Retired Marine Sergeant Paul Brown held up for his 100th birthday party on a hot July 24 the way he has held up in life – with grace and dignity.
“I’m getting older. I’m the only one left in my family,” said Mr. Brown in a visit to his Mattapoisett home on Saturday, the day after his outdoor celebration in the Saunders Funeral Home parking lot in Mattapoisett.
Brown resides nearby with his daughter Kathy Ecklund, who hosted the troops to cupcakes and refreshments after the ceremony.
Mr. Brown joined the Marines at age 21 and was an electrician and a Sergeant gunner in the Marines. He also served on an airplane that took aerial photographs. He spent the majority of the time in the U.S., but was sent to Florida, Tennessee, and Texas, and did not ship out to the South Pacific until 1943 on a Navy battleship and spent time in the Solomon Islands as well as Beijing, China. There he helped defend against civil uprisings and helped get the airport runway built.
Mr. Brown grew up as third youngest in a family of nine children on a farm in Halston, Ohio, during the Great Depression. The family did not own the land but were tenant farmers.
Two of his older brothers, Bill and Cletus, served in the Army. Another older brother died of influenza in 1918. It was a rough upbringing that left Mr. Brown resolved to lead a sober lifestyle. “My family is my family. I take care of all of them,” he said. “I treat them all the same. They’re my family, they look after me and I look after them.”
“He has always been kind to children and once in a while would have drink,” said Kathy. “Never drank, never smoked, which probably has a lot to do with why he’s here.”
In civilian life, Mr. Brown worked as a machinist and repaired and maintained airplanes.
He met his wife at National Cash Register in Dayton, Ohio, in 1950. He was a machinist, and she had a higher-paying job. They had a strategy of farming and canning vegetables, leading to a legacy of generosity toward neighbors and friends but also some serious fatigue. The couple had two children including Kathy with whom Mr. Brown now lives in Mattapoisett. Mrs. Brown passed away in 2015.
A stroke in 2013 that was misdiagnosed for two and a half days has affected Mr. Brown’s ability to arrange his thoughts and memories, but he still has vivid emotions reliably connected to his experiences. “My daughter, she’s running the family now,” he said. “I live with Kathy; she keeps us together. I tell her, she’s the boss.”
Kathy, who holds a master’s degree and is a teacher of dental hygiene, works for a company in the industry in Cambridge.
Tim Ready, who helped arrange to bring in the New Bedford detachment of the Marine Corps League, was on hand to speak to the 100th birthday gathering outside Saunders.
“He went through the South Pacific and he ended up in China. Sergeant Brown made a huge contribution to the American democracy that we enjoy these days,” said Ready, addressing the crowd. “I want everybody to take note of the Marines who showed up in uniform. We have the Marine Corps League, we have the Marines in uniform actively serving, the 25th Marines out of Fort Devens under Colonel Healy who sent his men down here to recognize the contributions of a real, true American.
“And you, too, are here to honor him, and that’s a magnificent tribute to his service and to each one of you. God bless America, God bless Staff Sergeant Brown, and God bless each and every one of you!”
Applause filled the large parking lot, all the while Mr. Brown repeated his thanks. As the Marines filed before him to wish a happy birthday and thank him for his service, one said, “Thank you for being part of the Greatest Generation.”
Mr. Brown said, “You did the exact same thing. No difference.”
Encouraged to take a seat, Brown said, “I don’t like to sit.”
“He served his country during a time when his country needed him… so he’s a very highly decorated Marine from the greatest generation,” said Ready afterward. “I look at it like this… I look at the man, he’s 100 years old, and beneath that grizzled exterior beats the heart of a lion. And that’s true. He made it a long way, and God bless him.”
It is expected that Brown will receive a letter of commemoration from General David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
By Mick Colageo