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Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps


Just as America250PA is gearing up to celebrate America’s semiquincentennial in 2026, one of our nonprofit affiliates, Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps, is preparing celebrations for the 250th anniversary of the Navy and Marine Corps in 2025.



We spoke with Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps Chair and President and Tun Tavern Legacy Foundation Director, George Leone, to learn more about this historic event as well as the history leading up to it.


Learn more from Leone in the interview and transcription below, and be sure to visit www.homecoming250.org for more information about Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps and how YOU can get involved!



Can you tell me about yourself and how you got involved in Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps?


Leone: I have been living in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey throughout my career. I was a Philadelphia assistant district attorney and then a federal prosecutor and then a judge and now I’m retired. But I always was very much interested in the history of our country and the military history of our country. My father served in the Second World War in the United States Navy, and all of my uncles served in the services. When I graduated from law school I first worked for a judge who had spent World War II in the Marine Corps, and from both of them, I learned how important their service had been. So, when I retired from the bench, I decided to become a trustee of the Battleship New Jersey which is on the Delaware River, right opposite of Philadelphia. I wanted to become involved in the Semiquincentennial, and as a result of that, the idea came to have a celebration of the Navy and Marine Corps’ 250th birthday and to have that in their birthplace, which is Philadelphia and the Delaware River.


What is Homecoming 250’s mission?


Leone: Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps is a group of dedicated volunteers who’ve banded together to make sure the main celebration of the founding of the Navy and Marine Corps, is at their birthplace. They have been developing a great deal of support. At this point, we have the support of the Governor of Pennsylvania and of New Jersey; the mayor of Philadelphia and of Camden; the legislatures of Pennsylvania and New Jersey; the entire congressional delegations of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware; and all 14 living secretaries of the Navy. We’ve also been designated as one of America 250’s first national partnership programs. And we’re working with America250PA and also Revolution New Jersey which, with America 250, will be planning the semiquincentennial celebrations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


What is the significance of Pennsylvania when it comes to the Navy and Marine Corps?


Leone: Pennsylvania is the birthplace of both. . . . Back in 1775, after the fighting had broken out in Massachusetts, but before the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress realized that it had to have armed forces to protect Americans from the British. As a result, they decided to found a Navy and a Marine Corps. On October 13th, 1775, the Second Continental Congress authorized the purchase of ships for a Navy, and the first Navy ship was launched on the Delaware. Also at Independence Hall, in 1775 on November 10th, the Second Continental Congress decided that we needed a corps of Marines to accompany and work with the Navy. The first Marines were recruited in Philadelphia at the Tun Tavern, a place that every Marine recruit or non-active Marine — there are no “former” Marines — knows by heart what it looked like and what happened there. The first Marine amphibious operation was launched in cooperation with the Navy from the bank of the Delaware River in Philadelphia and went to the Bahamas and seized gun powder for the young Revolution. Throughout the War of Independence, the Navy and the Marine Corps were organized and operated out of Philadelphia and the Delaware.



Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Many of its heroes were from Philadelphia; Commodore Barry, the father of the American Navy; John Paul Jones was commissioned in Philadelphia; the first Commandant to the Marine Corps was from Philadelphia. Then, even after the Revolution was over, Philadelphia continued to play a central role — and Pennsylvania — in the founding and the operation of the Navy and Marine Corps. After the Revolutionary War, the new government decided they couldn’t afford a Navy and Marine Corps and disbanded them, but when Philadelphia was the Capital of the United States in the 1790s, George Washington decided that we needed to have a real Navy and a real Marine Corps and founded the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps in Congress Hall in Philadelphia. Congress Hall passed that legislation. The first American frigate of the great class of frigates that included the Constitution was built in Philadelphia — all of them were designed here. The first officers for the new U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines were done here. And even after that, the Delaware River and Philadelphia were central focuses of the Navy and Marine Corps. It’s amazing the number of important ships that were built on the Delaware River both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including not only the first frigate, the USS United States, but then the first destroyer, the first cruiser, the first battleship, the first aircraft carrier. The list goes on. The first Navy shipyard was in Philadelphia and continued to operate until 1995 . . . This is really the birthplace of the Navy and Marine Corps, and it’s the place where they should hold their main celebrations.


How are you going to celebrate the Navy’s 250th anniversary?


Leone: The Navy’s 250th anniversary is in October 2025, and for that celebration, we are going to do something that can only be done in Philadelphia, and has never been done before, which is to assemble, in one place, ships representing every major war in which the Navy has fought: the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War that made America world naval power, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and the conflicts in the Middle East.


USS Olympia

The reason that can only be done in Philadelphia is because Philadelphia has preserved the USS Olympia which is the only surviving ship from the Spanish American War and it also fought in World War I.

And it could be done more easily in Philadelphia than any place else, because Philadelphia and New Jersey, right opposite, have the USS New Jersey, which was the only battleship to fight in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the Cold War, and the Middle East.



So, between those two ships, we’ve covered a lot. They are incredibly historic ships. The New Jersey, for example, is the most decorated ship in the Navy that’s afloat, and the Olympia brought back the Unknown Soldier from World War I that we just finished commemorating.

In addition to those ships, we’ve already arranged to bring replica ships from the Revolution.


The Pennsylvania Flagship, the USS Niagara

The Pennsylvania State Flagship, the USS Niagara from the War of 1812, will sail to Philadelphia for this celebration.


For the Civil War — that’s the hardest [because] there are no ships that can get here at the moment — we are going to build a full-scale replica of the USS Monitor, the most famous ship from the Civil War and the first armored turreted warship that revolutionized naval shipbuilding. We have a home for it next to the USS New Jersey, which is the last armored turreted warship.


The USS Monitor fighting the Merrimack Battleship off Hampton Roads, 1862

Will this all be open to the public?


Leone: The idea is to allow people to learn and enjoy this history, so all of these ships, including modern Navy ships to represent the Gulf War and beyond, will be open for touring and will be assembled on both banks of the Delaware. We will also have celebrations at Independence Hall.


U.S. Navy Blue Angels

We will have the Blue Angels, hopefully, flying over and doing their performance above Center City Philadelphia, and the Delaware. [We’ll have] exhibits. We’re already working with several museums. We hope to work with all of the great museums of Philadelphia and all of the great historic sites in Philadelphia to make sure there are museums and exhibits … of art, of history. The first Marine Corps Ball was held in Philadelphia; for the Marines’ celebration, we’re going to replicate that. And to really take advantage of the fact that we have a better preserved, historical record of the Revolution in the early period of the United States than any other place in the country, we’re a World Heritage City because of that, and we’re going to take advantage of all of that to give all the people who come to this — veterans, active duty, and people who just care about the United States and American history — a wonderful opportunity to learn how the Navy and the Marine Corps were founded here and how they’ve gone on to defend us and protect liberty around the world.


How are you going to celebrate the Marine Corps’ 250th anniversary?


Leone: The Marine Corps 250th anniversary will be in November 2025, and we’re planning to have a linked celebration between the two. For the Marines, we will assemble ships that have a particularly strong connection to the Marine Corps. Some of them we already have — the [USS] New Jersey supported the Marines throughout the Pacific in World War II and in Korea and in Vietnam and in Lebanon and during the Cold War. The Olympia, as I said, brought home the Unknown Soldier, and the Marines on that ship tied themselves to the coffin to keep it from being carried away in a storm. We’ll have the replica of the ship that carried the Marines in their first amphibious operation, and we’re going to have the active-duty Navy bring in amphibious vessels. One nice thing about that is, their amphibious vessels, they have things that are essentially aircraft carriers. The Marines, unlike any other service, are experts in having planes take off straight up and down. So, we can have wonderful displays of that, just like for the Navy celebration we will probably have the Blue Angels flying overhead.


Can you explain how the Tun Tavern Legacy Foundation ties in with the Marine Corps?

The Tun Tavern

Leone: Everything that I mentioned is going to be wonderful, but the thing that the Marines really care about is rebuilding Tun Tavern. Although the Marines were created by the Second Continental Congress, they had their first recruiting drive in Tun Tavern, which is almost as old as Philadelphia itself. They have a huge regard for Tun Tavern. Even though it burned down before the Revolution was over, people come to Philadelphia and look for Tun Tavern. That’s one of the most frequently asked questions at the Visitors’ Center. Then, all they can do is go to a historical marker and have their picture taken there — which they do and they post it on the internet — but, what we want to do is recreate Tun Tavern which was a very historic tavern that not only was the birthplace of the Marine Corp, it was the birthplace of Freemasonry in the United States; it was the birthplace of immigrant societies like the St. Andrew’s Society for Scottish immigrants; it was the birthplace of the Pennsylvania National Guard which was founded by Benjamin Franklin in Tun Tavern; it’s where John Adams wrote the Articles of War for the Navy; it’s where George Washington had his farewell dinner before he went off to take command of the Continental Army. The Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson, all met there, so it’s a tremendously important site and we are going to recreate it as historically accurate as possible but also as an operating, charitable tavern. That means that, like the City Tavern was built in Philadelphia for the bicentennial — it served Philadelphia very well for 50 years and hopefully will again — Tun Tavern will be an open tavern which can be a gathering place for Marines, local residents, tourists, veterans of all sorts, and will do that for decades to come. Any excess money or profits will be given to charities like Marine Corps charities. So, this is a tremendous opportunity to add to the historical fabric of Philadelphia, to bring in badly-needed tourism for Philadelphia, and to really enliven it further by having this wonderful, historical location.


How did you get involved with America250PA?


Leone: America250PA has been a great partner of ours from the very beginning. They’re obviously organizing the Semiquincentennial activities in Pennsylvania. They have been very supportive of us. We’re one of their nonprofit affiliates, and we’ve been working together with Cassandra Coleman and other members of America250PA from the beginning. We look forward to working with them throughout to make sure that this is a wonderful opening act for the Semiquincentennial. The Semiquincentennial of the United States - obviously the foundation of its armed forces, that protect the independence that we’re celebrating, is very important. The timing is wonderful for Pennsylvania because it will provide this early opportunity to seize the national spotlight in October and November 2025 so that, no matter what people are doing on July 4th, they will know that Philadelphia was the center place in which the nation was founded — in which its armed services were founded — and will, I think, get a lot of attention and help the economic development of Philadelphia and all the surrounding regions. That’s why so many people from the Philadelphia area and all of Pennsylvania have been supportive just like America250PA.


With the upcoming celebrations of America and the Navy and Marine Corps, what are you most looking forward to personally?


Leone: Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing the Blue Angels perform over Philadelphia. They were kind enough to fly over with the Thunderbirds during the pandemic, but all they could do was fly over. We’re hoping they will do a full acrobatic performance over Philadelphia. That’s a sight to see. I’ve seen it before, and everybody should get chance to see that. And I’m really looking forward to recreating Tun Tavern because that is such a wonderful addition to the city and satisfies a longing of so many people for so long. And touring the ships will be great. There’s never been a gathering of Navy history like this, and it will be a visual spectacular, and may even produce a television spectacular. We’ll see!


How can people learn more about Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps?


Leone: The website address for us is www.homecoming250.org, no capital letters, and if you go on that, it will give you a great deal of information and give you a chance to tell us that you want to get involved, which we really welcome. This is an organization of volunteers and it has gotten very far just by volunteer effort, and that’s how we hope to continue. Also, another way to get in touch with us, at any time, is to contact us at info@homecoming250.org. . . . We’re on social media. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram.


Is there anything else that you would like to share?


Leone: Well, I think it’s important to really honor our armed services. The Navy and Marine Corps are particular children of Philadelphia, even more than the Army. I think it’s important for the Navy and Marine Corps to have that kind of recognition, but it’s also important for our area to have that recognition. Pennsylvania had a tremendous role in the early history of the United States, as well as subsequently. It was the Capital of the United States when the U.S. version of these services was founded, and it was the Capital of the United States when the Continental Navy and Marine Corps were found, and it should get that recognition. It deserves that. We’re going to make sure it does.


I really thank you for the opportunity of having this interview. I thank America250PA for all of the support it has given us. I thank all of the Semiquincentennial organizations, and I think there’s nothing we can’t do if we put our minds to it. We really need to work to make sure we all come together in a unified way. I mean, that’s something we desperately need now. I think all Americans support our Navy and our Marine Corps, and I think we want to use this as a unifying celebration that brings us together and reminds us of all that we share as Americans.


 

Photos generously provided by George Leone & Homecoming 250 Navy Marine Corps


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