By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – After nearly 80 years, a life has its share of ups and downs, but John Blanchard is sure of one thing:
“I loved the Navy,” he said. “It’s the smartest thing I ever did.”
His 20 years of active service weren’t always pleasant. It got hot in the deserts of Libya and California. Then there was the time he crossed the North Atlantic when giant waves crashed over the aircraft carrier and water froze to the decks.
“That was cold, man,” he said, and a native of Bangor, Maine, would know a little something about cold weather.
But you take the bad with the good, and the 79-year-old Tupelo resident figures he got a pretty good deal.
“I look at it this way: They gave me a world tour and paid me to go,” he said. “I liked the Far East pretty much, and Europe. Barcelona, Spain, was a good place. Istanbul, Turkey, and Cannes, France – I’ve been to so many places. It’s hard to remember all the ports. And of course, I loved Hawaii.”
His modes of travel were exceptional, too. They included the aircraft carriers USS Kearsarge, USS Bon Homme Richard, USS Shangri-la and USS Independence.
“And I’ve flown, man,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many miles.”
He joined the Navy at the tail end of World War II, then spent 20 years on active duty followed by another 10 years of inactive service.
Early in his career as an aviation mechanic, Blanchard was stationed in Millington, Tenn., and began to familiarize himself with Northeast Mississippi on the weekends.
“My wife, Bobbie, is from Mooreville,” Blanchard said. “I met her at Tombigbee State Park. She was a lifeguard out there.”
After serving all over the country and the world, the kid from Maine moved to Tupelo to finish raising his five boys and four girls.
“They’re the reason I retired when I did,” he said. “I got tired of changing my kids’ schools and moving them to another school. Fortunately, they did well. Some kids can’t adapt to the constant changes. That’s one of the hardships.”
Not long after retiring from the Navy, he joined the American Legion, and he’s been a member for 38 years. He’s in the middle of his second term as commander of American Legion Post 49 in Tupelo.
“I have a lot of fun with it,” he said. “I’ve held practically every office in the Legion.”
The American Legion raises money for charities and scholarships, and members hand out small American flags to schoolchildren.
There are flowers and gifts to be sent when a veteran dies, and the duty to the fallen doesn’t end.
“We also put out flags on all the veterans’ graves at cemeteries around,” Blanchard said. “That includes Confederate soldiers, too. He was doing what he thought was right, fighting for his country. What can you do? You’ve got to respect that.”
The Legion also helps transient veterans when they come through town, but it’s expensive to provide money for food, transportation and housing. Blanchard’s trying to get access to abandoned Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers.
“It’s slow going, I tell you,” he said. “Maybe somebody can help us with that.”
Not the beach
The American Legion is far bigger than one man. Blanchard said Post 49’s work wouldn’t be possible without its dedicated members.
“People give me more credit than I deserve. It takes everybody,” he said. “I think it’s time for me to sit back a little and let the younger people do it.”
His term will end in July, and maybe it’ll be time for a vacation to someplace nice.
Here’s where the Navy messed things up a bit for Blanchard: He has no interest in spending time on a sun-soaked beach.
“I’ve seen all the cotton-picking saltwater I need to see,” he said. “When I get the chance, I’m going to the mountains.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.