Union Tribune | Oceanside, CA | November 22nd, 2012
400 volunteers picked up more than 900 Marines throughout the day and brought them back to their San Diego-area homes for turkey and trimmings as part of the Armed Services YMCA Home Hospitality Program. — Bill Wechter
OCEANSIDE — By Thursday afternoon, Minnesota native Meng Thao knew where 10 members of his family were heading: to his sister’s house in suburban St. Paul to celebrate Thanksgiving.
It was the first time Thao would be unable to join them.
But the 18-year-old Marine, who is training at Camp Pendleton, did have someplace to go.
He and five fellow Marine Combat Training privates and private first classes were picked up on base in three vehicles Thursday morning and driven 40 minutes to a get-together in Oceanside as part of the Armed Services YMCA Home Hospitality Program.
The Marines, joined by one sailor, played football and ate 14 pounds of prime rib and 21 pounds of turkey with two host families at a massive Thanksgiving feast that included 24 people.
“It feels like we’re one, big, old happy family,” said Thao, who graduated from high school in June. “It means a lot to know there are people out there who will spend their holiday with Marines like me. I think it really brings out the meaning of Thanksgiving.”
In all, about 400 volunteers picked up more than 900 Marines throughout the day and brought them back to their San Diego-area homes for turkey and trimmings as part of the program.
Ingo Hentschel, a retired Marine who co-hosted the Oceanside dinner with neighbor Andy McCoy, said he has had service members join his family for the holiday since 2006.
“We used to do the traditional Thanksgiving, just with our family,” Hentschel said. “When I joined the Armed Services YMCA, I decided to try it. It certainly was more hectic, but a lot more rewarding. It really goes to the heart of what Thanksgiving is all about. It should be about taking care of others, doing something for others.”
The Marines and the sailor, who range in age from 18 to 20, grew up all over the nation — Wisconsin, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota, Northern California and Guam — and all of them said it was their first time away from home on Thanksgiving. By the afternoon, they had blended in seamlessly with the Hentschels and McCoys.
“It means a lot because it lets me see how much the community cares about our service members,” said Timothy Wiggers, 18, of Springfield, Ill. “A lot of times, you don’t see the direct influence, the direct support people give. These people are opening up their homes.”
Added Chase Sweet, 18, of Windsor, Calif.: “If I can’t be with my family, it’s nice to be with a hospitable and down-to-earth family that is willing to take in strangers and make us feel that we’re at home when we can’t be at our homes.”
As for Thao, getting to spend the holiday with his friends from the base, as well as having the chance to have a traditional meal, made the day.
“I feel like I have two families,” he said. “A family I go home to and a family I train with, my Marine family.”
ASYMCA NOTE: This program is run by the Camp Pendleton ASYMCA Branch and usually fills up with repeat participants early on each year. Thank you!