Boothbay lost a pal last week. His name was John Druce.
Since the 1950s, he was a fixture in our community, best known as the genial host at the Spruce Point Inn, and smiling man-about-town. Most of the old-timers knew him as a proud World War II Marine veteran of the bloody South Pacific campaign.
A couple of years ago, Dave Patch, the smiling sailor who captains the local American Legion Post, wanted to convince John to go on one of the “Honor Flights.” You know about them. It is a planeload of old veterans flown to Washington, D.C. to tour the monuments honoring their service in uniform. “I can’t get John to go,” said Patch.
John explained he just didn’t want to travel with a bunch of old fogies who sit around and mope about their prostate troubles and, well.
But he said he would love to visit the Marine memorials, especially the Marine Museum at Quantico, Virginia. So, Jim Singer, another Marine vet, and I put our heads together and talked a trio of cousins in Washington to join our conspiracy to spirit him away to D.C.
One of the cousins was a full colonel who worked at Headquarters Marine Corps, and he pulled some strings. The other two agreed to provide transportation and muscle power. When we unveiled our plan and promised not to talk about old men and health failings, John said he would go but wondered why we needed to bring coats and ties.
In D.C., we began with a visit to the memorial to Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima. We soon toured the other military sites on the mall. John loved the World War II exhibit.
After we stopped for a quick visit with Maine’s Sen. Angus King, (thanks, senator) we put on sport coats and ties for a special treat. The colonel provided us with an invite to an evening reception at Eighth and I, the Marine Headquarters. It was hosted by the Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps, the USMC’s top enlisted man. It featured a company of other sergeants major, all in full dress uniform. There were a handful of officers too, and a general or two, but when the word got around that John was a vet of the World War II Pacific campaign, he was the star attraction. Everyone wanted to chat and shake his hand.
After an hour or so we were pointed to the drill field where we cheered as the bright moon rose over the nation’s capital as the Marine Corps precision “Silent Drill” team strutted their stuff, twirled their rifles, and the marching band played the Marine Corps hymn. A spotlighted bugler closed the evening with “Taps.”
The next day we were off to Quantico to tour the fabulous USMC museum. John made a beeline to the World War II exhibit.
As he silently viewed the weapons and battle accounts, he paused at the photo of a Marine icon, Gy. Sgt. John Basilone, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroics at Guadalcanal, and later the Navy Cross for his actions at Iwo Jima, where he died.
“A good guy,” said John. “One of the best.”
John marveled at the photos, pointing out this guy and that, offering a running commentary on their accomplishments and failings.
We then ducked under fighter planes, skirted helicopters, and tiptoed past artillery positions, and it was time to go.
On the plane home, John’s bright smile charmed a stewardess, and she reciprocated and a full bottle of red wine suddenly appeared at John’s seat.
Along the way, John treated us to tales of his career, including a special war’s end assignment when he was ordered to Beijing to prepare the way for the Seventh Marine regiment’s occupation of the fabled Chinese city. He told of being hosted by the Japanese army officials, put up in a grand hotel in grand style as the Japanese whispered how Marine officers were famed killers.
And he told of how the defeated Japanese army was facing off across the vast airfield with a Red Chinese army. John explained that the communists wanted the Japanese weapons to battle the nationalist armies of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek.
Old Marines call these tales “sea stories.” Some are even true. And these “old salts” always ask you if you know the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story. The answer goes like this: A fairy tale begins: “Once upon a time.” A sea story begins: Now boys, this ain’t no bull, but one time …”
We remember John as a smiling host, a devoted husband, a good father, a teller of tales, and a friend.
Jim Singer will never forget his Marine Corps weekend with one of Boothbay’s favorites. Me too.
Semper fi, Lt. John.