Friends honor World War II Marine with belated memorial service
By Cpl. Brian Kester
| | May 27, 2005
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
His name was Arthur Brannen and among many in Savannah, he earned an iconic status as, "a man who lived life his way."
Due to the efforts of a lifelong friend, Howard Blatner Sr., Brannen lived yet another day during a memorial service in honor of the Marine who passed away in Florida over a year ago. The service was held at the Bethesda Boys Home Chapel in Savannah, Ga., May 18.
He lived in everyone's thoughts, not only as a man who lived the way he wanted to, but also as a man who served his country and earned the title Marine. Brannen served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and as a flamethrower in Guadalcanal during World War II.
The MCRD Parris Island, H&SBn., Headquarters Co., Funeral Detail honored the spirit of the Marine who passed away a year ago with the sound of "Taps" playing after they presented a folded flag filled with 21 spent rounds to his lifelong friend.
After the war he lived life like he wanted, drifting from place to place on his bicycle.
"I would see him in Thunderbolt, Ga., I would see him [around] downtown [Savannah] and I would see that bicycle going here, there and everywhere," said Blatner. "This was over so many years, that people began to realize that he was special."
After quietly passing away in Florida, Arthur was cremated and buried in a pauper's grave before anyone had a chance to pay proper respects.
Blatner then vocalized his vision of the memorial service, wanting to make things right in memory of his old friend.
"I got to thinking about [having a color guard or funeral detail]," said Blatner, "and I called one of the fellows with the [Marine Corps] League, who said, 'I'll see what I can do.' He called me back and said that they had maybe two men that could come from Parris Island."
After a momentary pause to regain his composure, Blatner, visibly shaken, continued his story.
"And look," he said, as he succumbed to the emotion and pointed to the eight Marines who took part in the ceremony. "I'll tell you about the Marine Corps, they are nothing but the best."
Blantner began to draw comparisons to the brotherhood he had in the Marine Corps as being similar to his life at Bethesda.
"You get kind of close to God and close to people," he added. "I feel like I just loved him."
Even though the Marines may not have known Arthur personally, they were all elated to have been a part of this event and each took a small part of the spirit with them.
"It gives me a feeling of great pride and honor to be able to represent the Marine Corps in such way as to honor our fallen brothers and sisters," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Clement, administration chief, assistant chief of staff for Recruiting, Eastern Recruiting Region, and staff non-commissioned officer in charge of the funeral detail.
"The Marine Corps as an institution has always taken great pride in honoring its fallen Marines. I am just glad that I can contribute to that by giving my time to pay the appropriate respect to those who have gone before me."
Clement felt humbled by the experience-moved by the way a man could live his life knowing no evil and living carefree.
"That is everyone's dream," said Clement, who presented the flag to Blatner. "He lived it. Coming to Parris Island from the Washington, D.C., area and seeing how drifters and the homeless were treated there, then hearing how this man was loved and admired by all of Savannah from the time he was a little boy; it makes you stop and think. This man lived life not knowing evil. From the stories reminiscing on his life, he was the proverbial Ned Flanders of Savannah. If he could help, he would."
Brannen arose each morning to the sounds of the birds chirping as if they were calling him to start his day much like the sound of 'To the Colors' echoing through the morning air. This was the time Brannen paid visits to his friends.
"He said that it was because the birds were all singing to the Lord," concluded Blatner, whom he frequently paid those early morning visits to. "When you think about it, it was his unmitigated joy of being alive. Few people are ever just happy to be alive."