WASHINGTON — Marie Peckham is a small woman. While it wouldn’t be technically inaccurate to assume she wears military-themed pins and jewelry because her husband served in the military — he did — it would be an underestimation of Peckham’s strength.
Even though she stands only somewhere between four and five feet tall, she was a Marine Corps staff sergeant, following in her father and brothers’ footsteps.
“It was only natural I became a Marine, and thank God I did,” she said.
Through her service and subsequent involvement in the U.S. Marine Corps League, Peckham met her husband, a fellow Marine who survived five major campaigns in the Pacific and went into Nagasaki mere weeks after it had been bombed.
Peckham, who grew up with dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, ultimately embraced America when she took the oath of enlistment and joined the Corps in 1943. After basic training, she served with the Marine air wing at Congaree Field, S.C., as a link trainer. She also taught plane and ship recognition to fighter pilots.
“We taught pilots to fly by their instruments,” she explained. “When they were ‘undercover,’ as we called it, and they couldn’t see very well, they had to learn to fly by instruments. So I sat at a desk and watched what they did in the trainer and made sure they were doing it right.”
Peckham’s service changed her outlook on people, she said. A lot of cultural norms were changing at the time, she added, and being in an integrated force helped her adjust.
“My service taught me camaraderie, it taught me to not be prejudiced, and it taught me to appreciate all of the blessings of this country,” she said.
That appreciation, she said, is something that isn’t as prevalent today because a gap between civilians and servicemembers needs to be remedied.
“I’m a bit prejudiced,” Peckham said of the nation’s current conflicts when asked if she has any advice for today’s servicemembers. “We want all of it to be over as soon as possible, but while it’s going on, do your part.”
Civilians don’t need to feel pressured to serve in uniform, she said, but they need to do everything they can to support those who do don the uniform. Members of the all-volunteer force are putting themselves at great risk, she added, and the least people can do at home is to create an environment of support and caring.
“Read more about veterans issues – read about their problems, what they need, and what they deserve,” she said. “And always, always support them – always.
“All you veterans out there, especially you Vietnam guys, if you want to be loved, accepted and belong to a group where we’re brothers and sisters, come and join a veterans organization,” Peckham added, noting that she is a member of the U.S. Marine Corps League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary and the American Legion.
(“Veterans’ Reflections” is a collection of stories of men and women who served their country in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day conflicts. They will be posted throughout November in honor of Veterans Day.)
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)