"My great-great-great-grandparents served in the Revolutionary War. Both my father and mother served overseas in WWI and my older brother had already left for service in WWII. So, in 1943 at age 17 and a junior in high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. As we recruits arrived at the San Diego Recruit Depot, we were met by a welcoming committee of "Boots" lining both sides of the road sing-songing, "You'll be sorry." Later I had my opportunity to welcome newcomers in the same way. I hope political correctness hasn't put the kibosh on this custom."
~ Chuck Meacham
Charles Meacham, better known as Chuck to his friends and family, has pretty much seen it all.
That, in a nutshell, includes a still-going-strong 62-year marriage to his sweetheart, June, a long career with California and Alaska departments of fish and game and a stint in Washington, D.C., as a commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, the statehood of Alaska, the birth of two sons and six grandsons and, oh yes, two years serving with the U.S. Marine Raiders in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
If that isn't enough, Meacham, at 83, continues to preserve the history and honor the some 8,000 soldiers who served as Marine Raiders by spending time as a member of the U.S. Marine Raider Association. In fact, he recently completed his term as president of the organization and is now a member of the executive committee.
"It took six years, but we now have a foundation," Meacham says of the association.
A soft-spoken man, it takes some prodding to get Meacham to talk about himself. But bring up the Raiders and he is ready with stories of pals who were killed, the struggles he and his compatriots faced and the efforts the Raiders made to help win the war.
"We were the first special operation in the military," he says, thumbing through old photos, books and pamphlets, including one called "bless 'em all: the raider marines of world war II."
"Do you know the real meaning of gung ho?" he asks.
Turns out the Marine Raiders were the ones who popularized the Chinese phrase, the literal translation of which is "work in harmony."
When Brig. Gen. Evans F. Carlson, USMCR, was placed in command of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, he chose gung ho as the watchword and spirit of the battalion.
So who were these Raiders and what's their story?
Long story short, the U.S. Marine Raiders were formed in February 1942 and were the first American ground forces to take the offensive to the Japanese and to stem the tide that had threatened to engulf the Pacific.
The Raiders played a large role in victories at Makin Island, Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa.
A pamphlet published by the Marine Raider Foundation states, "No military unit in the history of the United States brought more honor and glory to themselves, more pride to their countrymen and more grief to their enemies as the four United States Marine Raider Battalions of World War II."
The Marine Raiders lasted just two years and some say senior commanders in the Marine Corps never fully supported the specialized purpose of the Raiders.
That's not what those who served with Raiders will say, including Meacham.
Born in Newman, Calif., and raised in an area near Mammoth Mountain, Meacham came from a military family. His father served in World War I and his mother, a 1915 graduate of Stanford, was an registered nurse in the first world war.
Meacham decided to enlist in the Marine Corps at the age of 17, which meant his father had to give his permission.
"I wasn't afraid of being drafted, I wanted to serve," Meacham says. "I went in at 17 and was out and married before I was 21."
Indeed, shortly before his 21st birthday in 1946, he married his wife, June. They had two sons and with the help of the GI Bill, Meacham took his young family and enrolled at Utah State University. It was the one school that offered a degree in forestry range and wildlife management.
After graduation, Meacham worked for the California Fish and Game Department and then in 1956 they went to Anchorage where he helped set up the territorial Department of Fisheries. When Alaska became a state in 1959, the organization became known as the Department of Fish and Game.
A few years later, then-Gov. Walter Hickel appointed Meacham as director of International Fisheries and External Affairs. Shortly thereafter, Meacham and the family moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as commissioner of the Fish and Wildlife Department.
"That position was eventually eliminated," he remembers. "Then we went back to Alaska," where he worked until his retirement in 1980.
In the meantime, Meacham kept in touch with Raiders buddies, attending annual reunions and giving speeches and writing down memories of those two years of fighting, including this one:
"Thanksgiving dinner on Bougainville, 1943. Somehow a field kitchen was set up and turkey and all the trimmings were there. Unbelievable! We took turns going to chow - every other man off of the line. This was my first hot meal in 25 days. After eating, I immediately threw it all up. There was only one thing to do - get back in line and try again. The second time, my dinner stayed down," wrote Meacham in "Born Again Raiders, U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Celebration, Nashville, 10 November 2006."
When asked if he was scared during those two years with the Raiders, Meacham says scared doesn't quite fit how he felt. He declined to give further details.
Fast forward to now. He and June live in Sequim. They bought a piece of property here shortly after he retired and built a home.
How did they decide on Sequim?
"I did a lot of research on places to retire," Meacham recalls. "We didn't want to stay in Alaska where you are housebound a good part of the year." He says Alaska is a "young person's country."
Besides, he adds, Sequim has a lot of Alaskans, many of whom he knows.
Today, Meacham and his wife continue to travel, especially to the annual Raiders reunions. This year's was in August in Minneapolis, where several Raiders recounted personal experiences during World War II.
Meacham is active in the U.S. Marine Raider Foundation whose goal is to preserve the history of the Marine Raiders with several projects. One of those is purchasing memorial bricks for the 889 Marine Raiders killed in action. Other programs include scholarships for native-born children in the Solomon Islands and others.
But most of all, surviving Raiders want to continue to honor those who have gone before them. As Meacham writes, "We original Marine Raiders are progressing on to new assignments, such as guarding those Pearly Gates, but we would like to keep the Raider heritage alive for future generations of both Marines and non-
Marines and continue to maintain our museums and our scholarship programs."
As we remember and honor all veterans this week, we also thank them for the courage it takes to protect and serve our country.
"Marine training stays with you indefinitely. While in Rome in 1976, my wife and I were getting on a subway. Suddenly I felt a tickling in my left rear pocket and then a grab. Intuitively, I reached back, grabbed an arm, dropped to my right knee and threw a pickpocket over my left shoulder and onto the floor of the subway train. The doors closed and the train left the station, leaving my wife and me standing in a circle of amazed Italians as my 'shook up' assailant was getting up off of the deck. We were in a foreign country and didn't speak the language. We had a problem. I reached into my inside jacket pocket and pulled out my wallet, stuffing it into his face several times. This was my way of communicating what had happened to my questioning audience. It worked. No one said a word or moved. When the subway train stopped at the next station, the doors opened and the pickpocket was out of there. Heads nodded in approval and the onlookers smiled."
~ Chuck Meacham, "Born Again Raiders"
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