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Laurel veteran was among first women in Marines

Laurel veteran was among first women in Marines

As Marjorie Reeb waited for a streetcar in front of the post office on Main Street in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1943, she saw a large sign that read, "Join the Marine Corps. Free a man to fight."

She read that sign a second time, paused for an instant and then went inside to sign up. A month later, in September 1943, she and a handful of women from all over the country entered basic training at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"The men didn't seem to know what to do with us," Marjorie Reeb Gallun, 92, said. "They didn't send women overseas or anything. They taught us their jobs and then they went to fight."

Six months earlier, as World War II raged, the Marine Corps had established the Marine Corps Women's Reserve and began enlisting the first females.

Reeb, whose father fought with the Marines in World War I, was 19 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She'd lived with her family in Cheektowaga, a suburb of Buffalo, through the Great Depression, and Gallun said she'd given up hope of attending college to become a teacher.

She said she remembers always saying that when the Marines decided they needed women, she'd "go in."

After high school, she landed a factory job at the Spencer Lens Corporation on the recommendation of a member of her church.

Her first job involved polishing and inspecting tiny lenses not much larger than the heads of pins. When war broke out, all of the workers at the factory moved into a new building and began making gun sights and periscopes for the American Optical Company.

Gallun said some men who worked in the factory, "World War I vets," didn't want to see a woman in the job she was doing and made her work life difficult, so she transferred to the engineering department to work as a secretary.

Gallun left the American Optical Company to work in the personnel office of the aircraft manufacturer Curtiss Wright Co. It was there that she met the women assembly line workers who wore babushkas and would become immortalized by the Rosie the Riveter icon.

Gallun said she thinks the civilian women who filled the jobs of men who'd been deployed during World War II were simply working the best paying jobs they could find; they probably hadn't a clue that they were trailblazers for American feminism.

"We had just come through a horrible depression and were so glad to have a job to be able to help our families. I don't think we cared what anyone else thought," Gallun said.

Gallun gave up a good paying job with Curtiss Wright — which she said briefly delayed her enlistment — when she started her life as a Marine in the summer of 1943.

Fresh out of basic training, she stepped into the job of a male Marine stationed in Miramar, Calif., freeing him to leave for battle.  When he returned home safe from overseas and came to reclaim his job, Gallun said, "I stood there with tears rolling down my cheeks."

Gallun speaks vividly about working in the PX at Miramar, where she said men returning from overseas waited in line first for cigarettes, and then for clean underclothes and toiletries.

"I can still see the lines and the dirty clothes," she said.

After serving actively for two and a half years, Gallun transferred to Washington in her second stint as a reservist.  There she met Marine Elmore Gallun at a Muscular Dystrophy telethon where they both volunteered in the mid-1950s. The two were married in 1958.

Legion leadership

After her husband died in 1990, Gallun has stayed active in various veteran organizations and is currently a member of the American Legion Post 136 in Greenbelt, the Marine Corps League, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Women Marines Association and Women in Military Service for America.

She said it took her two years to get into the American Legion because she was a woman.

"They didn't want me to join the American Legion. There were 3,000 men and they didn't want women," she said. "When I did get in, they nicknamed me 'Mama Marine' because I treated them like that."

After extensive campaigning, Gallun was elected to serve as the first female commander of Post 136 from 1991-92; and in 2004, at age 82, Gallun was elected Prince George's County American Legion commander, overseeing 17 posts.

"I can go into any American Legion Post, and they know me," she said.

Bonita McCoy, who works at the assisted living apartment complex where Gallun lives, said, "We call her 'the colonel' here."

In May of 2007, Gallun represented the American Legion at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, when Queen Elizabeth II visited with George H. W. Bush, and the two women exchanged pleasantries.

Gallun said the following year, her granddaughter, Deana Roth, discovered a picture on the Internet of the two women as Queen Elizabeth laid a wreath.

A proud grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of seven more, Gallun said she loves corresponding by email and keeping in touch with family on Facebook.

An avid reader, she joined the Laurel Chapter of the American Rose the Riveter Association when she read about a meeting in the Laurel Leader three years ago, and has had the members meet in the community room of her apartment complex.

Surrounded by family photos and memorabilia, including a flag presented to her that flew over the Marine Corps War Memorial in March of 2003, Gallun said she will spend Veteran's Day as she usually does. Laurel resident Bridget Young, secretary of the Women Marines Chapter D.C.-1, will pick Gallun up in the morning to attend Veteran's Day services in Greenbelt followed by lunch at American Legion Post 136. Young said she'll drive Gallun home after lunch and return at 3:30 p.m. to take her to a patriotic dinner at Applebee's on Contee Road.

"She tells so many stories," Young said. "My daughter, Danielle Harris, just loves to hear Marjorie's early Marine Corps stories."

Gallun said she's always loved being a leatherneck lady.

"Once a Marine, always a Marine," she said. "It's been my life."

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