword, so that the nation may live in peace.

“The ceremonial formalities along with the reading of our 13th Commandant’s message reminds us all of our Marine Corps heritage; however, the ball is not just about that,” commented MGySgt. Anthony Guisao, MARSOC’s SOF senior enlisted advisor. “Along with reminding us of our past, the ball allows us to view who we are in the present. The reading of the present Commandant of the Marine Corps’ message also provides insight as to where he envisions the Marine Corps going towards the future.”

Turner explained that his favorite experience at the ball was shaking the hands of the younger Marines. The opportunity to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David H. Berger, and his wife, Donna, who were in attendance as the Guests of Honor at the MARSOC Ball was, as Turner described it, “the icing on the cake!” He was moved by the reverence and respect shown to him by the Marines and the interest in his experience in the Marine Corps. Due to the time in our country’s history that Turner was enlisted, most of his cherished memories involved the time he spent making memories with friends, with his most cherished being when the announcement rang out that the Japanese had surrendered.

“I would say that I went into the Marines a mere teen and left an old man,” said Turner. “The Marine Raiders had defined me. They set me up for life’s battles and challenges with skills of leadership, organization, morality, steadfastness, patience and discipline- not to mention I’m still pretty good with that machete around my yard!”

The term Raider can’t be used alone. It must be preceded by “Marine” because that is what Marine Raiders are first and foremost- Marines, mentioned Hecht. The warfighting principles current Marine Raiders use in Special Operations comes from their foundation in Marine Ethos and Core Values – there is not one without the other.

“Too often people, in general, tend to identify themselves as what they do instead of who they are – Marine Raiders are no different,” remarked Guisao. “As the younger generation of Marines assimilate into the MARSOC culture, it is the senior Marine Raiders’ responsibility to continue inculcating Marine Corps values into them. ‘Marines are who we are and Special Operations is what we do’ is not just a catch phrase, it’s a constant reminder for all Marine Raiders to never forget their identities as U.S. Marines. This is also a reminder to the Marine Corps writ large that Marine Raiders have not forgotten where they came from and continue to be proud of who they are, U.S. Marines.”

When asked to share a story from his time during the war, Turner reflected on his time when assigned to 6th Marine Division. During this time, a fellow 6th Division Marine told him that they were the lucky ones. Many of their military brothers had given up their todays so that Turner and those who survived would have their tomorrows.

“This is my legacy, my story,” revealed Turner. “So, young men and women, as far as stories go, you will have to make up your own story. You have been given the chance to create a story of courage, strength, honesty, morality, leadership, and compassion that you will carry with you to your end of days.”

27 NOV 2019 | Sgt. Bryann K. WhitleyMarine Corps Forces Special Operations Command

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Vernon Bushway Jr. - April 1, 2020

The Marine Raiders:

My life long friend was Carlson’s Marine Raider, Edward Karl Kraus: Upon his death I wrote a novel

based on his experiences in the Pacific during World War II called, “A Warriors Long Journey to China”

Gary Nash - April 1, 2020

India Company, 3rd Marines was 3rd MarDiv–not 2nd. In ’66, the 2nd MarDiv was 2, 6, and 8th Marines. 3 MarDiv was 3,4, and 9th Marines.

‘Stoney’ Brook - April 1, 2020

Despite the histrionics and blah-blah-blah that ‘fluffs up’ this article beyond all recognition, the salient point remains that Cpl. Turner is a seriously salty Old Corps Marine. God bless and keep him; Semper Fi!

Bob 1381 - April 1, 2020

“Marine Corps Stories” has got so far from the stories that I used to enjoy reading. It appears that most of the “Stories” printed anymore are best suited for Leatherneck, Military Times or some other news media. Maybe I’m alone with these feelings but I do, or did, enjoy reading about Marine veteran’s stories from years past that many of us can relate to……..Bob 1381 Vietnam Vet, 1966/1967.

Michael Rinaldi - April 1, 2020

Ppl Turner is a fine example of the U. S. Marine Corps. Thank you for your story. May God Bless You!

Paul Tobin - April 1, 2020

Well, yes, the inclusion of Cpl Turner in the explanation of Marine history of the Raiders was interesting. Cpl Turner was reluctant to share himself even with the guests at the Marine Corps Ball. Cpl Turner exudes the nature of men of his era, not boastful of their personal accomplishments.
I served with Marines for nearly three years of my enlistment in the Navy (FMF Corpsman). The 18, 19 and 20 year old’s were fun-loving and just out of their neighborhood, experiencing life they could not imagine.
I heard many stories from young Marines who were repeating how tough their DI was and their personal survival of the toughest challenge of their young lives. It was amusing to me and encouraging to note because these young men are going to be the shield for the work I will be called upon to accomplish in the heat of battle. Each young Marine was ready to put it all on the line, especially when “DOC” is exposed in retrieving a “shipmate” on the deck, wounded.
Let me be clear, this is not my story, this comes from a FMF Corpsman who are in the field exposed and vulnerable. My story begins with my assignment to India Company, 3rd Marines, 2nd Marine Division June 1966. While service with this company and H&S Company 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division, I went to Jungle Warfare School with each of them. I heard the young Marine’s personal problems, their lonesome stories, and their frustrations with being “lied to “by their recruiter. I heard their emotional disappointments with rejection letters from the sweetheart at home. I directed a few to visit the Chaplain. Yes, not only did I help cure their flesh wounds, but I also helped salve their emotional wounds. After all, a “Devil Dog” is human too.
After my tour of duty with the 2nd Marine Division, 1966-1967, I was to close out my Fleet Marine Duty with the 3rd Marine Division, Vietnam December ’67 to December ’68. I volunteered for 3rd Recon because I heard their need was greater because they were only taking “volunteers.”
I worked with 3A3, “Sandbox” recon team for just over 3 months. Apparently, I was more valuable to Battalion, as chief corpsman in the Company area Aid Station. As an E-5 with lots of experience in the care and keeping of the young Warriors. Other than wounds from their field duty of combat, the young Marine manages to injure himself within base camp too.
I have one regret! I was in hospital, Da Nang, when my team was inserted, observed, and tripped a booby trap severely wounding my patrol leader. I got word from a Corpsman from my area the bad news. He and another Corpsman were down from Quang Tri due to being wounded by a rocket attack on our base camp!
I recovered from surgery to return to base camp to become the battalion surgeon’s number one assistant, chief Corpsman in Alpha Company before moving up to Battalion. With his job, I accompanied the “surgeon” on his rounds as well as to the “village” people.
I was in the “bush” during the TET offensive of ’68, as a green Recon “DOC.” I was bloodied along with the new Marine members of my team. I was a rifleman first, according to my patrol leader, then, once the shootings over, I do what I was trained to do. He had very specific instructions for me, ‘DOC, when the shit hits the fan, I want you on the dirt and don’t move until I tell you to. I want you alive when the shoot’ n is over, because I’m not die’n out here.’
I left Vietnam in early December 1968. Admittedly, when I got on that “freedom bird” to CONUS, I began to seal off that part of my memory for this last year of my life. It remained sealed from intrusions of recall most of the following 16 years or so. My son wanted me to spend a Saturday of watching a few Hollywood versions of Vietnam. I resisted all week, until my lovely bride prevailed upon me to relent.
Since that day, in ’84 or ’85 I sat with my son, viewing “Apocalypse Now” and another Hollywood movie I cannot remember. All the while he is asking me, ‘was it like that for you, dad?’ I would respond with, “No.” I knew he wanted some verification that what he was seeing was ‘real’ to some degree. So, I satisfied his curiousity by pointing out the gunship assault was kind’a like an episode where a gunship was firing our perimeter where we believed we were being surrounded. Being on the receiving end of that kind of firepower is awesome.
My son never brought up my service again.
Advance another few years late ’90’s or 2000, and an old WW II Marine recruited me for the Marine Corps League. I am to this day a life member and a life member of the VFW.
There you have it, not too long, but not the best of the story I could tell either. Semper Fidelis, Fratres Aeterni!
Paul “DOC” Tobin
1965-1969 a reluctant agent for the United States Government – “Freedom Fighter”
P.S. My patrol leader, Joe, survived his wounds, and multiple surgeries to correspond with me and a few other “shipmates” of that era, even our company commander. It is good to know all is well and they are living the American dream in prosperity and family.

Harry 1371 - April 1, 2020

The first two paragraphs would have been enough. I lose interest if the stories are too long. No disrespect to Cpl Turner I too salute him. Side note, recently found out that my Grandfather was an Army Engineer during WW-1. Not sure where or what he did. I do know that he was a crane operator after the war. Harry 1371

Murray M. Hermanson - April 1, 2020

To long, if more of the 14 paragraphs would have been about 96 year old Cpl. Turner it would be okay. (only the first 4) The rest just through in his name so you don’t forget who they are exploiting. I salute Cpl. Turner. This story is for the recruiting of other new Marines. We have all served and don’t want to hear the bull, I don’t, but maybe some of you do. Just my opinion. I just don’t like it when people say one thing and are really trying to accomplish something else. Sgt. Whitley must have had to fill a news story of so many words. Sorry, I don’t mean to be negative. Murray 1371, oh ya I wonder if Cpl. Turner can remember how many pull-ups he did, what joke that story was, huh, Harry?

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