Ray Duckler: Eight, in this case, was more than enough
More than six decades ago, with war raging in Korea, 17-year-old Elton Warriner wanted to join the Marines.
His parents, though, insisted he stay in Dunbarton, on the family farm. Milk the cows, they told him. Pick the vegetables.
Anything but fight in a war.
And who could blame Molly and Walter Warriner for being protective and not signing the paperwork, allowing Elton to become a Marine?
Five of their sons had already served during World War II, in the jungles of the Philippines and the hedgerows of France and the skies over Europe.
“Mom and Dad had had enough worries and worrying by that time,” says Warriner, a 79-year-old retired carpenter now living in Warner. “Sometimes they went months without letters from their kids during the war.”
All five came home. Jack and Elton later served in the Army, during the height of the Cold War, and Lawrence, the youngest brother, went into the Navy right after high school.
That’s why today, Veterans Day, is so important to Elton. He’s the last survivor among the eight brothers who served.
With a memorial booklet filled with black-and-white photos acting as a touching reminder and nudging him forward, Elton paid for an ad in today’s Monitor, a tribute to a family wrapped in an American flag.
The booklet, created by Elton’s niece, Laurie Duff of Sandown, shows the battling brothers, crisp in their various military uniforms, smiling, innocent, young.
“The older I get, I realize there is so much history in the family, and it keeps on dying,” said Duff, whose late father, Lawrence, enlisted in the Navy after high school. “I wanted something simple, some new bits and pieces, and I had some pictures and I gathered more from here and there and put it together.”
Molly and Walter had 12 kids in all; Elton and 92-year-old Blanch Hallinan, now of Concord, are the only ones left.
They grew up on a farm, where they were virtually self-contained. They had their own milk, butter, eggs, meat and vegetables, with no need for a grocery store. Flour was bought, but that’s about it.
They played baseball in the fields on summer nights. Like a Rockwell painting or a scene from The Waltons, dinners were not merely a meal, but rather an event each night, led by a selfless matriarch, the quiet backbone who somehow made everything work.
“Mom put out a good meal every night,” Elton said. “ She never really sat down during dinners. She just nibbled and made sure we ate.”
When a son or daughter married, they never moved far. Duff, the youngest of 26 grandchildren, remembers.
“Growing up, I was at the farm for Sunday dinners there,” she said. “My dad would always tell stories. He was the only one that went into the Navy, so he’d tell us how important the Navy was.”
Five others went into the Army, two into the Army Air Corps. As Elton said, “They were dedicated. It was a time when you went and did your thing.”
Elton’s photos tell a story. They are black-and-white, some creased, some grainy, others sharp.
There’s an M42 tank, with twin 40 mm guns on a rotating turret, used as anti-aircraft weaponry.
There’s Robert in buttoned Army jacket, hands clasped in front of him, who fought the Japanese and rarely spoke about what he endured.
There’s George, kneeling in his airman uniform, the brother who later worked at Rumford Press.
There’s Wayne, the brother who served in the Pacific, with the occupation forces in Japan, pictured in front of the farm’s kitchen window, a wide leather belt wrapped around his Army jacket.
And there’s Elton and Lawrence, posing in the family’s living room, sometime in the 1950s. Elton was stationed in Germany, at a time when the Soviet Union’s power and presence could be felt throughout Europe.
He served two years in the regular Army and four more years in the Army Reserve. His olive drab jacket, called an Ike Jacket, in reference to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, is cut short, ending at the waist.
His jacket still fits nicely, thanks to a workout that includes daily 4-mile walks.
He is the last of the Warriner veterans, and today is the time to reflect on what these brothers did, the sacrifices they made.
The book made by Duff, her gift to her uncle, reads at the end of it: “Eight Warriner boys served our country and eight returned. They had families and worked hard their whole lives. We are grateful and blessed to have been part of their lives and to be loved by this incredible family of Molly and Walter Warriner.”
“It’s a great tribute,” Elton said.