Marine Corps League in Omaha Keeps Veterans In the FoldApr 28, 2022 05:13PM ● By Leo Adam Biga
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
The brotherhood of the U.S. Marine Corps is exemplified by the military branch’s motto: semper fi (from the Latin semper fidelis or always faithful).
Many local marine veterans attest to this bond. Duane Tunnyhill, age 96, is a World War II veteran who fought on Iwo Jima in the Pacific and saw duty in occupied Japan. Leroy Andresen, age 90, is a Korean War veteran. They still feel a part of the “jarhead” family with the help of the Marine Corps League.
There are several ways the league members help one another. Jerry Boganowski is the commandant of the League’s area Miguel Keith Detachment 609 and a veteran of the Iraq War. He started a tradition during the pandemic of doing a birthday drive-by for members ages 90 and older. Boganowski leads a convoy in his surplus military jeep and trailer and sets the pace for the flag waving and horn honking in front of the honoree’s home.
Tunnyhill was particularly touched by the drive-by for his 95th birthday in 2021, since he’d just returned home from a hospital stay. The members also deliver an oversized card with the standard Marine gift: beer. “The Marine Corps and beer, you can’t be without ’em, never apart,” Tunnyhill quipped.
Andresen appreciated that, on his birthday last year, the members who convoyed to his place swapped tales with him in his driveway.
“It was kind of nice,” Andresen said.
Tunnyhill was also feted last November at the annual celebration of the Marine Corps birthday honoring the oldest and youngest Marines. A natural storyteller, he entertained the assembled throng with anecdotes from his wartime and postwar experiences, sprinkling in some colorful language. As he said, “There’s the English language and then there’s Marine language.”
Social, Community, Charitable
A monthly League breakfast draws members of diverse ages and campaigns. They cook twice a year for a Marine Corps Reserve unit on the Fort Omaha campus and bring a presence to processions and funerals for fallen Marines. Members band together to clean up Marine memorial sites and participate in Toys for Tots drives.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the League is a resource for members if they need assistance.
“About 12 years ago I had to have a pacemaker put in,” Tunnyhill said. “I happened to mention the fact to the Marine Corps League, I let them know I had some leaves in my yard that had to be moved and someone said, ‘When do you want ’em moved?’ I said Saturday would be fine, and 15 Marines showed up and cleaned up my yard for me.”
Other times, the League raises money from its ranks to make donations for Marines or families of Marines in need, including a Marine whose family’s home burned down. “The nature of the need determines the response,” Boganowski added. “If you’re a Marine and the need is legitimate, the League will do whatever it can to help you.”
Andresen got an offer of assistance when members learned his late wife was battling cancer. He declined the offer only because he had family to assist, but he appreciated the gesture.
“They’re always there for you if you’re sick, you need help, you need a meal, you need your lawn cut, your house painted,” Andresen said. “They’ll come, you can count on it, they’ll be there.”
Tunnyhill agreed, saying, “If any Marine that’s active in the Corps or retired, that’s in the League or not, needs our help, he’d get it.”
Andresen echoed Tunnyhill in saying this intense esprit de corps never wanes.
“We were trained to take care of each other,” Andresen said. “That’s why we’re always Marines. We just take care of each other all the time. We never speak of ourselves in the past. The bond continues. At my age, it’s a privilege to have that camaraderie of Marine brothers in my life. It’s not my whole life, but it’s part of it."
Andresen continued, “I feel quite comfortable being around them. I love to exchange stories with them. You absolutely can relate to some of the stories you hear because you’ve been through it yourself.”
Last year, League members joined Wounded Warrior volunteers in delivering personal care supplies to at-risk veterans residing at Victory Apartments in Omaha, and before the pandemic, members visited residents of the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home in Bellevue to share conversation.
Tunnyhill has served as the League’s detachment commandant twice and state commandant once. Today he’s limited to drive-bys and breakfasts, where he holds court.
“If Duane starts talking, everyone else at the table clams up,” Boganowski said of those breakfast gatherings at the Hy-Vee on 96th and Q streets. “It’s out of respect and on account of he’s probably going to tell you something extremely interesting that you’ll never hear anywhere else. I’m a history buff and when I found out he fought on Iwo Jima and he’s the senior member in our group, I was kind of drawn to him. I have the utmost respect for the guy and I try to include him in all the things we do, and have the League do special things for him.”
Andresen only found out about the League late in life when he struck up a conversation with a fellow veteran he happened to meet while traveling. His curiosity aroused, Andresen went to a meeting and soon joined. He’s been a regular ever since.
Tunnyhill echoed Andresen in the belief that any Marine should know about the League because of what it can mean in their life.
It’s just like this together-forever family says: Never turn anyone away or leave anyone behind.
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This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.