WHEELERSBURG Walter Marley turned 18 in February 1946 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in April, nearly eight months after Japan signed the unconditional surrender document with the United States and its Allies, ending World War II. However, Marley and others who served in the military in 1946 qualify as World War II veterans. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and other such organizations, for the purposes of establishing World War II veteran status and the benefits that go with it, recognize Dec. 31, 1946, as the date the war ended.
The 81-year-old Marley said hes glad for that because it qualified him to participate in an Honor Flight on Aug. 19 out of Huntington, W.Va., to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial which opened April 29, 2003. The trip, paid for by private donations, gave him a free plane ticket and all expenses paid for the one-day trip. His son, Carl Marley, of Friendship, went along with him as guardian.
World War II veterans, most of them now in their mid- to late-80s, are dying off daily and the Honor Flights are for the purpose of getting as many of them as possible to Washington to see the memorial before theyre gone.
The trip was fantastic, Marley said. Its wonderful that theyve sponsored something like this and let the WW2 vets go for free. My son and I left Huntington with the others at 6:30 a.m. and it was 11 p.m. when we got back, but the tired feeling I had was a good feeling.
When we got off the bus on the National Mall there were volunteers to help us, with everything from bottled water to wheelchairs. We fell in behind a vet who was a Purple Heart winner. He carried an American flag folded in a triangle and we went with him to a ceremony, after which we were free to visit the memorial as we pleased. I had never seen the Iwo Jima flag-raising memorial and I was glad I had time to stop and study it.
Marley and his wife, Sara, who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary later this month, are natives of New York the Attica and Buffalo areas who bought a home in Wheelersburg seven years ago.
Marley dropped out of high school and was a truck driver, hauling produce in a tractor-trailer rig from the farming country of upper New York State to Kroger in Cincinnati, before a stint in the Navy started looking attractive to him.
He served two years, most of that on board the USS Rush, a new destroyer on which he participated in the shakedown cruise to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Rush headed for the Mediterranean Sea and Marley would have had to re-up for a total of four years if he stayed on it. The last six months of his enlistment he served on another destroyer, the USS Krauss. He patrolled up and down the East Coast, from Newfoundland to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was honorably discharged in April 1948.
He and his boyhood chum, Dean Calkins, volunteered for the Navy and went in together, but were soon separated. Calkins still lives in New York, where he retired as an engineer on a railroad. They still correspond with each other.
Marley was a seaman in the engineering department of the ship. He stood throttle watch and was responsible for keeping the evaporators in good working order.
He said they still spotted an occasional German submarine. Even though Germany had signed the terms of its unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945, ending World War II in Europe, there were some U-boat commanders who were in no hurry to return to the homeland.
The preparation of peace treaties with the defeated Axis countries took many conferences over many months. The wartime Allies first met on the matter in London in late 1945.
Treaties with Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, Finland and Hungary were signed in Paris in 1947.
But disagreements between Russia and the West delayed peace treaties with Austria, Germany and Japan. It was 1951 before most of the Allies signed the treaty with Japan, and it was 1955 when they signed the peace treaty with Austria and Germany.
Marley draws a small disability pension from the military to supplement his Social Security check.
We like it here, he said of the Wheelersburg home he and Sara live in. We have everything paid for and were thankful for our home, which has a garden out back, and for the winters that dont bring near as much snow as what we had when we were living in New York.
The military, he said, whether it be serving in wartime or peace, Makes a man out of you in a hurry.
He believes it would be beneficial for young people today to join the military for two years right after graduating from high school.
They would have a lot less troubles, a lot less frustrations, have a steady income, buy themselves a car, and they could get out and get a college education free, he said. Its something they should sincerely consider.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.