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Thousands of Marines, vets to descend on Lejeune for 75th anniversary

February 1, 2016 (Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Kelly Timney/Marine Corps)

The 2nd Marine Division will parade 6,000 Marines and tons of tactical vehicles through Jacksonville, North Carolina, as it celebrates 75 years of heritage.

The “Follow Me” division organized Feb. 1, 1941, at Camp Elliott, California. Its Marines have fought in every clime and place from Guadalcanal in the Pacific to Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The division will honor all current and former members with a three-day celebration that kicks off Thursday, Feb. 4, with the sergeant major’s reception at the staff noncommissioned officer club Club at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

A memorial ceremony will follow at the base’s protestant chapel at 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Friday. Veterans from each era will then hang battle streamers on the division colors during a ceremony at Lejeune's Goettge Memorial Field House at 10 a.m.

“This is going to be a significant year to take those remaining World War II veterans and give them one more opportunity to participate in an event that celebrates their achievements,” said Maj. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, the division’s commanding general.

Though he has spent most of his career assigned to 1st Marine Division, Beaudreault's admiration for the "Follow Me Division” is obvious; he said he looks forward to meeting some of its earliest warriors.

The anniversary will provide “a great connection between the older veterans and younger Marines,” said Beaudreault, who noted the timeless commonalities shared by Marines, be they 80 or are 18.

Three of the division's former commanders — Gens. Al Gray, Randolph Pate and James Jones — went on to serve as commandant. Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, also led the division as a two-star general from July 1954 to February 1955.

Beaudreault said he is especially looking forward to the parade that will be held on the third day of the division's celebration. The 1.5-mile trek will be led by World War II Marines, followed by veterans from each subsequent conflict and era.

Today's generation of Marines will have their backs as they take the rear position on the six.

The commanding general felt it was important this be a community celebration. As such, the parade will be held in Jacksonville rather than on Camp Lejeune, and will stretch from Camp Johnson to Riverwalk Crossing Park.

The parade will feature the M1A1 Abrams tank, assault breaching vehicle, amphibious assault vehicle, light armored reconnaissance vehicle, logistics vehicles and assorted artillery.

The anniversary celebration will wrap up with a community festival at Jacksonville's New River Waterfront Park and a concert by the 2nd Marine Division band at Northside High School from 6 to 8 p.m.

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