Marine buddies reunite under oath

Jim Saunders (far right), finance officer for American Legion Post 201 in West Jefferson, administers the oath of office to Dr. William C. Morgan (second from right), a new national vice commander for the Veterans of Underage Military Service. Observing the ceremony are: (from left) Donald R. Wright, Post 201 sergeant at arms, and Richard Ruse, Post 201 chaplain.

Connections made in grade school can last decades and even survive wars. Just ask Dr. William Morgan of Galloway and Jim Saunders of West Jefferson.

Morgan recently was named a national vice commander of the Veterans of Underage Military Service. He chose Saunders to administer his oath of office on Dec. 29 at West Jefferson American Legion Post 201, even though their paths have crossed only a few times since they left together for military service during the Korean War.

Morgan and Saunders are the only surviving West Jefferson Marines who left on a troop transport train from Fort Hayes in Columbus for Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Labor Day, 1950. West Jefferson residents Don Kidwell and Drennen Karch, both deceased, also were on that train.

“Bill (Morgan) was 15 when he enlisted. I was 17 when I enlisted but was 18 when the train pulled out,” Saunders said. Kidwell was a junior in high school at enlistment time; Karch was 17 years old at enlistment but 18 when the foursome left for Camp Pendleton.

“It took us about five days to get to Camp Pendleton because the train kept stopping along the way to pick up more troops,” Saunders said.

Train cars were added between Ohio and California to accommodate the person-nel.

“By the time we got off that train in California, there was a huge mass of troops filing out of the cars. I have no idea how many troops that train carried, but the number had to be in the hundreds or maybe close to a thousand,” Saunders said.

Once delivered to their Marine base at Camp Pendleton, Saunders and Morgan were not to see each other again until about a year later when Saunders was transferred to a military base in San Diego.

“Bill came walking into my barracks when he saw I had arrived there. That’s the last time I saw him until about five years ago,” Saunders said.

In that time, Morgan became active in the Veterans of Underage Military Service and later joined West Jefferson American Legion Post 201 where Saunders has served as a commander. Saunders also has served as commander and a finance com-mittee member of American Legion Dis-trict 6 and as a member of the American Legion National Committee of Post Activities.

Following the Dec. 29 induction ceremony, Morgan left for a vacation in the Caribbean and was not available for an interview, however he made his sentiments clear in a letter he wrote to Saunders before the ceremony:

“Dear Jim: It has been over a half century since as members of Charley Company we boarded the train at Old Fort Hayes and left for active duty, destination USMC Camp Pendleton, Calif. We were on indefinite orders and it was no one’s guess as to how long we would be gone. For most, it was a two-year assignment. Some came back quickly with broken bodies that would never repair. Others never came back alive nor was their body sent home.’’

In regards to his appointment to national office with the Veterans of Underage Military Service, Morgan wrote: “…it is my choice in the selection as to whom may administer the oath of office for my confirmation. I chose you with due respect and historical and personal reasons. We go back a long way together, starting as students at elementary school…’’ and as members of Boy Scout Troop 114 in West Jefferson.

Morgan closed his letter to Saunders with the Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fi,” which means “always faithful.”

It means, no matter the distance in time or space, the connections remain.

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