Getting to know VFW Memorial Post 2203 members

Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Robert E. Lea, left, and Earl Lea served in World War II and now makes their home in Shell Knob and are members of the VFW Memorial Post 2203. Contributed photo

They may be seen around town, but people may not know these brothers have seen some serious action in their younger years.

Earl and Robert E. Lea are two of the original Charter members still active in the VFW Memorial Post 2203.

Eldest brother Earl Lea joined the Marine Corps in 1943. At one point, it was fairly common for a young man to enlist in support of his country during times of war. This was the case with Earl, who in June 1944 found himself on a troop ship heading to the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The island of Saipan was hugely significant to the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, and the Allied forces wanted control of the island badly. The campaign for control of the island lasted from June 15, 1944, to July 9, 1944. It culminated in the death of at least 29,000 Japanese troops with heavy civilian casualties, and it left the Japanese mainland within range of the Allied B-29 bombers.

Control of the island didn’t come easy, however. The battle was hard-fought, and the victory was the most costly to date in the Pacific stage, with 2,949 Americans killed and 10,464 wounded out of 71,000 who landed.

One of those wounded was Earl, who took shrapnel wounds and was sent back to Hawaii aboard a hospital ship to recuperate. As soon as he was well enough, he was returned to his original Marine unit (2nd Division) in the western Pacific.

Earl was entitled to and earned a purple heart for his injuries while serving in Saipan. His Marine unit was held in reserve during the Okinawa invasion April 1945 and was in training for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan in September 1945 caused this not to be necessary. Earl was discharged in Jan 1946.

Younger brother Robert (Bob) Lea was anxious to serve his country, and on September 1946, the 17-year-old man commenced what was to become a 23-year career with the Navy.

Having served initially aboard two other Navy ships, he found himself serving aboard the USS Hector AR 7, an auxiliary repair vessel in the waters off Inchon, Korea, in September 1950. That battle was an amphibious invasion and resulted in a decisive victory and a strategic reversal in favor of the United Nations (UN). It involved some 75,000 troops and 261 naval vessels, and it led to the recapture of the South Korean capital of Seoul two weeks later.

Bob ended his career in 1968, having attained the rank of E-9, Master Chief Petty Officer, the highest enlisted rank in the military. Bob wanted to point out that anyone who has served at least 30 consecutive days in Korea or its waters from 1949 until today is eligible to become a member of the VFW, as a peace treaty has never been signed with North Korea.

Will Rogers once said, “We can’t all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud when they go by.” We should all salute these gentlemen, both of whom are part of the greatest generation.

“Please be sure to thank them for their service when you see them,” said Jeff Harp, Central Crossing Senior Center public relations specialist. “Thank you, Earl and Bob. Our country is eternally grateful.”

Anyone with an interest in learning more about the VFW, the VFW Auxiliary or joining this organization of veterans helping veterans should come on by the post on any Thursday from 8:30-10 a.m. and enjoy good conversation, a doughnut and a cup of coffee. The post is located north of town on Highway 39. People can look for the sign and the howitzer.