The Marines, Love and a Great Party

A proud group, their ladies, and some of the finest music on the West Coast make Valentine's Day 2009 memorable

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: February 16, 2009

The Marines, Love and a Great Party

How do you mix love, gourmet dinner and drinks in the same caldo with the world's finest and proudest warriors... and end up with a great romantic party?

...like an old saying says "...Tell it to the Marines!..."

And with that said, Commandant Bennie Najar Jr. and the San Fernando Valley Detachment of the Marine Corps League Detachment # 1277 did just that...and what a caldo of love it was!

"The San Fernando Valley has taken some major hits this past year," Commandant Najar says, "We've had a major train crash, two devastating fires where people lost their homes, an earthquake, a freeway tunnel explosion, one of the highest home foreclosure rates in California, three large companies based in the Valley have laid off a large number of people, we pretty much led the state with the price of gas at more than $5.00 a gallon last summer, and unfortunately, our country is still at war in two separate other countries, with the San Fernando Valley's sons & daughters once again highly represented in the ranks of the military as they have been for decades." The former L.A.P.D. officer and veteran of eight years in the Marine Corps states, "There needed to be a break in all this hardship...there needed to be a break in all the bad news...there needed to be some love shared and a party had... and I knew just who to turn to".

"As veterans, especially Marines, we still feel compelled to join together as a band of brothers to serve a mission of helping & serving our community, honoring our military veterans as well as active duty Marines now serving in harm's way, while keeping the proud 233 year military history, traditions, and honor of the United States Marine Corps alive...while trying to make it fun and enjoyable for all involved," Commandant Najar says, "That's just the way we are, and it is what it is."

"We've been involved in parades, job fairs, community events, we're organizing a youth program for troubled youth, we've had a color guard detachment formed for public events and funerals, helped out during the recent fire evacuation efforts, and last year, our first efforts & involvement in the Toys for Tots program saw us collect and distribute over 1,000 toys to needy children...not bad for a few good men and women who barely formed, organized and chartered less than two years ago," he states proudly.

As if by divine intervention, good luck, outside respect from the community or a combination of the three, the SFV Marines were recently welcomed to move from cramped quarters at the famed "Richie Valens" San Fernando American Legion post to more spacious accommodations at the newly-remodeled Reseda American Legion post.

"The guys at the American Legion Post in San Fernando were great, and they welcomed us with open arms like family, but being a well-known and busy veteran's group themselves, we were starting to crowd their space with our growing detachment membership and competing need for the hall for events. Not wanting to ever cause bad feelings with brother veterans who had done us so kindly, we began looking for a new building to have our meetings and events at, when the Reseda American Legion Post became available. The membership voted to move, and we officially made it our home in January. We had been planning a Valentine's Day Ball for our biggest and best supporters ... our LADIES ... since last November, as we had originally thought of just renting the larger hall, but now I saw a great opportunity to turn it into something bigger & better now that it was our home base."

Meeting with his board of officers and membership, Najar and his Marines recruited their wives and girlfriends, and organized entertainment and fundraising committees, and planned a formal, dinner-dance black tie gala affair the likes the Valley had never seen before from a Veteran's group, save the annual Marine Corps Balls held in November across the country.

Detachment volunteers helped with such details as finding and securing a caterer, building a detachment closet and storage space, designing and printing tickets and promotional flyers, selling those tickets, passing out those flyers, getting public advertising, securing entertainment, cleaning and decorating the large dance hall, seeking and securing public sponsorship, donations, and contributions, developing a funds management team to oversee the budget, organizing raffles and prizes sub-committees, securing and transporting banquet tables, getting "word of mouth" information lines open, and the dozen or more other details needed to put on a good show and large party....all the while living their daily lives with their families & jobs, while managing to e-mail, telephone, and meet with each other regularly, and almost daily.

In less than six weeks, the SFV Marines pulled off a successful mission that would make any military commander or concert promoter proud!

With all the experience and dedication on these committees, the Marines pulled off an elegant & eye opening event for less than half the cost of a contemporary wedding, quincea??era, or fundraising event...and if you live in L. A., YOU KNOW we're talking some serious bucks and headaches here!

With less than six weeks to go, most of L.A.'s top talent was booked for the Valentine's Day/President's Day weekend...but the Marines would not be deterred...they're not known for giving up or just settling for anything.

Like calling in for heavy artillery or air support, "name" bands were searched, and the Goddess of Ritmo blessed the Marines by finding some top talent from Northern and Central California available and more than willing to support a great cause in the Land of 1000 Dances.

From San Jose, popular recording artists THE KOOL KATZ, featuring Kelly "The Kat" Galvan , a music group that has made some serious splashes in Los Angeles and the southwestern United States over the past couple of years, braved the rain, sleet, and snow of California's notorious
I-5 "Grapevine" and came into L.A. ready to play for the Marines.

From Santa Barbara, famed LaCima Music recording artist PEPE MARQUEZ, the "Soul Man of Santa Barbara", and proud father of a U.S. Marine scheduled to return for a second tour of combat duty in Iraq, drove through heavy coastal rains and came prepared and ready to rock the house.

One of the San Fernando Valley's most respected, well-known, and popular banquet caterers, MONA LISA CATERERS of Northridge provided, prepared, and served a gourmet three course dinner complete with coffee & dessert while turning the Reseda Amercian Legion dance hall into an elegant ballroom fit for royalty....and U.S. Marines!

With over 80% of advance tickets sold, and with generous public sponsor contributions from such well known entities as ALLIED WASTE SERVICES of Sun Valley, the offices of U.S. Congressman HOWARD L. BERMAN, State Senator ALEX PADILLA, State Assemblyman FELIPE FUENTES and others, along with media sponsorship from LatinoLA, The Lost Memories and East L.A. Revue Internet Radio Stations, the event was well attended by good-looking, well-dressed Marines and their Ladies, and a grateful community which also included honorable members of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Besides being a proud member of the SFV Marine Corps League Detachment # 1277, I was indeed honored when asked to serve as Emcee and host.

After a delicious dinner and personal welcome from Commandant Najar, the Kool Katz hit the stage hard and heavy, filling the dance floor from the very first song. Like I've seen more than a dozen times before up & down the state, Kelly "the Kat" simply endears herself to her audience with her dynamic performance and stage presence, blending her marvelous singing talents with wit, humor, and charm while hubby and bandleader Art Galvan was simply masterful at lead guitar and backup vocals. The KOOL KATZ made a lot of new friends and fans on this night, as their performance was flawless.

Calling up Pepe Marquez during each of their three sets, the "Soul Man of Santa Barbara" first giving a heart rendering story about his love for his son, a U.S. Marine, which drew a loud applause) joined Kelly & the Katz in heart pounding song & dance routines, keeping the dance floor full, and the people happy.

Kelly, Art, and Pepe all harmonized perfectly together, drawing many compliments from the crowd all night long.

With a combination of Cumbias, Oldies, Funk, R&B, Soul, Latin Soul and Rock & Roll, the combination of The Kool Katz and Pepe Marquez was mesmerizing and quite an enjoyable experience, as Marines showed off their snappy dance skills, along with their beautiful dates.

The highlight of the night, especially planned for the Marines on Valentine's night, was an exceptional romantic Oldies slow dance medley that had Kelly and Pepe taking turns at lead vocals, causing some smootching (yeah...me too!) on the crowded dance floor. Kelly melted hearts with her sensual crooning of the "grinders", prompting a couple of single guys to ask me "Is she married?" (I let them know the lucky guy was up on stage with her!)

When Pepe took it a level higher by going bi-lingual in Spanish in mid song, the girls in the crowd screamed their delight, and many couples simply stopped dancing to watch from the dance floor as Kelly & Pepe "showed their stuff " for a most grateful and appreciative audience.

Standing in the back of the ballroom, smiling and taking it all in like proud papa's and uncles of a first-born child, Commandant Najar and his officers could only congratulate themselves and the committee members for a hectic six weeks of "battle planning" that lead to a most well earned victory of success in their first event in their new home....

...and resulted in a wonderful night of love and enjoyment for the Marines and their Ladies!

SEMPER FI , and Happy Valentine's Day!!

Note: Any and all interested Marines or Navy Corpsmen interested in joining the SFV Detachment of the Marine Corps League are encouraged to contact Commandant Bennie Najar Jr at USMCsgt7@aol.com or Vice Commandant Sam Castrellon at Castrellon5@yahoo.com

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the "Al Capone of the microphone and the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul" heard daily in Internet radio, a proud Marine Corps veteran, and is a regular contributer to this fine web magazine
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