'A group of patriots' - Marines host annual First Defenders gathering
The Hotel Bethlehem hosted a military reception recently for members of the Honorary First Defenders and their guest of honor, U. S. Marine Sgt. Maj. Anthony A. Spadaro, who traveled from his post in New Orleans to speak to the group.
In the Tap Room of the Hotel Bethlehem, surrounded by photographs of other famous guests such as Winston Churchill, Spadaro met some of the local military men and women who had invited him to speak later that evening at their "dining in," or military banquet, at the Econo Lodge Conference Center in Allentown.
Spadaro, a combat veteran, is the sergeant major of the Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and of the Legion of Merit among other awards.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Carl J. Schroeder and his wife, Master Sgt. Roslynn Schroeder, were Spadaro's hosts for the cocktail hour at the historic hotel in Bethlehem.
Also attending were Capt. Jeremiah Davis, 1st Sgt. Richard D. Ayala and Sgt. Craig A. Green. These Marines are on the Inspector-Instructor staff supporting the Marine Corps Reserve's artillery battery headquartered on Postal Road.
Army Reserve Ambassador George H. Duell Jr of Palmerton also attended representing the Office of the Chief, Army Reserves. Duell who, as an ambassador, wears the two stars of a major general.
Members of the Bethlehem Detachment 284 of the Marine Corps League also came to honor Spadaro. Detachment Commandant Earl "Jack" Ohmacht of Bethlehem attended as did North Catasauqua residents Lester Perilli and his wife Nancy.
U. S. Air Force Maj. Nate Kline, an Allentown resident and highly decorated World War II aviator, also attended the reception.
The Schroeders, who live in Coopersburg, are members of the Honorary First Defenders (HFD), a military society dedicated to supporting military reserve units in the area to include the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Reserve and Coast Guard.
They are both past commanders of the HFD.
After drinks, the group reconvened at the Econo Lodge Conference Center where Spadaro was the guest of honor and keynote speaker.
Because the Marines had the honor - an honor that rotates annually among the military branches - of leading the ceremonies at the banquet, Marine Capt. Davis was president of the mess and Master Gunnery Sgt. Carl Schroeder and Sgt. Craig Green shared duties as vice president of the mess.
In an interview, Spadaro praised the "dedication, patriotism and service" of the Honorary First Defenders.
"They are a group of Americans, a group of patriots - maybe not in uniform and maybe a little older and wiser - who still serve selflessly to ensure that the lives of servicemen are a little better."
"The Marine Corps is a total force," said Spadaro, addressing the Honorary First Defenders, whom he called his brothers and sisters in arms. "The active duty component and the reservists constitute one Marine Corps."
He said the active duty Marine Corp has about 192,000 and the Marines in the Reserve Component number about 39,000. Spadaro said the Individual Ready Reserve is 110,000 men and women.
"They call themselves Marines," said the sergeant major. "We serve under the same commandant, use the same equipment and have the exact same training. We have the same standards and traditions.
"They are ready to protect and defend this nation. This is what we do for you the taxpayer."
The Marines, said Spadaro, have experience in "taking the fight directly to the enemy across the globe."
"Since 1775, they have stood shoulder to shoulder to fight and win the nation's battles. They are disciplined, focused, and lethal."
He commended the Reserve Marines for their "sacrifices" in the service of their country.
The Honorary First Defenders consists of 213 members, the maximum number that the military service organization keeps on its rolls.
According to Master Sgt. Roslynn Schroeder, the HFD supports the Pa. National Guard, the Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve and the Marine Corps Reserve with a donation of $1,000 each annually.
"There are no strings attached," Schroeder said. "They can buy things not normally in the supply chain."
Its purpose is to perpetuate the memory of the Pennsylvania soldiers, many from Northampton and Lehigh counties, who answered President Abraham Lincoln's first call for soldiers to protect the nation's capital in the first perilous days of the Civil War thus earning the name, "First Defenders."
These soldiers were the first to reach Washington on April 18, 1861.One of these men, Ignatz Gresser, is buried in the Union and West End Cemetery in Allentown. Gresser was, late in life, awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Battle Antietam.