A look into the life of a Marine Corps veteran

LAURA HALL
Duane holding a copy of his book, A Gift of Time.

Semper Fidelis.

For those of you who need to be reminded, these words have been spoken by Marines the world over. To a Marine, this means, “Always faithful,” not sometimes and not maybe, but absolute. It is a tightly woven cloth of life that demands excellence and loyalty of its members. Marines are now revered for their downright fanatical dedication to each other, their service and their country.

With that said, I want to share with you a book I have just finished reading, which is written by Duane St. John of Destin, USMC (Ret.).  “A Gift of Time, a Memoir,” is a book that will fill you with gratitude and admiration for a man who has lived life to the fullest.

While I was reading his newly published book, I found a lifetime of change and lessons learned. This is a memoir that not only deals with his Marine experience but also many other challenging, agonizing, ludicrous and thankful moments that will touch your heart.

As the book moves past the halfway mark, and this medically retired soldier enters college, I begin to understand the mind twisting complexities that face this former Marine and now college student of Washington and Lee.  Returning home from the Korean War, Duane was passionate about the right and wrong as he perceived the world. 

He went to the Korean War as a boy and returned as a man determined to do the “right thing” no matter the cost. Duane’s book explains, “When Washington and Lee threatened to expel me if I took off unexcused days to attend the memorial service of a Marine comrade that never returned from the war, I was stunned.”

Duane’s high voltage expression was, “My God, the inmates have taken over the asylum,” he said, “And if they think they can keep me from making this trip they have their heads up their butts.” 

Semper Fi. It seemed correct to me that he go and go he did.  He was expelled from college but fought and won reinstatement. After graduating, he never looked or went back.

At this point, the book regresses to the Korean War. In 1950 the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel and entered South Korea.

President Truman ordered all reserve components into active service and Duane, at age 18, found himself trapped with the entire 1st Marine Division assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines Regiment and surrounded by 10 Chinese Divisions which ultimately became the fiercest battle in Marine Corps history. 

His Battalion was ordered to rescue Fox Company Marines at the strategic Toktong pass who were then down to almost their last man. 

“We marched to the 4,000-foot mountain pass that was covered in waist deep snow and the temperature hovered around -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweat would freeze in our boots and expended air from our heavy breathing would form crust of ice on eyebrows, beards and nose. Unfortunately, we stumbled into a Chinese encampment and all hell broke loose. I felt like I had been struck with a baseball bat when, WHAM, a shot hit me and slammed me face down in the snow.” 

Two days later he and the walking wounded trudged into Hagaru-ri, cold, half starved and wounded but alive.

Sent back to the states and after 10 months in the hospital, he began to get on with his life. Soon the brightest sunshine of his life appeared; Nancy, who became his wife of 57 years. 

After a successful business career Duane and Nancy bought Bellwether Farm of 107 acres in Missouri and they decided to raise sheep instead of cattle because they decided they could handle sheep without sustaining broken bones or being crushed to death.

Part of this story sounds like the life of British veterinarian, James Herriot. Duane learned to shear his sheep and even administer CPR to a ewe whose heart had stopped. He explains that he did not go so far as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“A Gift of Time, a Memoir,” can be ordered from blurb.com/b/5146604-a-gift-of-time-a-memoir for $17.75 plus shipping.  By the way, 1775 is the birthday of the Marine Corps and all proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Semper Fi Fund.

Laura Hall is a longtime Destin resident.  She explores area gardens and other local topics with her cavalier spaniel Annie.  If you would like to show off your garden or be profiled in a future column, contact Laura at llhall4386@gmail.com.