Unsung Hero John H. Leighton: Active Member of the Marine Corps League of Rockland County

By Barry Warner

The mission of The Marine Corps League is for the members to join together in camaraderie and fellowship for the purpose of preserving the traditions and promoting the interests of the United States Marine Corps. This is accomplished by banding together those who are now serving in the United States Marine Corps and those who have been honorably discharged from that service, voluntarily aiding and rendering assistance to all Marines and former Marines and to their widows and orphans and by perpetuating the history of the United States Marine Corps through fitting acts to observe the anniversaries of historical occasions of particular interest to Marines.

Past Commandant Dale Robison Jr. told the Rockland County Times, “Retired United States Marine Corps Colonel John H. Leighton is an outstanding veteran. He served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and flew 900 missions. He has been an active member, performing as our Commandant for 2 years, is currently serving as our Adjutant and was President of the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter 333. In these positions, he instituted many ideas and changes to strengthen these groups. He has been involved with our Toys for Tots program plus the Bob Hope Division at the Montrose Nursing Home for Vets. His most impressive work has been for the Joseph P. Dwyer Vet to Vet mentoring group, working with vets suffering from PTSD. A humble man, John is most deserving of recognition.”

“After retirement from the business world, I joined the Marine Corps League, as I admired the work this veteran’s organization was doing with the Toys for Tots campaign. I felt this was a group of Marines and other veterans who believed in giving back to their community. Each year, the League collects and distributes over 13,000 toys to needy children within the county. The charities that receive these toys are the Head Start of Nyack Village, the Marine Shrine Don Bosco Retreat in Stony Point and the East Ramapo SchooI District. I also joined the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 333 (VVA-333) in the county. As a Vietnam veteran, I remembered how the veterans were not appreciated when they returned from Vietnam. Nonetheless, VVA-333 has contributed scholarships to veteran students here within and outside the county. I am most proud of the work that is being done in providing hand-cycles and adaptive sports equipment to veterans that have below-the-waist disabling injuries. I am also a member of American Legion Post 1600 in Pomona that continues to help both active duty and retired veterans” said John Leighton. “Noting that the number of veteran suicides per day is somewhere near 22, I joined the newly formed PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Vet to Vet mentoring program held at the Bridges of Rockland facility in New City. This program is in remembrance of PFC Joseph P. Dwyer, who was seen carrying a small child to safety during a battle near Mosul, Iraq. The scene was captured by a photojournalist and made national news. However, upon returning to the United States, PFC Dwyer suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and eventually committed suicide. Through the efforts of New York State Representative Lee Zeldin, a grant was approved to fund this program and continues to be funded in the county with the support of State Senators Carlucci and Larkin. As a combat vet, I recognized the need for veterans to talk about their experiences and release some of those memories. Veterans tend not to talk about their war experiences, even to their families, but feel more comfortable discussing these issues with other veterans. I work with WWII, Korean, Vietnam plus Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. It is really about listening and perhaps a little coaching and for me it’s a win-win situation. The veteran feels better and I feel good about being there for the veteran.”

Leighton continued, “I have been a guardian on 3 Hudson Valley Honor Flights which take WWII and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C. to view the WWII, Korean War Memorials and Arlington Cemetery. The trip is free to the veteran and the guardian makes a donation to the Honor flight. It is an honor to accompany veterans that are living history of the sacrifices they have made and why we are free. Recently, the Peer-to-Peer mentoring group was contacted about a WWII veteran who was blind and wheel chair bound. The wheel chair adaptable van that his wife drove had reached the end of the line and needed to be replaced. I started to network through the veteran community and over several months was able to find an organization that would donate a van to this veteran. This was a combined effort by businesses and a charity organization and veterans that made this happen. As a Marine combat helicopter pilot, I believe in the motto-leave no one behind.”

For additional information about the Marine Corps League Toys for Tots, Vet to Vet mentoring and Scholarship programs, e-mail Commandant Sean Robinson at commandant@rocklandusmc.com