May 21, 2024

French immigrant serves in Marines, later becomes U.S. citizen

The United States Marine Corps is every bit a part of Newton woman and retired Marine, Mady McKim. Joining the Marines was her calling, and not being a citizen of the United States did not stop her. In fact, not much of anything has ever kept McKim from doing exactly what she set her mind to.

McKim came to the U.S. from France at 4 years old and was adopted by her aunt and uncle, Madeleine and Ramon Lebeau, of Rhode Island. Her aunt and uncle became “mom” and “dad.”

McKim insisted on learning English as soon as she came to the U.S. and, leaving much of her French culture behind, she remained a permanent resident of the U.S. until recently. Any permanent resident of the U.S. (formerly known as an Alien Registration Card, or “Green Card”) maintains the same rights as a U.S. citizen, in exception to the right to vote in elections or serve jury duty.

Within those rights, unknown to many, is the right of permanent citizens to serve in the U.S. military. As a teenager, serving in the military became McKim’s dream.

“When I was 14, I went to a festival for Marine Corps vets, and something just clicked for me there,” McKim said. “It was my calling. My mom thought I wouldn’t go through with it, that I would change my mind, but I didn’t.”

McKim joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1992, right after high school graduation. She then went to training boot camp at Parris Island. McKim said that the Marines is known as the toughest and most challenging branch, but said “we got the best uniform.”

McKim served six years of active duty in Washington, D.C. She went on to make history as the first female Marine Mascot handler, which is the oldest post in the Marines. The Marines mascot is the bulldog, and it became her duty to take care of the dog and present him in parades. McKim started a trend, and said there have been between six and 12 women serve as mascot handlers since her premier.

“I really miss the brotherhood and sisterhood of the Marine Corps,” McKim said. “There’s this feeling inside me saying ‘I’m a Marine.’ I absolutely loved my job, loved learning new things. I always pushed limits, thrive to do better, and I think I really opened doors for other women.”

McKim has stayed true to the motto, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Since she retired from the Marines to raise her son, she joined the Reserves, and was stationed at Echo Company in Des Moines.

On April 1, McKim received her U.S. citizenship. Part of the reason for waiting so long, she said, was the expense of the forms and processing.

McKim was able to receive her citizenship under Ronald Reagan’s accelerated citizenship program for U.S. servicemen and women. McKim went through the entire process of naturalization, and read and studied for the test.

“I earned my way,” she said. “I learned English, and I stayed out of trouble so that I could [gain citizenship].”

Last year, Mady McKim married a U.S. Navy veteran, Jerry McKim of Newton. They met at the American Legion, where they enjoy spending time with friends, and “clicked” over their service in the military. Jerry McKim said he admired Mady for serving in the Marines, and that they will “always be in the honeymoon stage.”

“She is an absolute wonderful person, and I love her more than anything in the world,” Jerry McKim said of his wife.

In 2004, Mady McKim was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and could no longer serve in the reserves.

“I missed it [the Marines], and it took me a long time to get over it,” Mady McKim said. “But the disease doesn’t stop me, I push myself…”

Mady McKim said since her retirement, she likes to garden, bowl, go swimming and hang out at the American Legion. She also volunteers to perform military honors at the funerals of local veterans.

“It was an absolute great opportunity to become a citizen, and to be able to serve my country,” Mady McKim said. “I say do it — do it for the right reasons, because not everyone is made for it.”

The day McKim received her U.S. citizenship, she wrote,

“I finally received my U.S. citizenship, taken my oath today ... I fell in love with the U.S. and I was proud to serve and to be here and was happy for the things that I’ve earned. I have been called an alien, a foreigner. I have heard people say ALL kinds of things about ‘foreigners’ ... but not all people that come to the U.S. is trying to get ahead or take advantage of the system. Some people (me) was giving a golden opportunity and ran with it. So don’t judge what you don’t know ... You never know, you may have a ‘foreigner’ that is fighting for the same freedom you have and that some people take advantage of! I am proud to be a U.S. citizen and a former Marine! (still French).”

Contact Savannah Eadens at