A celebration of freedom on Veterans Day at Merrill Gardens

By SUSAN LAIRD, Valley Community Newspapers editor

Residents, staff and some special guests celebrated Veterans Day at Merrill Gardens Retirement Community on Nov. 11.

CELEBRATING THE NAVY. Past, present and future at Merrill Gardens on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Navy recruits and their recruiter met Evelyn Lackey, a retired yeoman and the oldest surviving WAVE in the United States. Seated, left to right, Isabel Miramontes, Lackey. Standing, left to right, Lelefu Vui, Sharon Martinez, Andrew Herscowitz, Petty Officer 1st Class John Mark Centeno. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Susan Laird

CELEBRATING THE NAVY. Past, present and future at Merrill Gardens on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Navy recruits and their recruiter met Evelyn Lackey, a retired yeoman and the oldest surviving WAVE in the United States. Seated, left to right, Isabel Miramontes, Lackey. Standing, left to right, Lelefu Vui, Sharon Martinez, Andrew Herscowitz, Petty Officer 1st Class John Mark Centeno. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Susan Laird

In attendance were some 25 veterans (including the oldest WAVE in the nation), a recruiter for the Navy, new Navy recruits and members of AlphaOne Ambulance Medical Services. All enjoyed a special meal together and music by Breakthrough, a bluegrass fusion group.

“This is a big day for our residents,” said Courtney Siegel, Merrill Gardens general manager.

The day was especially meaningful to Evelyn Lackey. At 101, Lackey is sharp as a tack and every bit as patriotic as she was when she became one of the first women to enlist in the Navy’s “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service” (WAVES) at the dawn of World War II.

“My dad was in the Navy. After (the Japanese attack on) Pearl Harbor, I left a good job to join the WAVES,” the retired yeoman said. “I was one of the very first WAVES. Back then, women were only allowed to do mostly administrative things. Today, women do everything.”

Lt. Col. Tom Licursi (retired) is heading a new veterans’ group at Merrill Gardens.

“The purpose of the group is to build friendships and reminisce,” he said. “Especially the older guys.”

Licursi went into the Army in October, 1941 (“They drafted me!” he said). After completing Basic Training at Fort Dixon in New Jersey, he was sent to Camp Croft in South Carolina. In April, 1942, he shipped out to Ireland with the 34th Infantry – one of the first American units to be sent to Europe.

“In December, 1942 I was sent back to the states for Officers Training School at Fort Benning,” Licursi said. “Then I was off to Camp Adair in Corvallis, Ore. And then to the Pacific Theater.”

Licursi served in Japan on occupation duty shortly after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“The minute the war ended, they were as docile as could be,” he said.

One concern Licursi has is how his generation has come to be portrayed. He disagrees with recent media coverage.

“There’s been a tendency lately to classify as ‘heroes’ anybody who served in World War II,” he said. “There were over 10 million of us under arms. We couldn’t ALL be heroes. It was a different attitude then. There was a job to be done. And we did it. No matter what, everybody was focused on one aim.”

Tom Arjil, president and CEO of AlphaOne, said that recognizing the efforts of all veterans is important.

“We want to support not only the senior community, but also the veterans,” Arjil said. “They paved the way for the generations to come for freedom.”

Ski ticket discounts benefit JFK seniors Christmas Show at Schumacher Ceramics Dec. 3-4

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