Troy Moon, Pensacola State College
Throughout the 1960s and continuing until the mid-1970s, small waves of active duty U.S. Marines would land at then-Pensacola Junior College each semester.
Some had been fighting in the Vietnam War not long before arriving at PJC. Some would go to Vietnam after attending the College. They were here as part of the U.S. Marine Corps Associate Degree Program, a federal program that paid for and encouraged Marines to earn an associate degree. There was a similar program for U.S. Navy personnel.
PJC, now Pensacola State College, was the first college selected for the program, which was discontinued after Congress rescinded funding in 1975.
A few alumni from that last 1974-1975 class returned to Pensacola last month for a reunion.
“We received a top-notch education with some great instructors,’’ said retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Ace LaPorte, who moved back to Pensacola in 1992 with his wife, Geralyn. “The school was very good to us.”
Geralyn (Humphreys at the time) and Ace met at PJC. In fact, the sweethearts were both members of the PJC Student Government Association. He was Vice President. She was a senator. They married in January 1978. A friend of theirs, USMC Master Gunnery Sgt. John Merchant, was elected PJC SGA president in 1975, the same year LaPorte was vice president. Merchant died in 2018.
Five retired Marines, including LaPorte, attended the reunion at the Springhill Suites in Pensacola. Geralyn LaPorte also attended as well as one of the group’s close civilian friends at PJC, Jeff Merchant, no relation to John Merchant.
The U.S. Marines who attended the reunion:
● Retired USMC Master Sgt. A.J. “Pete” Peters, Cape Coral, Florida.
● Retired USMC Cpt. Tom Mulloy, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
● Retired USMC Maj. John Marley, Mount Vernon, Virginia
● Retired USMC Maj. Ace LaPorte, Pensacola
● Retired USMC Col. Chip Castaing, Tampa, Florida
During one of the reunion events, PSC President Ed Meadows spoke to the group, updating the Marines on changes at the College since the 1970s.
“It was a quality experience for me to talk to them about Pensacola State College now,’’ Meadows said. “It was nice to be able to talk to them about their own time here and the careers they had later in life. They’re just very proud of the fact that they had the opportunity to participate in this special type of program which only existed for a brief period.”
Many of the Marines earned their associate degree and went on to earn higher degrees afterward.
“It all started here for a lot of us,’’ said Peters, who served two tours in Vietnam and graduated from the University of West Florida after finishing at PJC. “It gave us the drive to earn an education and it boosted our careers.”
Peters career was certainly boosted with his associate of science degree in law enforcement from PJC, which became Pensacola State College in 2010. After PJC, Peters earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from UWF and a master’s degree in criminal justice from George Washington University.
His extensive work history includes servicing as chief criminal investigator at Headquarters Marine Corps and working on security projects for numerous federal and commercial clients, including the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, Defense, Commerce and Health and Human Services.
But PJC provided the Marines with much more than a solid educational environment.
“It was the social environment,’’ LaPorte said. “We’d go to the student lounge and we were able to socialize with other students.”
His most important social meeting at PJC came when a young woman approached their table. Geralyn was running for SGA senator and was collecting petition signatures.
“I signed it and said, ‘Let’s go out on a date,’’’ LaPorte recalled. “She said we’d talk about it.”
Soon, LaPorte had convinced the young student to go out on a lunch date with him – with a condition.
“She said it would be OK as long as her sister could come as well. I said ‘Sure, bring the whole family.’ We dated my whole last year at the college. I owe a lot to PJC,” he recalled.
Photo, left to right: A.J. “Pete” Peters, Master Sergeant, USMC, Retired; Tom Mulloy, Captain, USMC, Retired; John Marley, Major, USMC, Retired; Geralyn LaPorte; Ace LaPorte, Major, USMC, Retired; Chip Castaing, Colonel, USMC, Retired.