A Touching Salute

by Jun 14, 2024Online Exclusives, South Brunswick

VFW Calabash Post 7288 honors Leo Jarmusz, its last living WWII veteran.

By Frederick Walton

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Calabash Post 7288 honored one of its own in a special ceremony and luncheon on April 30. Leo Jarmusz is the last living veteran of World War II belonging to the post.

Many of the charter members were WWII vets. Back in the 1990s a group of 26 formed a last man organization. Since then, a bottle of Champagne has stood waiting in a wooden display box on a wall surrounded by photos of veterans belonging to the post. The photos span the globe. The European theatre of WWII, North Africa, South Pacific, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. Young boys wearing military uniforms, sometimes perched on military equipment smile out at the viewer. Their smile betrays their pride in their service. They are prouder yet to have a photo from their youth displayed with their post comrades. Sadly, many of the subjects of those photos are now only memories. The Calabash VFW Post 7288 continues to care for the aging veterans, and when they are gone, the post will keep them alive in memory.

Veteran and Wife

The bottle, with its brass plaque proclaiming its intended final recipients, was placed at the post by the 26 World War II Veterans. For many years the VFW held annual reunions to celebrate these humble warriors. The idea was for the last two to share the bottle in a final salute to their comrades. The years whittled down their numbers until only one remained, cheating him of that last toast. So, on this spring day, members of the VFW Calabash Post 7288 and friends gathered to honor this WWII veteran, the last of his generation belonging to the post. They joined together to make that final salute.

The centenarian, Leo Jarmusz, attended the luncheon with his long-time girlfriend, Dottie, age 98. She prompted him to share his recipe for longevity. “Wine, women, and song…and I can’t sing,” Jarmusz said, smiling. But he can dance, and for many years Jarmusz and Dottie dominated the dance floor during the annual reunions.

Father Mark Betti, a priest from Saint Brendan’s Catholic Church and a former navy Chaplain, wore his naval uniform in honor of Jarmusz and gave the blessing. The post commander, Mike Dichiara, shared some stories about Jarmusz during the keynote speech. “There are 119,000 World War II vets in the United States still alive. He’s ours. Our last. We don’t have another one and that means a lot,” the commander said.

100 Year Old Brunswick NC

Ray Ketchem a former Post Commander read a touching poem.

Young Leo Jarmusz (now age 105) went into the U.S. Army in February 1942 and served in the 3rd Armored Division. When asked to say a few words, he simply said, “My brothers and I were drafted and we served.” With a shrug, he modestly concluded “and we came home safe and lived our lives. I celebrate for my three brothers who all served and for anyone else who served.” He said he was grateful for the honor but felt a little overwhelmed with all the attention. “I don’t deserve it” he quipped of his sacrifices on foreign soil ended nearly 80 years ago, long before most of us were even born, yet he does deserve to be honored for his service.

Jarmusz served with a unit that went to Omaha Beach on June 23, 1944, shortly after D-Day. “I was not on the front lines, I was in maintenance for a tank unit, but I was close enough,” he said. He served through October 1945.

After dinner, Jarmusz was presented with the bottle of Champagne as about 60 gathered friends and fellow veterans stood and applauded.

A film crew from WECT in Wilmington was on hand to record the event and interview Jarmusz. His huge smile unmasked the pride and gratitude he felt for the recognition he received.

100 Year Old Veteran

The young men of the succeeding generation joined the post after serving in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East but never received the homecoming welcome that the WWII veterans of the “Greatest Generation” received. It is this younger generation who organized and sponsored the reunions for the WWII vets. They continue to provide community service and support local charities through the post. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and a good time to start remembering these humble warriors and thanking them for their service.

The VFW Calabash Post 7288 welcomes all eligible Veterans of Foreign Wars to join them. They have an active social calendar and serve the community through many volunteer programs. Go to vfw7288.org for more information.