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John Kelleher Havre Daily News [email protected]
Cal Burr still has a $1 bill he earned when he was in the Marines in World War II. He keeps it in his wallet all the time. Like many things he earned and learned in the Marines, the dollar bill is always with him. This week, Burr will be setting up flags for Veterans Day as he pays tribute to the people who have defended his country in times of war and peace. As there are fewer World War II veterans left, he is determined to keep the story of the Greatest Generation alive. Shortly after getting out of the Marines in 1946, he joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars and has been active ever since. He was still in high school in Washington state when the war broke out, and in 1943, he joined the Marines. Older men were signing up to avoid the draft, but as a 17-year-old, he wasn't eligible for the draft. It was his sense of patriotism and his longing for adventure that prompted him to enlist. Marine regimen didn't bother him. "I'd always been told what to do and when to it," he laughed. A high school football player, he felt he was ready for the Marines. "I was a strong boy, but it was a challenge," he recalled. After boot camp, he was eventually assigned to the Pacific theater, and served on the islands that would become part of the war's Island Hopping history. He considered becoming a Marine lifer, but instead decided to take the lessons he learned during the war and apply them to civilian life. He came to visit a Marine buddy in Butte. He stayed to work in the mines. Jobs at the Great Northern Railroad lured him to Havre. Along the way he fell in love with Montana and has remained here for 53 years. His years in the VFW have provided lots of fun and valuable experiences, he said. But he's concerned about the future. As his age group dies off, there are fewer young people joining. "The Vietnam vets weren't treated very well," he said. Most of them decided to forgo veteran groups, or join those designed exclusively for Vietnam vets. Twenty years ago, a group of 20 veterans would meet to perform various tasks for the VFW, he said. Today he is the only one. But he believes that the military still provides valuable service to young people. His grandson joined the service. "I'm convinced it helped make him of man," he said. The military teaches young people today as it taught him a lot of important values. He has a sense of patriotism and a sense that he should take part in civic affairs. “I talk when I probably should shut up," he said laughing. Since he got out of the Marines, he has always voted. "I have never missed a vote," he boasted. And there is another valuable lesson he learned from the military: Be leery of volunteering. In basic training, the drill instructor asked how many in the platoon didn't smoke. Burr remembers that he and one other recruit raised their hands. They were ordered to stay behind and police the area while the others took a break. "To this day, if you ask me to do something, I will do it," he laughed. "But if you ask me to volunteer, I never will do it."