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Vernard "Vern" Brintzenhofe

April 23, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • This photograph of Vern and Lu Brintzenhofe was taken about 10 years ago.
Submitted photo

Vernard "Vern" Brintzenhofe joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942, fresh out of high school in Ohio. His military career took him all over the world and most notably to Iwo Jima with the 4th Division.

Vern survived the World War II battle for Iwo Jima in February 1945, but was evacuated to a hospital on Pearl Harbor after being wounded on the third day of the invasion, said son-in-law Wade Moore. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

After a three-month recovery, Vern rejoined the 4th Division in Maui, Hawaii. The division was headed to Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended.

Vern returned to Quantico, Va., and was discharged on 1946.

While serving in the Marine Corps before Iwo Jima, Vern helped build Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal and four other fighter landing strips. A bout of malaria while at Guadalcanal landed Vern in a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, then he was sent to San Diego, where he received hourly penicillin shots for 72 hours. Vern then got a 30-day leave back home to Ohio, before heading to Saipan and Iwo Jima.

Following his discharge, Vern attended Youngstown College in Ohio on the GI Bill, while working at Boardman Furnace Company, a sheet metal shop.

After college, Vern was self-employed doing furnace installations and replacements, then worked at Lordstown Ordnance Depot in Ohio. He was a heating foreman, then received a promotion to field superintendent of all shops.

In 1962, Vern took a civilian job at Fort Ritchie as supervisor of roads and grounds. While there, he met Lucille "Lu" Shiley, whose first husband had died in an accident.

They married in 1964 and lived in Hagerstown for about 10 years. Both had two young children — Vern helped Lu raise hers, while his ex-wife raised theirs in Ohio. There are six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

During their 46-year marriage, Vern was promoted to assistant post engineer at Fort Ritchie, before transferring to Fort Belvoir in Virginia as facility engineer. Vern commuted for about three months before the couple moved to Virginia, where they lived for 31 years, after Lu's daughter and youngest child, Jayne Moore, graduated from North Hagerstown High School here and got married.

After his discharge from the Marine Corps, Vern set about building a life with little thought of his military service, his wife said.

"When he got out of the Marines, he was done," Lu said.

When she saw a small item in the newspaper about a dedication at Quantico Cemetery in 1995, the couple decided to drive over, but it took encouragement from Lu for Vern to get out of the car and talk to some of the Marines.

"That's when he got involved again," said Lu, adding that he got involved with several military organizations there.  

Vern retired from Fort Belvoir, but was always looking for the next work opportunity. He was hired as a building maintenance supervisor for Prince William County, Va., and transported boats as a side job until the couple moved here seven years ago when he was almost 80.

Lu said Vern was a sportsman who enjoyed playing fast-pitch softball and semi-pro football and bowling. The couple took an annual fishing trip to Canada — Vern liked the bigger fish up there, especially the Northern Pike — for more than 30 years with their camper and boat.

"Oh, the fun we had," Lu said.

The Brintzenhofes returned to Hagerstown to be closer to family and moved into a smaller, single-story home. That's when Vern got involved with the Bulldog Detachment Marine Corps League in Hagerstown.

"He was busy, busy, busy. The Bulldog Detachment provided him with more care, concern and activity," said Wade, Jayne's husband.

"The Marine Corps League (Bulldog Detachment) — that's where I met Vern. He was always available, whether it was Toys for Tots, parades, Sharpsburg and Rose Hill for funeral honor guards. Anything you asked of him, he would do," said Stanley Mitchell of Hancock, who noted that Vern played the bugle for taps.

Lu said some weeks there were three funerals.

"I was honored that he called me friend," Stanley said.

Over the years, Vern had organized several reunions of the 4th Division Iwo Jima survivors. He had been honored several times over the years for his military service, said Lu's sister, Marcia Bortz.

The Brintzenhofes also returned to Beaver Creek Christian Church, which they had previously attended. Vern served as a deacon.

"He was involved in anything going on, like making soup or sandwiches for the homeless. He helped put a roof on the church 30 or 40 years ago," Lu said.

Vern was hospitalized in May 2010 after being diagnosed with lung cancer and other complications. Lu herself was a cancer survivor.

"He walked two miles a day until April (2010)," Lu said.

"He'd never been sick a day in his life," said Marcia, who is a retired nurse.

Vern endured chemotherapy and two rounds of radiation, before learning in February that the cancer had metastasized to his brain. He lived to celebrate his 86th birthday on March 12, which was marked with a dessert feast of three birthday cakes and two pies.

"He never met a meal he didn't like," said niece Lisa Bortz, who cooked many meals to help out the Brintzenhofes.

When Lu moved into a nursing home for several months for physical therapy for weakness in her legs, Vern visited three or four times a day to make sure his wife was getting to the dining room for meals. Family, neighbors and Stanley and his wife brought in food for Vern.

Vern was fond of cookies and candy and carried candy in his pocket for the neighborhood children he encountered on his daily walks. He was known as "Mr. B" to many, because his last name was hard to pronounce.

Mr. B also was known in the neighborhood for his handyman skills and would help others as needed.

 "He never met a stranger. He made friends with everybody," Lisa said.

In the end, it was Vern's friends through his military service and the Bulldog Detachment who made up half of the visitors at his viewing. His funeral included several honor guards.

Vern had the option of being buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but chose Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown so he could be close to Lu.

"More than anything 'Once a Marine, always a Marine,'" Lisa said.

"He was loyal to the Corps. There is no "was" to it," Wade said.

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Editor's note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's story is about Vernard L. Brintzenhofe, who died April 12, 2011, at the age of 86. His obituary was published in the April 13, 2011, edition of The Herald-Mail.

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