Donation to Marine Corps League honors 3 generations of veterans
The Allegheny Valley Marine Corps League Detachment 827 received a donation of three uniforms from three generations of a Frazer family, just in time for Veterans Day and the 244th anniversary of the Marine Corps.
Gail Callender, 68, gave his grandfather’s uniform from World War I, his father’s from World War II and his nephew’s from just a year ago.
Callender met with Emil Zilka, commandant of Detachment 827, and members Ed Prohaska and Dorothy Rogers to make the donation.
Each coat was decorated with ribbons and patches indicating where its owner had served. Callender’s grandfather, James Callender Sr., served in the 5th Regiment, which fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood in France. James Callender’s coat has a special green rope draped over the shoulder — a “French Fourragère” — to honor his regiment’s actions during the battle.
The Marine Corps was something of a tradition in Callender’s family. He recalls his grandfather telling stories of Belleau Wood — of being shot through the shoulder and left for dead as the air filled with mustard gas. Callender said his grandfather was later hoisted in a truck filled with corpses, having to kick his legs furiously to let on that he was still alive.
For Callender, it is important to preserve the story in whatever way he can.
“When people aren’t interested in stuff, all the old stories go by the wayside and nobody hears it,” he said.
While the Detachment receives donations fairly regularly, Zilka said Callender’s is an exceptional way to honor three generations at once. Callender’s donation is also one of the detachment’s few artifacts from World War I, Zilka said.
“It’s just to show that there are still people that step up and go into the military,” Zilka said. “They take pride in their country, and they’re proud to serve.”
Military service often runs in families, Zilka said, as he gave a long list of his own family members, including two of his sons. Zilka said he has had family members serve in every military branch except the Coast Guard.
Military service is declining overall — in 2016, military personnel made up less than 1% of the U.S. population, according to data from the Defense Department. At Detachment 827, that is discouraging, and it’s compounded by financial hardship. Zilka said grant funding doesn’t come as easily as it once did, and the group is constantly seeking donations.
Zilka said Callender’s gift was planned as a way to honor both Veterans Day and the Marine Corps anniversary. The Detachment just celebrated the Marine Corps anniversary last Saturday at the Marine Corps ball.
At the event, Rogers was named Marine of the Year.
Appreciating veterans and Marine Corps service is at the center of everything the Detachment does, and this donation is no different, Zilka said.
“We wouldn’t have the freedoms that we have if it wasn’t for men like this and women like Dorothy who step up and serve,” he said.
Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .