Today, November 10, 2014 we celebrate the United States Marine Corps’ 239th birthday.
Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day when the United States honors all who have served in the US Armed Forces.
Below is a photo of my grandmother who bore twelve children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood and some of whom she watched with her steadfast fortitude and optimism as they left town on their way to distant battlefields.
During World War II, four sons enlisted in the Marines and were deployed to the Pacific Islands while one daughter enlisted and was stationed as a Marine recruiter in Chicago. Grandma also had two sons-in-law deployed in the Marines and Air Force, and a younger son who later joined the Marines.
During her sons’ deployments, Grandma – along with so many other women on the homefront – worked at Clark Equipment Co., a manufacturing plant that assisted in military support by transitioning its manufacturing lines to produce heavy duty lift trucks and towing tractors for overseas missions.
As a tribute to the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans’ Day, I’d like to honor Uncle Pep and a veterans’ organization – the American Legion – because they were an integral part of my childhood.
Small town life in the 1950s centered around school, church and a few civic organizations. For my family, that organization was the American Legion.
At the time, I couldn’t have told you much, if anything, about the American Legion’s purpose. All I knew was if we had a family Christmas party, summer family reunion, town Halloween party or just about any other local festivity, it would take place ‘up at the Legion.’
That was a phrase heard often in our house and those of my many cousins. The Legion – a nondescript one-story blond brick building with a large social hall, roomy kitchen with a pass-thru window and serving counter, and two single stall bathrooms – was located on the way out of town on our steepest, longest hill.
For me as a child, both the hill and the Legion loomed large. Hence ‘up at the Legion’ was said with reverence not only because the Hall itself held such allure, but because of its ‘majestic’ setting.
I don’t think there was ever a time I was ‘up at the Legion’ and didn’t see Uncle Pep. I thought he owned the Legion. Or at least lived there.
Uncle Pep always seemed to be surrounded by my Dad, Uncles and other men – talking, playing cards, giving each other grief.
His nickname fit him perfectly; Uncle Pep was exactly that – full of energy, enthusiasm and a twinkle in his eye. No matter the event, he was always in the thick of it – setting up tables and chairs; cooking up something on the stove; washing pots and pans; doling out the decks of cards – all the while making sure everyone else had what they needed and felt welcome.
Because we held so many family functions ‘up at the Legion’, I thought of the place as simply ‘our’ gathering place, not making the connection to the Legion’s true purpose.
Sure, Uncle Pep, Dad and other men wore those odd-looking hats. And every Memorial Day and 4th of July, we – the adults in their military uniforms and kids in Boy and Girl Scout uniforms – met ‘up at the Legion’ to begin the parade that marched through town to the cemetery. Afterwards, we reconvened ‘up at the Legion’ for crowded picnics and games that lasted well into the night.
But I didn’t realize the haven that Hall provided for the men and women who came home from WWII struggling to fit back into ‘normal’ lives; learning how to move past the flashbacks and nightmares that could be shared only with those who’d marched through the same hell.
If you’ve seen the HBO series The Pacific, you know some of what these men endured. Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Peleliu – places etched deeply in their souls because of the young friends and comrades they lost in battle, not to mention their own gruesome actions on missions of unspeakable horror. Dad and my Uncles were fortunate to all come home from the war, but no one comes home without wounds and lasting scars.
The American Legion (http://legion.org) was chartered by Congress in 1919 after World War I to focus on serving veterans, servicemembers and communities. In my small town, the Legion served us well. It continues to do so in numerous communities across our nation.
Uncle Pep passed away a couple years ago, having lived a fully engaged life until age 90. For four of those years, he was an active duty Marine. For approximately 65 years, he was a veteran and proud, active member of the American Legion.
You military veterans and your families have my highest praise, my deepest gratitude and my steadfast support.
Comments on: "‘Up at the Legion’" (40)
A wonderful tribute Sammy D. Thank you.
Tomorrow is the commemoration of WW1 – Armistice Day in remembrance of the Armistice signed at 11.00 a.m. on 11th Nov 1918. The ‘stilling of arms’ led to the formal end of WW1. Tomorrow is in remembrance of both world wars and current conflicts .. people across the UK, possibly across the world, will bow their heads for a 2 minute silence at 11.00 a.m. for all those who fought and lost their lives. We remember them –
Thank you, Susan for adding that important history and recognition of November 11th. We have ceremonies at our National cemeteries tomorrow. I will join you for two minutes of silence and prayers for our troops worldwide.
What a nice tribute to your family and veterans in general.
Thank you, Carrie. God Bless them all.
Very nice tribute. In many ways, you could be describing any one of several thousand small towns in America. I remember those nights. The gathering places were different, but the men were similar. Those men and women and their stories (usually not about the war) made our lives richer than many children today can imagine. Thanks for sharing this story Sammy.
Thank you, Dan. It is in many ways our universal story, as you say. I am honored that you reblogged this. My desire is always to ensure we never forget.
You’re welcome! Once I started thinking of the number of people I wanted to share this with, it just made more sense to post it. It’s such a good story and do important to remember.
Reblogged this on No Facilities and commented:
I’ve already passed this onto a few people so I thought I might as well just reblog it. I know that Sammy and I have a lot of overlap in our readers, but I really enjoyed this post and it’s a timely read.
Dan Antion suggested I visit your site – and I’m very happy he did. It’s a pleasure to meet you. This post is a wonderful tribute.
Thank you! I have been following your blog for a few months and truly appreciate the history and stories you showcase so we always remember those who served with honor and courage. Thank you for your service.
Ah-ha, now that I take a closer look at your Gravatar picture – I have seen you. Now that I’m following, hopefully I won’t miss any more posts!!
🙂 Well I don’t often blog about military because I don’t know enough. I won’t be offended if you decide my eclectic musings aren’t for you! But I learn so much and keep all our troops close by following a few blogs like yours.
I have many more interests besides military, so not to worry about me. If you check out the other people who I also share interests, you will discover quite a variety.
Oh, mom, what a lovely post. I visited my ailing Grandma this weekend. While there, we reminisced about my mom, who was a Navy nurse during the Vietnam War, and I got two precious pictures of her during her service on a hospital ship in the China sea, so this post hits home especially for me. Thank you.
Thank you, Elizabeth. How nice for both your Grandma and you to share those pictures and memories. I have read several books about the nurses during WWII and VietNam, and their services were so vital to our troops. They worked in very difficult and dangerous circumstances.
I love those beautiful old pictures. A proud mama with some very handsome (and a lovely) Marines
Thank you, Paula. They were handsome young men! and Grandma was a such a wonderful woman.
A beautiful tribute. I found your post thanks to a reblog from Dan over at No Facilities. So glad to have followed the suggestion! Thank you for sharing your story!
Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your thoughts. Dan is a generous ‘connector’ and bloggers are a terrific community.
With such a large extended family, I have many fond memories of my Uncles and my childhood town. The 1950s were the best time to be a child!
This post is so rich in family and civic history — national history, too. Your grandmother must have been an amazing woman! Did you see “The War,” which was a Ken Burns film that focused on WWII through the perspective of four different cities and individuals from those cities? (There is some overlap with The Pacific.) Thank you for telling us about your Uncle Pep and sharing these remembrances. I have vague memories of going to the American Legion hut (for some reason, that’s what I remember calling it) in my hometown for an award ceremony when I was in high school, but they are dim.
Thank you, Sandi, for your nice comment. I have not seen that Ken Burns film and will look for it. His works are such treasure troves. Most of our Grandmas from that era, I daresay, came from hardy stock. They didn’t have a choice, but they never complained.
A great tribute! I could relate to all of this so well. Small town upbringing and every social event was hinged around the Legion … in our case, The Royal Canadian Legion.
I remember the Christmas parties, summer picnics, Winter Carnival, weddings, and gatherings after funerals … all at the Legion.
Your story was a trip down memory lane … just the names and faces were different 🙂
That is so great, Joanne. A universal memory for so many of us. I feel very fortunate to have been a child in the 1950s – enough modern conveniences and medicines with patriotism and the safety of small town life.
When I was growing up, I hate the confinement of a small, isolated town.
When I finally came to the city as a young adult, I felt like a backward country bumpkin, but now – like you – I’m so grateful for my small town roots. I realize that I had a sense of being a “big fish” that would never have developed in a city setting.
I agree – I wasn’t always happy at the ‘smothering’ in a small town but now think I had the best of both worlds to be raised in a small town then move on to a city.
A moving and lovely tribute to the members of your family and the extended family of men and women who serve our countries. To Peace.
Thank you, Evelyne. Amen to striving for Peace.
The Legion is still the center of social life around here. Not only is it a great place to go for birthdays, anniversaries, fund-raisers and Taco Tuesdays, but it is also a place of everyday good. That is what I call the good that people do for each other without thinking about it.
– The Legion is where you go to borrow a pair of crutches, a knee-scooter or a frame for the toilet after surgery.
– It’s where you go for tow after you slide off the road.
– It’s the place that empties out as the volunteer fire department races for the door.
You are SO right! Quiet angels whose wings hold up each other and any stranger in need.
Thanks for adding to this tribute!
What a man to make you proud, Sammy! Uncle Pep has such an honest, open face. Only those guys who’ve served can really know what it’s like. My stepdad was in the Merchant Navy and he didn’t talk much about it but we know he saw some horrific things. I can only be grateful that those times have gone and hope and pray for peace in this life.
Thanks, Jo. I have more stories about Uncle Pep. Our family kind of flocked around his energy! We had a neighbor who served in the Merchant Navy – it’s a part of our nation’s military/international service that isn’t well understood. But I do appreciate them, the Coast Guard and so many others. Thank you for reading!
Wonderful. So often we take things for granted and don’t see what’s in front of us. Sometimes we never do at all, and sometimes we are able to understand it, place it in context and pay tribute to it. Like you have done.
I took Remembrance Day (Or Veteran’s Day) as an opportunity to write about my own trip to Normandy for the D-Day celebrations at Ste Mere Eglise. It is fantastic how the people refuse to forget that day, and continue to leave the signs that commemorate the first paratroopers to land in France.
Thank you for commenting and for your own loyalty to honoring our troops. I will visit your blog for that post.
Great post. The one thing I like the most about any sort of military personnel is the kind of lifestyle they live. Disciplined, selfless and ever-ready to sacrifice their life for the nation. Unlike, we civilians who are more concerned about what’s happening in the neighborhood and focusing on our life and what will happen to us now and in the future. I salute these great people for all the pain they go through emotionally, physically and mentally and for their great sacrifices that they never glorify at all. True heroes.
Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your thoughts. I agree! My husband, who served in the Marines, says his years in service were one of the best ways he could have spent those years because it instilled the traits you mention. The divide between civilian and military life has become too wide to the detriment of our society as a whole. God Bless all who serve!
What a lovely post, and a great way to honour those who serve. It’s wonderful that you had the Legion Hall for all those events growing up, and for veterans to have a place to meet and chat with each other.
My grandfather was in the French air force, and he never ever speaks of his time fighting. The only stories he shares are when he had to go to Canada to train, because after the Second World War, France had no army to speak of. He has some great stories of camaraderie during that time, but to this day I have never heard him once mention anything else about his time as a fighter pilot.
It’s so important for those who have served to have that outlet like the Legion Hall in your home town – as you say certain things can only be shared with those who have also been through the same experience.
You are so sweet to take time to respond as you do, Celine.
My Dad wouldn’t say much either, especially when there were a few of us in the room. I bought a couple books about the islands and battles to learn myself. Then once I had more specific questions than “tell me what it was like”, he’d open up.
The one that REALLY got him talking was “how about that constant mud, Dad?”
From the highter pilots I know from Korea and Viet Nam wars, their experiences were very different, but no less traumatic, than the infantry fighting the ground wars. It’s sheer hell any-which-way!
That makes sense – if you had specific questions for him it kind of establishes common ground (that sounds weird as you don’t need to establish common ground with parents – but you get what I mean).
We have these amazing photo albums from my great-grand uncle who was also a fighter pilot (there’s lots of them in my family) during WWI. Since he was also a photographer, he would take his camera with him, clamp the gear stick (?) between his knees, lean out the cockpit and take photos of the trenches below. Not for any other purpose than to preserve what was happening – he wasn’t any kind of spy (that we know of!). It’s really sad though because he photographed all the pilots and soldiers he knew, and he would write their names beneath the photos. He also underlined in red the names of those who died – you can imagine how much red there is.
I’ve been thinking of photographing the photos (I know that sounds weird) and putting them up on the blog – maybe a project for when I’m next back home. It would be great to share them with other people, they’re fascinating if very sad.
Celine – my WordPress comment thing-y is all wonky so I can’t respond to your second comment in the usual location.
Those photos you speak of are a real treasure trove, both from a historical perspective and, as you say, for the heartbreaking reality of living through the deaths of so many of his compatriots. I strongly encourage you to post some of these and any other memorabilia. If you do, you might want to contact the blogger GP Cox at http://www.pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com or one of the many military bloggers he follows. He and others reblog many posts similar to the one you are thinking of doing, and his readers would be very interested in your photos.
Oh thank you for the suggestion Sammy! I’ll go have a look at that blog now , but I’ll definitely get in touch with him when I do the post. It might be a while, probably not until my next trip home later next year.