As a kid in the early 1950s, my hometown of Springfield, Pa., always had a parade on Memorial Day.
Less than a decade removed from the end of World War II, the parade would feature men of the community marching down the main drag, Saxer Avenue, in the uniforms they had worn going off to war, with the parade ending at Memorial Park and followed by the obligatory speeches to remember those who didn't return from the war.
Among those marchers was my father, Kimber Evans Vought, USMC, by then a captain in the active reserves and a veteran of the Pacific Theater in the war. As a member of the Second Marine Division, he had been at Tinian, Saipan and Okinawa, usually in support roles, and later in Japan following VJ Day. He was proud of his service, but not in a boastful way.
Most emphatically, he was proud to be a Marine.
My father's relationship with the Marine Corps began as a college student at George Washington University between 1939 and 1943. An officer candidate program of some sort helped him get through college, as he explained in a video that is part of a living history project in Martin County, Fla., where he lived in his last years.
At GW he met my mother, Margaret Copeland, and when they were married, on May 15, 1943, at Washington, D.C., National City Christian Church, he wore his white dress uniform. The newlyweds spent their first weeks together at Parris Island, S.C., before my father was assigned to the Quantico, Va., base. At that point, my mother moved back in with her parents, and my father usually shared cabs with other Marines to get back and forth from Quantico to Washington. He shipped out for the Pacific in 1944.
It was often difficult to get my father to talk about combat experiences. I once asked him how he was able to keep from being wounded, even killed. Luck, he said. The closest he came to getting hit, he said, was during a patrol when one of the Marines behind him had tripped and his rifle went off. "You can bet I sent him to the rear."
He knew people who weren't so fortunate. I remember the only time we visited the Naval Academy together, he made it a point to look for the name of a childhood friend's brother among those on the memorial to academy graduates who were killed in action. He saw a general killed by artillery fire on Okinawa. Though he clearly harbored some antipathy toward the Japanese, he was in Nagasaki within weeks after the second atom bomb was dropped. He understood how destructive war could be for both sides.
His time in the Pacific was not totally about survival. At one stop, he met up with his younger brother, Allan, also a Marine, their uncle and a close friend of their father's. Some of his friendships made in the Corps lasted a lifetime. And when he came back to the U.S., he stayed with the Marine Reserves for another 15 years.
Growing up, many of our summer vacations were planned around my father's two weeks at Marines camp. We'd usually follow him south as far as my grandparents' little summer home in northern Virginia and wait for his return from Camp Lejeune or Parris Island. One year when he went to camp at Little Creek, we stayed at Virginia Beach. There were a few times in the 1950s, during Korea and later the Beruit crisis, when he expected to be called to active duty. He wasn't, however. After the Marine Corps War Memorial was erected across the Potomac River from D.C., a drive by was obligatory each time we visited my mother's parents.
I never have been too clear about why my father left the reserves when he did in the early 1960s. By then, he had moved on to a bigger law firm with a much busier work schedule. He was also passed over for promotion to lieutenant colonel, which didn't sit well with him. At age 40, it was probably time to move on. The uniforms and gear were packed away in the attic. But he never stopped being a Marine.
In the years after he retired from practicing law in the mid-1980s, my father read extensively about World II and the Marine Corps, among many other subjects. He spoke to high school and community college students about his service. He attended reunions and was fortunate to be at the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in 2006.
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This Monday will be the first Memorial Day of my lifetime without my father. He died on April 5, about two months shy of his 95th birthday. To the end, he was always faithful to the Corps. That's something I won't forget.