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Bottle of scotch awaits World War II 'Last Man' from Hagerstown Legion post

November 11, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- It was 55 years ago that Fred Rohrer bricked up a bottle of 12-year-old scotch in a fireplace at the American Legion Post on Northern Avenue in Hagerstown.

Rohrer, 86, said the scotch is reserved for a special occasion: It is to be awarded to the last surviving member of the post's Last Man's Club, an organization of World War II veterans that was founded in 1953.

Of the original 264 members, only 38 are alive today.

"If I'm one of the last two survivors, I'm going to say, 'Let's get that (scotch) out of the chimney and have a party,'" Rohrer said. "It will be kind of eerie. I'll have to take an extra drink because the guys are all gone. Right now, we're all fighting to be the last man."

Club member Larry Martin said the Last Man's Club has held an annual banquet at the American Legion to remember the members who died. Filled wine glasses - one for each of the departed - were placed on a table, and the following toast was made:

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"To our departed comrades: May we always revere them, may we never forget them, to the last man, may they rest in peace."

Martin, 83, said that back in the early days of the club, then-Hagerstown Police Officer Don Horine stopped veterans on Public Square to sign them up. A lifetime membership in the club was only $1 back then, Martin said. Each member paid an additional $1.50 for his wine glass.

The last man on the club's alphabetic roster, Lewis W. Zombro, was the first to die.

Calvin Sheeler Jr., 82, said the club used to share some good times when the members were young. But as they grew older, the banquets grew more bittersweet - especially in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the club started to lose about 10 members each year.

"The hard part was when they read the list," Sheeler said. "The hard one I had was reading my brother's name."

Sheeler's brother, Ralph, died in 1989.

The club members meet at what once had been a country club, Sheeler said. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair before they moved in, he said, and club members - many of whom had been laid off from the Fairchild plant - volunteered their free time to convert it to what would became Morris Frock American Legion Post 42.

"When they got tired, they would visit the bar," Sheeler said. "They put a lot of nails and a lot of sweat in this place ... We had a lot of guys who were craftsman - carpenters, electricians and plumbers. They saved us a lot of money."

Sheeler said he enlisted in the Navy in 1944 when he was 17 years old and served in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

"We were in Okinawa when the kamikazes were trying to sink the Navy," he said. "It's sad to say they sank a lot of ships."

They were getting ready to train for the invasion of Japan when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Thank God Harry Truman dropped the bomb," Sheeler said.

He returned home in 1946 and went to business school on the G.I. Bill. He said he retired when he was 65 after working for the Western Maryland Railroad and other employers.

Rohrer said he was working at Fairchild Aircraft when he tried to join the Marine Corps with some buddies.

"They had no openings, so I joined the Navy instead," he said.

During the war, he served in the South Pacific with the Seabees.

When he returned home, he went back to work at Fairchild. Rohrer said he enrolled in business college because his wife was making more money than he was.

He then got a job at the Post Office in Hagerstown and retired after 38 years.

Martin said he served with an artillery unit in Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army after being drafted in 1943.

"Everyone else was gone," Martin said when asked about his feelings at the time. "You didn't think anything about (being drafted). Your number was up."

He said he came back home and finished high school. After working for the Post Office in Virginia, Martin returned to Hagerstown "before all the jobs were taken."

Martin said he worked for Hamilton Jewelers for a while until he landed a job at Hagerstown Lumber Co., from which he retired after about 40 years of service.

Club chaplain Grady Grimm, 88, said he was drafted by the Army in 1944 when he was 24 years old.

As part of a machine-gun crew with the 44th Infantry Division, Grimm said, he experienced his share of hardship fighting in 20-degree-below-zero weather during the Battle of the Bulge.

The weather became so bad, Grimm said, that he crawled from the battlefield into a barn, not knowing whether it was occupied by Americans or Germans. Fortunately, he said, those inside were Americans.

"I froze my hands and feet," he said. "I couldn't walk for about six months ... I was discharged. I wasn't suitable for service."

Grimm said he teased one of his Navy friends who comfortably slumbered in a bed during World War II while he slept in frozen foxholes.

After the war, Grimm said he returned home and worked for 22 years at Fairchild Aircraft and for 20 years at Mack Trucks.




Wine glass distribution



The Last Man's Club will distribute wine glasses that were used during banquets to the families of deceased members on Nov. 13 at the American Legion Hall at 405 Northern Ave. For information, call Larry Martin at 301-733-4972.

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