They arrived from places like Bakersfield, Puerto Rico and St. Joseph, Mo.
Thirty young men bonded as infantry members of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Division, stationed at Camp Pendleton, landed Thursday in Newport Beach for a special off-duty evening of fun, friendship and sailing at the Balboa Yacht Club.
The Marines were participating in the club's Beer Cans Summer Series, held annually from May 15 to Sept. 11. On this Thursday, the club was hosting the men in honor of the city's 1:1 program — Newport Beach adopted the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines in 2003 to help younger enlisted men and their families in times of financial difficulty.
Many of the Marines said it was the first time they'd ever been on any kind of boat.
Among the infantrymen selected by platoon leaders to participate was Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, 21, a three-year Marine Corps veteran.
"I've never been on the ocean, never been on a boat in my life," he said.
Bill Frederickson, a Balboa club member and Marine Corps veteran, said the event was all about supporting the 1:1.
"These Marines were picked because they displayed extraordinary abilities during their last training exercises at 29 Palms," he said.
The servicemen had been split up so they could join the crews on 20 sailboats for the yacht club's annual event, which, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times, started in the 1960s and got its name when a crewman on one of the yachts clamped an empty beer can on a spar being used as a weather mark.
Now, the races make up five series held throughout the summer in Newport Harbor and named after a type of beer — Ale, Lager, Pilsner, Stout and Single Malt — all for fun and trophies.
"We didn't know what to expect," said Cpl. Luis Villa, who was celebrating his 21st birthday. "We got to boat race. It was phenomenal. We didn't get first place, but we had a great time and that's all that matters."
Racing preceded a dockside barbecue for close to 300 revelers as part of the club's regular Thursday night gathering, which includes complimentary libations. This one included a birthday cake in honor of Villa.
"They give us an opportunity to get away from a work-related area, where our job is 24/7," Smith said.
He said it's refreshing to be surrounded by people who want to make the men happy and enjoy seeing them smile.
"With so many ex-military people being members of the yacht club," said staff commodore Peter Bretschger, "hosting the 1:1 is our way that we can directly support the men and women overseas, as they're giving up so much to defend our country."
The organization also helps place "orphan" Marines with families for the holidays, operates a Christmas toy drive and helps plan and staff military balls and other events. The holiday program often leads to lasting friendships and sometimes more.
"I personally have known a senior of mine who has gotten married because of a girl he met through one of the families," said Smith with a smile.
"Today was just an unforgettable 21st birthday," Villa said. "I got to knock a few things off my bucket list — sailing was one of them. I've never been on a boat. It's kind of like a dream, and it came true today."