Dinner, golf event helps Marine veterans

NEWPORT BEACH — Marine Cpl. Alfonso Palacios has a tattoo on his left forearm depicting tombstones in memory of servicemen killed during a seven-month tour in Afghanistan.

The 24-year-old Afghan War veteran said he lost four buddies who were "really close" to him.

His friend, Army Spc. Deon L. Taylor, 30, of the Bronx, was killed Oct. 22, 2008, by a roadside bomb while driving his vehicle in Bala Baluk, Afghanistan.

"Losing friends over there, that's the worse part," said Palacios, who comes from Los Angeles. "Our battalion 2/7 [2nd Battalion, 7th Marines] took 20 hits from roadside bombs."

Palacios was one of dozens of active-duty Marines who enjoyed a buffet dinner with all the trimmings served to them by Newport Harbor High School cheerleaders Monday night at the American Legion Post 291 in Newport Beach.

The dinner for the Marines, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, capped a long day of golf for a good cause at the Costa Mesa Country Club. A golf tournament held there Monday to benefit the Camp Pendleton-based Semper Fi Injured Marine Fund raised $35,000. The money will help families of wounded Marines with their loved ones' recuperation and rehabilitation.

Tournament Director Fred Arnold said he's seen a significant drop in sponsorships from years past, but added that he was thankful to those who pulled out their billfolds for the worthy cause.

"Times are tough, but we have to support our troops," said Arnold, a Vietnam veteran, "but we have to remember that it's our duty to stand by these guys."

In all, the Semper Fi Injured Marine Fund has doled out $43 million to roughly 5,000 Marines since the fund was started in 2004, said Wendy Lethin, the fund's on-base coordinator.

"Often family members have to make a choice and they quit their jobs to be at a Marine's bedside," she said. "This fund allows them to do that. Right now, we're seeing a lot of amputees. Not just double or triple, but in some cases quadruple.

"They're going to need American support for years to come."

While the fund has seen a significant drop in the number of sponsorships in the past few years, Lethin said, "Any money is good money," and that "everybody should be helping them in their own way" — even if it's not donating directly to the cause.

Some of the Newport Harbor cheerleaders concurred, saying

they volunteer at various charitable events, but that the Semper Fi Fund is their favorite, hands down.

"It's good to show our respect," said Emily Matthews, 17, a senior who helped dish out plates.

"It's fun to see the immediate effect of what we're doing," said Courtney Lynn, 18.

Palacios and fellow Marine Lance Cpl. Spencer Clifton, who is also an Afghan War veteran based at Camp Pendleton, did not play golf Monday. Instead, the two were at the course in Costa Mesa to exhibit Marine Corps weaponry.

Clifton said he did a tour in Helmand Province from May to December in 2009, helping open schools after U.S. forces seized control of Nawa District away from the Taliban.

"It's good to be home," said Clifton, who hails from Northern California.

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