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A veteran for all reasons

The greatest struggle of his life, Millard Beckner won 60 years ago.

The one with bombs and bullets. The one with the aches and fever of malaria. The one that took the young Marine to Guadalcanal, Tinian, Tulagi, Savo Island and other places he barely pronounce or spell.

But Beckner, now 85, is still fighting another struggle. The one to help penniless widows, the one to find diapers for the babies of destitute veterans, the one to help smooth disability payments for Korean and Vietnam veterans.

For his part in World War II, Beckner has a row of awards and ribbons.

For his work as a Veteran’s of Foreign Wars Service Officer, the state Veteran’s Department will award Beckner today as the Outstanding Volunteer Service Officer for 2001. The award will during a Veterans Day parade and ceremony in Auburn, Wash. and be co-sponsored by the Governor's Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee (VAAC).

Born in Fort Benton, Mont., Beckner graduated from South Kitsap High School in 1935 and joined the Marines because “jobs were tough to come by back then.”

From 1935 to 1947, he served both on active duty and as a Marine Reserve.

He was trained as a machine gunner for a water cooled 30cal machine gun.

Beckner took part in the early horrific battles of World War II. His voice grows quiet and slow when he talks of having to kill Japanese soldiers before they killed him.

“You had to do what you had to do,” Beckner said.

By then, Beckner was in his mid-20s, a sergeant and in charge of a platoon.

“I was the old man compared to all those 17 year olds,” Beckner said.

Beckner said the scariest moment came during the Battle of Savo Island. He watched the searing naval battle from a hill on a small island.

He watched as U.S. and Japanese ships blasted at each other from close range.

“The sky was so lit up,” Beckner said. “God, they were firing at each other broadside. Words cannot explain it.”

By the middle of the war Beckner had contracted malaria 10 times and was returned to San Francisco. He ended up teaching Navy “boot camps” military courtesy, order and discipline. He was assigned to a troop transport that made 8 to 10 round trips into the war zone.

“It wasn’t my cup of tea,” Beckner said. “Some people might have called that choice duty. You always had a clean bed and knew you had three meals a day. I’d rather been out on the front lines with my company not knowing when the next meal was coming.”

When the war ended he stayed in the Marine Reserves until the mid-1950s, about the time he began an apprentice program at PSNS where he worked until retiring in 1973.

That’s when Beckner’s passion as a volunteer began.

“It’s just a thing with me,” he said. “I always liked doing something for the community.”

He was a Bremerton Police Reserve Officer for 14 years and a volunteer firemen in Navy Yard City for eight years.

“I liked to ride on anything that had a red light on it,” he said.

He worked as juvenile court volunteer, hospital volunteer, school tutor, helped with Toys For Tots and also taught the “55 Alive” defensive driving course for senior citizens.

Beckner hit his stride 20 years ago when he became a Service Officer for the Disabled American Veterans and for VFW Post 239 in West Bremerton.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday he’s at the post at 190 South Dora from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. meeting vets, their widows or dependents who might need help.

Beckner helps target money from the Kitsap County Soldiers and Sailor’s Relief Fund and can help people get their utilities, rent and doctors bills paid if they have truly dropped below the poverty level.

“I have to investigate and make sure they are eligible,” Beckner said.

He has helped widows who didn’t have enough money to bury their husbands; young veterans who couldn’t afford diapers for their infants; and people who are clueless at filling out serpentine state and federal forms.

“Service officer work is very satisfying,” he said. “Volunteer. I just like that word. Someone can never say “that’s what your getting paid to do.’”

Beckner has added a new item to his resume as a volunteer.

Beckner is no Elvis Presley and doesn’t even play the guitar, but recently he bought a $200 digital guitar which he plays for residents at nursing homes and convalescent centers. The tunes comes out automatically.

“I just kind of strum it and it seems to add something,” Beckner said.

SEE VET OF THE YEAR, PAGE A3

VET OF THE YEAR, CONTINUED FROM PAGE A1

At age 85, Beckner is tireless worker for vets and their families.

Gray Box:

In addition to Millard Beckner, their are several Service Officers in Kitsap County who helped administer the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund:

• Bob Urie, Bremerton, Fleet Reserve Association No. 29, (360) 377-7915.

• Dean Hearing, Bremerton, VFW Post 239, (360) 792-0913.

• Bob Sauter, Bremerton, Kitsap County Veterans Coalition, (360) 698-7040.

• Robert Gardner, Port Orchard, American Legion Post 30, (360) 871-4710.

• Donald VanHoozer, Bremerton, VFW Post 3694, (360) 275-2971.

• Dennis Nelson, Port Orchard, VFW Post 2669, (360) 876-4772.

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