Last modified Tuesday, October 5, 2004 9:41 AM EDT
Marines helping wounded comrades recover
Local detachment hopes to take efforts national

By Maria D. Martirano, Times-News Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2004 9:41 AM EDT

Several members of the Mountainside Marine Detachment visit injured Marines and sailors at the Bethesda Naval Hospital as part of the Marines Helping Marines project. Front row, from the left, are John Dick, Harlan Smith, Danny Dicken and Marjorie Gagliano. Back row are Bud Raines, State Commandant Ron Short, Lou Stavely, Mountainside Commandant Vic Ryan, Walter Growden, Paul Lease and Jim Nave. (Photo courtesy of Vic Ryan)

CUMBERLAND - Flo Lease isn't going to lie and say it's easy to visit wounded Marines and sailors recovering at Bethesda Naval Hospital. But with a few deep breaths, she finds she's able to stay upbeat and strong for not only the wounded, but also their families.

Flo and her husband, Paul, have made several trips to the hospital since last year as members of the Mountainside Marine Detachment. The local group hopes to take the statewide effort nationally soon.

The project started shortly after the war in Iraq began last year when the state commandant received an e-mail asking if any league members were available to visit a wounded Marine from the Jacksonville, Fla., area while he recovered in Bethesda.

In less than a day's time, a group arrived at the hospital prepared to see the worst but ready to do what the members could.

The program aims to provide both emotional and material support because several of the injured arrive with "no more than the hospital gowns on their backs." In the spring of this year, Ron Short, state commandant, put the plan now known as Marines Helping Marines fully in place.

Vic Ryan, Mountainside's commandant, predicts that while the program is just getting started, it will become known across the country.

"To me, it's something that makes you feel like you've really done something," Ryan said. "You feel appreciated, and you see the parents thanking you. At the same time, you feel very sad to see their injured son or daughter but their attitudes are just so good and positive."

Marines and sailors wounded in Iraq are flown to Germany and then on to Andrews Air Force Base before arriving in Bethesda.

During Ryan's last visit in mid-September, the closest wounded Marine to this area hailed from Altoona, Pa.

The Leases, a military family through-and-through, can understand how a family's outlook can remain positive.

Paul served as a Marine for five years with the last tour during the Korean War. Their son Paul Jr. served in the Gulf War and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Marines after a little more than 30 years. His son Tad just became a lance corporal in the Marines. Their granddaughter, Karlie (Albert) Madden, is serving in Kuwait with the U.S. Air Force.


The Leases are longtime members of the local detachment with Paul having served as junior commandant. The detachment is one of 14 in the state and one of 840 in the country.

Paul said visitors are told not to cry but to just sit and talk with the patients.

"They're so glad to see people," he said. "People couldn't believe we came all the way from Cumberland just to visit with them."

Donations are needed to offset expenses for families - from travel expenses and lodging to food vouchers and phone cards. Money also is used to purchase items such as CDs, DVDs and headphones that come in handy during the medevac flights out of Germany.

"The injured Marines and sailors come from all parts of the United States and for parents to be uprooted, it has a significant emotional and physical impact on them as well as financial," Ryan said.

Donations may be sent to: Marines Helping Marines, Mountainside Marine Detachment, P.O. Box 427, Cumberland, MD 21502. The program should be designated on the memo line of the check.

St. Mary's Sodality, which is associated with St. Mary's Catholic Church, also participates in what it's calling Operation Spirit.

For more information, visit the Web site

Maria D. Martirano can be reached at

Paul Lease