Each year, the Corvallis American Legion selects a veteran to lead the annual Memorial Day Parade as the grand marshal. This year, that honor goes to Ralph Keppel of Hamilton. He is a veteran of the Korean War and a lifelong Montanan. He and his wife, Marilyn, live in Hamilton in the green house with used brick details located on Pine Street.
He says he never met a relative. He is the only child of parents who are only children as well. In fact, he’s never even met a person with the same last name. He and his wife have been married and 67 years. They have a son who lives in Alaska and is an Viet Nam war veteran, a daughter in Hawaii and another in Boise, Idaho. They also have a grandson who is a veteran of the Afghanistan war.
Keppel was born in Missoula in 1930. His father was a tile setter and it was from him that Keppel learned to be a good worker and a hard worker. It was also from his father that he learned to love his country and to serve this country. His father was in the Navy in World War I and Keppel was always fascinated by his father’s stories. His dad was a moulder on a repair ship during that war. The ship’s function was to rebuild and repair parts of other ships. They would melt down metal to rebuild bearings, gears, rods, anything that was metal and broken, to send the ship on its way.
“You couldn’t just run down to Ace Hardware,” said Keppel. “They had to make everything for their repairs.”
One of Keppel’s most prized possessions is a metal lighthouse that his father made by melting down metal and casting it. This stands in a place of honor on the mantle next to other mementos, photos and paintings. The artistic gene was passed on from his father to Keppel and his children, and, by proxy, his wife. Everywhere you turn in their house, there is evidence of this talent, from wooden carvings by his wife to the ornate brickwork throughout the house and yard.
One such project has kept Keppel busy for the last few years. He builds the wooden crosses that are placed upon veterans graves in the Hamilton cemetery. He says there are over 2,000 veterans buried there and it is his hope to have one of these crosses on every grave eventually. He builds about 100 each spring and has the production line going right now.
Keppel enlisted in the Navy seven days after he turned 21 and served for four years. His specialty was undersea weapons or mines. They spent their time checking the mechanisms and testing the mines to make sure they were ready when called for. However the Korean War was not a naval war and he never left stateside. He was stationed on the east coast for the duration of his service and finished at Yorktown, Virginia, at the U.S. Naval Mine Depot.
“But we were always in readiness,” he said. “You never knew when they might need our services and we knew we were all part of a team.”
After leaving the service, Keppel and his family returned to Montana and soon began his own business. His father had told him, “If you can’t sell yourself, you can’t sell your job.”
With experience as a tile layer and brick layer, Keppel built buildings, walls, monuments and other structures all over. They worked hard and they built their home. “We lived the American Dream, we’re lucky people.”
When he retired, Keppel heeded some advise given to him by an ‘old-timer’. He told him to rest is to rust and Keppel has stuck to that philosophy. For many years he was a volunteer firemen. He spent 10 years on Hamilton’s zoning boards and the board of adjustment. He has also been a driver for the American Cancer society, giving rides to those who need treatment and don’t have transportation. He still goes to the gym and works out almost daily.
And of course, he’s been very active in the American Legion. He is a 59 year member of Post 47 in Hamilton. He said he has to be one of the oldest Honor Squad members who execute the 21 gun salute at military funerals. “I’m very proud to stand for veterans. That’s why we’re free people.”
Keppel said he was very pleased to represent the veteran community and the community as a whole. “I think there are more qualified people. All of us have all played a part. It takes teamwork from everyone; I did my part and I did it well.”
This year’s parade will be on Monday, May 27, at 10 a.m.
The Corvallis American Legion Post #91 and the Ladies Auxiliary will host the 99th Annual Corvallis Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 27, at 10 a.m. The parade, which is one of the longest parades in the valley, is also one of the shortest. The parade is almost an hour long but the distance is only two blocks long.
This year’s theme is “Celebrate the American Legion’s 100th Birthday.” The parade was organized by returning veterans after World War I upon their return from Europe. The solders marched down Main Street to the cheers of the local residents. Then, as now, patriotism is first and foremost for almost all of the participants.
The day begins early with breakfast served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Corvallis High School Lunch Room. The lunch room is located on the east side of the high school. After the parade, there are food booths, games and much visiting by old-timers and newcomers alike. There will also be a throwing competition after the parade at the south west corner of the Corvallis football field. This is hosted by the SAAA Bitterroot Heavy Athletics.
At noon, following the parade, Post #91 will conduct the annual memorial ceremony at the Corvallis Cemetery. Post members will read the names of all of the veterans buried at the cemetery. The very earliest are from the Mexican War in 1848. Following that, there will be a ceremony at the Woodside Cutoff Bridge where a wreath will be placed in the Bitterroot River to honor all those lost at sea.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and traditionally held on May 30th. Memorial Day today is celebrated on the last Monday of May.
To pre-register for the parade online go to: https://corvallispost91.blogspot.com or call Doug Mason at 546-4244 or email at [email protected]