Sitting in the front row waiting for the Memorial Day ceremony to begin was 92 year-old World War II veteran Joseph George Marceau. His daughter Pamela Hall asked me, “Do you remember the famous [photo] when General George MacArthur returned to the Philippines?”
Gen. MacArthur had uttered those famous words, “I shall return” when he had left the islands two years prior.
“I was already at the beach there to greet him,” said Marceau. “I was there the day before.”
The WWII veteran had caught my eye as soon as I arrived for the ceremony. He just looked like he had a story though I’m sure there were many stories in the crowd of 200 at Lee Plaza Monday morning.
His daughter graciously gave me the seat to the left of Marceau so I could ask him about his service. I had no idea he would later be receiving a medal. Marceau now lives with his daughter Pamela in Cave Spring.
On his right sat his granddaughter Sarah Prout, who traveled all the way from Connecticut with her son Ethen, his great-grandson, to celebrate Marceau’s recognition – 67 years overdue. The only one who didn’t realize why the WWII veteran was there was Marceau himself said Hall. It had been a big secret.
Marceau served in the in Battery C, 192nd Field Artillery Battalion, 43rd Infantry Division also known as the “Winged Victory” division. He continued to serve following WWII in the reorganized 43rd Signal Company Headquarters.
“I participated in four major battles starting with Guadacanal,” he said. His next battles followed at Munda, New Georgia Island, Aitape off the north coast of Papua New Guinea, and finally the liberation of the Philippine Islands at Luzon.
“I served mainly in the Philippines. It was the only division in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater,” he said.
When asked if he had been wounded, he said he was too fast for them. “I was a small target staying out in those islands. I weighed 145 pounds going in and came out at 110 pounds … I couldn’t eat the garbage they were giving me,” he said with a feisty grin.
His daughter explained that her father was allergic to preservatives. “He lived off of bananas, cocoa nuts and whatever else he could find on the island,” she said. “To this day I can’t eat bananas,” said Marceau.
A box of spent rifle cartridges sat in his lap. They were from all the Memorial Day rifle salutes he had attended over the years. They were neatly packed three to a perfectly sized plastic bag.
Marceau placed one in my hand saying, “your father was a Trailblazer in France you should have one.”
Retired Army Reserve Maj. Gen. James Archer of Salem called a surprised Marceau to the podium followed by his family. He read a letter from Congressman Bob Goodlatte thanking him for his service. Gen Archer then gave Marceau the Philippine Liberation Medal, the Cold War Medal, and the Commander’s Coin.
Dr. David Buyck, Psychologist at the Salem V-A, and Gen. Archer placed a wreath at the memorial while bagpipes played. A bugler played Taps standing beside a flapping POW flag. In front, standing erect, was a military rifle with helmet and boots. Another Memorial Day passes.