Oldest Marine Vet at 104!

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

April 17th, 2003, 4:35 pm #1

Oldest Marine Veteran at 104! Dick Gaines
Apr 13, 2003 07:12 PDT
'Living Treasure' Turns 104

'Eugene' Lee is only survivor of WWI's Belleau Wood

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

By Frank Herron

The halls of Community General Hospital merged with the halls of
Montezuma Monday as about 120 people gathered to celebrate the birthday
of William "Eugene" Lee. He turned 104.

He wore a red baseball cap that read "Survivor of Belleau Wood" as he
entered the room.

There's little doubt that he is the only survivor of that pivotal World
War I battle, which was fought in June 1918. There's no doubt that he is
the oldest living Marine Corps veteran.

A message to that effect is on the way from the Marine Corps, said Maj.
Daniel Kane of Company B of the 8th Tank Battalion of Mattydale.

He and the company were there in force on the sixth floor of the
hospital Monday - sad-dened at hearing of Saturday's death in Iraq of
company mem-ber Lance Cpl. Eric Orlowski, heartened at spending time
with a hero of one of the Marines' signature battles.

"He's a living treasure," said Kane, pointing to Lee, who earned a
Silver Star at Belleau Wood for carrying two men to safety. He motioned
to the Ma-rines in their dress blues. "In a time when they're young and
feeling invincible and not neces-sarily looking to the future, here's a
man with such a past."

As Kane spoke, Lee clutched the edges of a gift from the Ma-rines - a
blanket that proclaims "Once a Marine, Always a Ma-rine."

Among the other gifts was a Liverpool High School diploma, something he
missed when he enlisted in the Marines on April 27, 1917. He also
received a card signed by hospital staff members and a copy of Yankees
magazine, courtesy of his great-niece Dava Blanchard of Baldwinsville.

She was at the party with her husband, Bugsy, and daughters, Cali, 12
and Cassie, 8.

Also on hand was a nephew, Robert E. Lee from Hamburg. He's 84 and is
amazed at his un-cle's energy and longevity.

"He just took things a day at a time. Always did," he said.

One of the two sheet cakes was the handiwork of Bill Pap-pas, owner of
Geddes Bakery in North Syracuse.

He drew the decorations by hand - a fish, to represent Lee's love of
fishing; a baseball with a New York Yankees logo; a light bulb, to
acknowledge Lee's job with Syracuse Power and Gas; and a Marine Corps

Pappas knows that logo well. He's a Marine Corps veteran. Decorating the
cake was a privi-lege, he said.

"It's an honor to do it," he said.

Lee had little trouble blowing out the cake's three candles. He had let
one of his wishes slip out shortly after he entered the room.

"I'd rather be down in Euclid now," he said, referring to a fa-vorite
lunch spot, the Euclid Restaurant in Clay.

Now, he occupies a place in Marine Corps history.

"Belleau Wood has a very deep, symbolic feeling for Ma-rines," said
retired Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Simmons, who is working on a book about the
Marines in World War I.

He pointed out that many of the Marines there were young.

Lee was typical. He was 19 when he began to make his way across a wheat
field in France - toward the German machine guns among the trees.

Copyright 2003 syracuse.com. All Rights Reserved.

R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern

R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
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