Marines and their families from Camp Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines — the unit from which 10 of 13 service members killed in the bombing attack at the Kabul airport came — had some “Reel Fun” this weekend as part of the 46th Annual Dana Point Boat Parade of Lights.
They and members of the 5th Marine Regiment were hosted aboard the Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching boat, which with dozens of other brightly lit vessels, toured Dana Point Harbor on Dec. 10, 11 and 12. The Marines enjoyed chili and cornbread homemade at Coffee Importers, a favorite harbor restaurant.
“It is an honor and privilege to host these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much so that our United States can remain a strong and free nation,” said Donna Kalez, who operates the whale and fishing charter company that owns the Reel Fun. “We owe our active-duty service members more than we can ever repay, and it is for this reason, each year, for the last 10 years, Dana Wharf, with its fully decorated boat, has provided this celebratory outreach during the holidays. We just want them to know we appreciate their sacrifice.”
The Reel Fun, captained by Chris Pica, an Army veteran, cruised through the harbor with about 70 other boats.
The parade began at the harbor’s entrance and went past Dana Wharf down to Waterman’s Restaurant and turned around, heading back past Dana Wharf and into the harbor’s inner channel and to the harbor bridge. There they turned around again and headed past Wind & Sea Restaurant and the Harbor Patrol dock, turning toward the harbor’s outer channel. From there the boats traveled to the Ocean Institute and through the East Basin to the bridge and then headed back for another loop around.
“They’re just out there having a good time,” said Pica, whose uncle served in the Marines during Vietnam and flew 186 missions behind enemy lines. Twice he was shot down.
“It’s an honor for me to take these guys out,” he said. “All the sacrifices they’ve made for ‘We the People.'”
While Kalez donates the boat and crew, the food, beverages and a DJ are gratis thanks to two community support groups — the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group and the Marine Corps League-South Coast Detachment. Both organizations support the units throughout the year.
“When our families get aboard, everything is on the house,” said Pete Hammer, commandant of the Marine Corps League-South Coast Detachment which supports the 2/1. “I think for all these Marines, it’s a good relief and diversion to enjoy the light show in the harbor.”
Hammer and his group have supported the Marines from 2/1 after returning from their Middle East deployment. In October, the detachment helped with a private memorial honoring the 13 killed held on a helicopter pad on a hilltop over Camp Pendleton. The support group hosted 500 Marines, their families and Gold Star families of the nine Marines and sailor killed in Kabul.
“Camp Pendleton is one of the more unique bases because it has so much community support,” Hammer said. “Large numbers of units are either adopted or supported by community groups, the VFW and churches. Many of those are from Orange County.”
Similarly, Terry Rifkin, chair of the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Group and a psychotherapist, said she believes the community help is critical to the Marines who came back from Afghanistan and to others from the 5th Marine Regiment that have and will deploy.
“I’m always looking at the short- and long-term effects this unit (2/1) has endured,” Rifkin said. “That was not supposed to end up the way it did. I don’t know how much the Marine Corps does for the morale of these units, but it’s important for them to come here and see a grateful nation. I think a lot felt let down.”
Rifkin also threw kudos to Kalez, who 10 years ago came up with the idea when she served on the 5th Regiment support group’s board.
“Donna goes the extra mile not only with a toy collection for Marine families but also to give the boat for three nights,” Rifkin said. “She’s very committed to giving and service, and her generosity is always over the top.”
Anyone wanting to donate to the Marine families can do so by dropping off unwrapped gifts at Dana Wharf’s office, 34675 Golden Lantern in Dana Point Harbor, through Dec. 16.
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