By DEVIN WEEKS
The ladies of the Marine Corps League Auxiliary Pappy Boyington Unit are unwavering in their loyalty and service to others, especially the Marines they hold so dear to their hearts.
"Our actual main mission as the Marine Corps Auxiliary is to support the Marines," said auxiliary member Karen Wambolt. "That's our first and No. 1 mission."
“If you look around the room, our husbands have served in different eras or different sections of the Marine Corps,” said president Tina Batha. "Knowing how all of our husbands served and knowing we’re giving back to them and helping them for what they sacrificed all those years... That’s the biggest thing, helping the guys."
The ladies gathered in a Coeur d'Alene clubhouse on the spring-like Saturday afternoon to discuss the many functions of their organization.
“We support whatever the Marine Corps League does,” said Phyllis Kostur, secretary and historian. "That includes any kind of parade, anything they do, any event they put on.”
The Marine Corps League Auxiliary Pappy Boyington Unit, which has 25 active members and formed in 2001, is the last remaining Marine Corps Auxiliary in Idaho after the Boise one dissolved about four years ago.
“We are the only auxiliary,” Batha said. “A lot of people didn’t realize that, one, we exist, and two, that Idaho has one auxiliary, and it’s us.”
These ladies are responsible for much behind-the-scenes work. While the Marines in their lives are hosting conventions, attending meetings and preserving the traditions of the U.S. Marine Corps, auxiliary members are beside them, helping wherever they can.
"A lot of them have referred to the auxiliary as the 'backbone of the League,'" Batha said. "If there is a function and the League is there, I guarantee us women are right behind them picking up the pieces."
Auxiliary members volunteer their time for several activities throughout the year.
They provide funds for Honor Flights so older veterans can see their nation's capital. They generate support for the Young Marines so they can afford uniforms and participate in the program. They work the "coffee wagon" at the Huetter rest area so their Marine Corps League counterparts can have the honor of being in the Fourth of July American Heroes Parade. They "adopt" Marine families in need. They help organize a Memorial Day ceremony in the Coeur d'Alene Memorial Gardens every year and feed any and all who attend.
Another major endeavor of the auxiliary ladies is to award funds to college-bound high school seniors in Kootenai County. Each year, they present two students with $750 scholarships to help them on their academic paths. The students are required to produce essays on military topics, such as, "What do you think of patriotism?"
“It’s a lot of fun, and most all the kids are very appreciative,” said Gladys Sullivan, who chairs the scholarship committee.
Chaplain Shirley McCormack said it's pretty tough to judge the students' essays.
"They’re really wonderful," she said. "It’s amazing what they come up with and the feeling they put into them. It brings us to tears many times. It’s hard to pick out two."
Another huge project of the Marine Corps League that the auxiliary assists with is the Toys for Tots toy drive each Christmas season. The ladies organize a silent auction during the annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball to gather donations for the drive, they bag and organize the toys and they read the stories of the families in need on the applications they receive.
The stories of those they help are reminders of the necessity of their efforts.
Batha said one Toys for Tots story that she'll never forget was about two children who had been adopted by their grandparents because the mother was in prison for killing the father.
“You don’t look at the toys. You look at those little girls and you think, ‘How can I help them?’" Batha said.
"You look at the veterans that are missing limbs, deaf, have mental problems, and they’re in the veterans home and you think, ‘How can we help them?’ We look at the scholarships of the young kids we give the money to, and you don’t look at the money, you think, ‘What are these kids going to grow up to be?’ and you know this money is going to them. The Young Marines getting ready to leave and eventually become a Marine, and we all know because we’ve been married to Marines what their life is like — some in combat, some not — and we know what they're facing, and you think, ‘This is for them.’”
The auxiliary is always accepting new members. Anyone related to a Marine is welcome to join, and anyone 17 and older with a military presence in the family is welcome to join as an associate.
“It’s a rewarding experience to give back to your community and have fellowship with all these wonderful ladies,” said Virginia Grob, the youngest member and Batha's daughter.
Dues are $25.50 per year. Meetings are held at 6 p.m. in the Elks Lodge, 1170 W. Prairie Ave. in Coeur d'Alene the second Thursday of each month starting in March.
For information, contact treasurer Paulette Gaffney, 208-818-5426.