Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

‘Mama Marine’ remains always faithful to the corps

Laurel resident recalls experiences as one of the first female Marines

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
(Left) Marjorie Gallun in her Laurel home on Jan. 31. Gallun is holding an American flag that was flown over the Marine Corps War Memorial on March 18, 2003. The flag was presented to her in recognition of her service during World War II.
When Marjorie Gallun learned of the creation of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in 1943, her 21st birthday couldn’t come quickly enough.

‘‘My dad and his brothers had all served in World War I and were very proud of it,” said Gallun, now 84 and a Laurel resident. ‘‘[When] they announced the U.S. Marine Corps was going to take women ... I knew what I was going to do.”

Gallun, then Marjorie Reeb of Cheektowaga, N.Y., signed up and shipped off to basic training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Despite her mother’s protests, Gallun’s mind was made up about joining the armed forces.

‘‘My mother never really got over it,” Gallun said. ‘‘She didn’t approve...[but] they kept us so busy you didn’t have time to think—one order after another. Somebody said, ‘Do it,’ and you were doing it.”

These days, Gallun, now a grandmother of nine and a great-grandmother of six, keeps busy with the handful of veteran organizations to which she belongs.

She is a member of the American Legion Post 136, the Marine Corps League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Women Marines Association, which this year celebrates its 65th anniversary. In 1991, she became the first female commander of American Legion Post 136 in Greenbelt.

‘‘Most of us younger guys, the Vietnam vets, liked her so much...that we more or less pushed her into office,” said Joe Beam, a former Marine and American Legion Post 136 member who nicknamed Gallun ‘‘Mama Marine” for the motherly way she dealt with the Legion members. ‘‘She’ll stand up to anybody...She emphasizes what Marines are all about.”

In 2002, Gallun was elected Prince George’s County American Legion Commander. In that position she oversaw the activities of 17 posts.

In late 2007, she won two awards for her scrap-booking efforts on behalf of Prince George’s County and the southern Maryland district of the American Legion. The scrapbooks commemorate a post’s important dates and events for a specific year.

Gallun’s sharp memory made her a strong candidate for the scrap-booking task. She still recalls vividly being given on-the-job training from a male Marine whose post she took over at the Marine station in Miramar, Calif. shortly after she completed basic training.

‘‘It always made me feel good to know that he came back [from the front], because I always felt a little bit guilty that we were taking their jobs and making them fight,” Gallun said.

Gallun met her husband, Elmore Gallun, a fellow Marine, when both volunteered to take part in a muscular dystrophy telethon when they were in the reserves in the 1950s in Washington, D.C. Elmore Gallun died in 1990.

‘‘When we were little, the only reason I was aware of her being a Marine was because she had a photo on her dresser of her and my father in camouflage,” said one of her two children Joel Gallun.

Jane Kane, 85, also grew up in Cheektowaga. She was reunited with Gallun, her childhood friend, when both happened to be stationed as Marines in Miramar.

‘‘She’s a lovely girl and I’ve admired her ever since I’ve known her—just the fact that she was so Marine-oriented and so active and helpful,” Kane said.