For over 60 years, members of the Last Man’s Club of World War II have met once a year to raise a toast:
“To our departed comrades, may we always revere them, may we never forget them, to the last man, may they rest in peace.”
Howell Hammond has said this toast almost every time the group has gotten together. The club was formed in 1954. In the beginning, there were 264 members and right now there are only 10 members that are left.
“It’s nice getting together, but it’s sad that we’re losing members every year. This year we’ve lost three,” he added.
Hammond is the club president. He said that the group had their first lunch meeting, recently, at the Morris Frock American Legion Post 42 in Hagerstown, Pennsylvania. It is getting difficult to get the members together for evening or weekend dinners.
After World War II, some veterans were trying to stir up interest in their American Legion post. They knew about the Last Man’s Club of World War I and wanted something similar for veterans of their war.
The goal of the club is “continuing on to death the fellowship developed during time of war.”
The original, handwritten roster still hangs in the entryway at Post 42. According to the group’s history, the last man on the list (Lewis Zombro) was the first one to die.
A bottle of 12-year-old scotch is stored behind a stone in one of the fireplaces at the post. Tradition states that the last surviving member is to open it and drink a toast to his fallen comrades.
The club had wine glasses etched with the names of the members which they use for their toasts. In the past, the deceased members’ glasses were filled and placed on a center table.
Vickie Martin Layton helps with the preparations for the gatherings. Her father, Larry Martin, was a former club president. She pitches in with mailings and chores.
“I always enjoyed helping him out. He passed away in November of 2011. We buried him on Veterans Day, as a matter of fact. And I told the fellows from the club that I would still like to be a part of it and help them out,” said Layton.
“I love the veterans. I love the idea of the camaraderie that they have had over the years. These are just wonderful gentlemen, and they truly are the ‘greatest generation.’ And it’s a wonderful link to my dad as well, to still be a part of it.”
Some of the work has become more difficult through the years. For one thing, Layton has to try to get the wine glasses of the deceased to their family members.
“We have had a challenge keeping track of people over recent years,” she said. “As far as we know, there are 10 of them still living. A few of them don’t live here in the area anymore and aren’t able to come. But it is a delight to see the ones that are still here.”
Hammond is the youngest member of the group at 90 years old. The other members joining him on Friday were: Thomas Gilliam, Grady Grimm, Woody Guessford and Allen Ruth.
Through the years, the members talked about their families and jobs, but they rarely discussed the war, Hammond recalled. It’s only been within the last ten years that he has learned what some of the members did during the war.
Each gathering begins with set sections, including the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer from Grimm, heraldmailmedia.com reported.
He prays for peace, for health and for the members they have lost.
“May their memories continue to be precious to us,” he said.