Lining a glass walkway at Masonic Village, profiles of residents pay tribute to their sacrifices and experiences.
of war
Masonic Village pays tribute
to resident vets in exhibit
Staff Writer

Eighty-seven-year-old World War II veteran Alvin Leisey lost his soles that day on the Pacific island and still wonders how the bombshell blast blew the boots right off his feet, unraveling the tightly strung laces.

He saw the shell coming, somersaulting right at him - a bomb ironically fired by an ally ship and actually meant for the enemy. The impact rocketed the U.S. Marine into the air, knocked him out and killed more than two dozen of his fellow soldiers.

"War in not just an easy game" he said. "You go in organized, but your're soon in chaos as soon as you hit the beach. I wouldn't want to repeat it, and I wouldn't want anybody else to have to repeat it."

Leisey served a four-year hitch and was hospitalized for his extensive war injuries, which included concussions and shrapnel wounds to his back and hand.

Both Leisey and his wife, Mary Helen, 86, who are residents at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, are part of the village's Veterans' Tribute Project, a collection of 202 profiles of residents who served in all branches f the service — from World War II through the Vietnam War, one in the Gulf War — with a handful serving in more than one conflict. The oldest veteran who completed a profile was 101 (since deceased), the youngest, 66.

From top, Mary Helen Leisey and Alvin Leisey talk about their experiences in the armed forces; Chester Brown poses with a display of medals and patches awarded him for his service.

One-page profiles — some including current as well a military photos — are on display in the Freemasons Cultural Center through the end of the month, when they'll then move to the first floor of the Masonic Health Care Center. The project also coincides with the centennial of Masonic Village.

Profiles are tinged with both pride and pain — reporting experiences than run the gamut — from helping free survivors of a concentration camp to studying the wily effects of weather.

That was 82-year-old Chester Brown's role in the Army Air Force. In high school he was active in the Civil Air Patrol, and when he was 17, he enlisted and was trained for the Air Weather Service. Brown, fluent in German and Pennsylvania Dutch, was assigned to work with German meteorologists employed by the U.S. Occupation Forces. During the Berlin Airlift he recalls flying on an aircraft from Wiesbaden, Germany, into Berlin and working at weather stations at Tempelhof Air Base.

"Weather isn't simple," he said, "and we gathered information from everywhere." Debra Davis, Masonic Villages public relations coordinator, said the veterans project began to take shape about two years ago through the public relations department with assistance from other village departments and resident volunteers. The profiles were compiled from the answers to a questionnaire, and if the recipients were unable to fill out the forms, volunteers stepped in as interviewers.

"It's amazing to me how some of these (vets) were so young, only 17 (when they enlisted)," Davis said... Since the project installation in November, the profiles have become a popular fixture, she said, and also a means to connect resident veterans. Village records indicate there are some 408 veterans among the 1,740 residents, predominantly men, but the exhibit does include eight women.

Mary Helen Leisey (then Abbott) joined the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps when she began studying nursing out of high school. The Cadet Nurse Program was supervised by the United States Public Health Service (PHS) to train nurses during World War II when the demand for nurses increased dramatically, outstripping the supply and creating a nursing shortage on the home front. She served in a Pennsylvania veterans hospital treating men from the European theater.

"If men were in a body cast and needed penicillin, we had to drill right through the cast to give them the injection," she said. "Those guys were so wonderful, so understanding. As soon as they could stand on one leg, they'd say 'Dancing music, please.' They couldn't wait till they were well enough to get back to their dancing."

In addition to requesting basic information, the profile questionnaires asked the veterans why they joined the service, if they were in combat, what a typical day was like, what they felt they had learned and gained, how today's military differs from the past and if they have advice for the next generation.

Brown, who has a framed display of wartime awards and commendations, stresses the importance of education and/or development of a trade.

And, he has further advice for people hoping to make their mark in the world. When the opportunity presents itself, he said, "lead, lead."