BANGOR – Toys for Tots is probably the best-known project for the Marine Corps League, but Floyd Smith of Waterville is spreading the word about another effort to benefit youngsters.
The Marine Corps League in Maine is starting up a new group of the Young Marines in the Bangor area. It will be a second platoon of the Dirigo Young Marines company in Waterville.
The program has nothing to do with combat or joining the Marines, Smith emphasized, and is open to youth ages 7 through high school.
“White-water rafting, miniature golf, field trips to museums, CPR and First Aid, eating pizza and athletics are some of the activities,” Smith said.
Kids are enjoying the program from Skowhegan to Farmington, Gardiner, Waterville and Presque Isle.
“The program focuses on character building and leadership, and promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle,” Smith said.
Beginning in 1958 with one company and a handful of boys, the Young Marines now have 16,000 boys and girls and 5,000 adult volunteers in 46 states and several countries.
The adult volunteers often are former, retired or active-duty service members from several branches of the military, Smith said, but they don’t have to be. Some volunteers are parents who have not been in the military.
“It is through these caring adults that Young Marines learn the values of honor, courage, loyalty, dedication and commitment to their community, country and state,” he said.
“Boot camp” is a learning period when youth find out more about the history of the Young Marines, the Marine Corps and the United States, as well as their “customs and courtesies,” as Smith put it. “We teach kids to be respectful of all branches of the military.
“What we’re teaching them is to be a good civilian citizen,” he said. “At 21, they can come back in as officers to help run the groups as former Young Marines.”
Smith served in the Marine Corps and the Reserves from 1963 to 1978, stationed in California, Brunswick and Vietnam.
It was disturbing to Smith to hear servicemen in Vietnam called “baby killers,” and he wants people to know that the Marine Corps helps kids.
“I have my own kids,” Smith said. “I like to see kids be treated fairly.
“We want very dedicated, committed kids who want the challenge to be the best,” he added. “Young Marines adapts to the kids’ abilities.”
Smith, who is both a company and state commander for the Young Marines, has seen youths grow through a winter weekend of survival training, and through the battalion’s one-week encampment at Bog Brook in Bethel each summer.
He hopes that this year more youths will take part in more activities throughout the state. He already has a volunteer lined up to work with the platoon in the Bangor area.
Smith also is interested in hearing from those who would like to be adult volunteers, and from companies that would be willing to help support the youth program.
For information on the Young Marines, contact Floyd Smith at 873-5421.