Veterans’ Reflections: Following in Her Father’s Footsteps

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.

World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., July 21, 2010
Marie Peck­ham, a for­mer Marine Corps staff sergeant and World War II vet­er­an, dis­cuss­es her time in ser­vice dur­ing an inter­view at the World War II Memo­r­i­al in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., July 21, 2010. Peck­ham served in the Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946.
DoD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class William Sel­by
Click to enlarge

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)

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