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VFW commemorates Veterans Day in Polson

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POLSON — On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the armistice was signed to end World War I. Armistice Day was celebrated until 1945, when then President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed it to Veterans Day, to honor all armed service veterans.

As a “thank-you” to veterans who served in United States forces, Polson Veteran’s of Foreign Wars Post 2986 and Women’s Auxiliary hosted a free dinner for all veterans and their significant others. The post has approximately 216 members, and they are veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and other conflicts, according to VFW Commander Don Antonietti.

One of the veterans enjoying a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings was Salish elder  Francis Stanger, who shared some of his memories from his time in the Marines. After living in Polson all his life, Stanger, joined the Marine Corps at 17 in 1945. He had a broken eardrum as a child and should have been a Class 4F, which is a Selective Service classification for not acceptable for military service, but he read the examiner’s lips and got in. 

Remembering his drill instructor saying “I’m your mama now,” Stanger said there was none of the yelling and cussing that’s in the movies, although “we trained rough.” 

“But who’s going to take over if the sarge and the officers are gone?” he asked.

American servicemen were trained all the way down through the ranks so if something happened to an officer or a sergeant, the next person in line could take over, even the privates, Stanger said. 

After basic training, “It took us a month to get there (first Japan then North China) on a Merchant Marine ship,” he said.

In his three years in the Marines, Stanger was a cook, in the military police, a machine gunner and “rode shotgun, guarding a truck.” He served as a prison guard for Japanese prisoners and also spent time on brig duty, guarding U.S. prisoners. Marching the American prisoners, Stanger said he’d give them a smoke break, and they’d say, “Thank you, chief.” While he was on leave, Stanger read on the first page of the newspaper that same group of prisoners took the guard’s carbine away from him, beat him up and escaped. 

“Same bunch of guys,” he said, shaking his head. “But I gave them a smoke break.”

The VFW always celebrates Veterans Day on Nov. 11, so no events are planned for Monday, Nov. 12.   

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