NEW LONDON -- Four Marine veterans of the 7th Field Depot, hailing from Oklahoma, Missouri, New Hampshire and Connecticut, visited the Coast Guard Academy on Friday as part of their unit's annual reunion.
While many of the unit's members have died, family members -- who call themselves the second generation -- continue to attend the annual event and have taken on hosting and planning duties.
This year, Steven Papelian, the son of Norwich veteran Antranig Papelian, 91, hosted the reunion, with the main event taking place in Warwick, R.I., this weekend.
The younger Papelian, who was classmates with retired Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp at Norwich Free Academy, coordinated the visit to the Coast Guard Academy, where the men heard from Superintendent Rear Adm. James Rendon and took a virtual tour of the academy led by First-class cadet Nate Matthews.
Rendon quoted former President Ronald Reagan, saying "'Some people work an entire lifetime and wonder if they ever made a difference to the world. But the Marines, they don't have that problem.' And you lived it, you know that you have made a difference to the world."
The 7th Field Depot, based out of San Diego, Calif., provided supplies for the forces during World War II. The unit managed nearly 100,000 tons of supplies during the Battle of Okinawa.
Antranig Papelian was part of the unit's ordnance company.
"I fooled around with ammunition," he joked Friday.
Papelian spent much of his war time in the South Pacific, with the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 being the biggest engagement he took part in. He recalled playing football for the Marines in Hawaii, where he beat the "Army, Navy ... and everybody else," he declared proudly.
Papelian was born in Needham, Mass., but has lived in Norwich for more than 60 years. He spent many years working for the Groton School District and was a member of the Groton School Board.
This is the unit's 32nd reunion. The reunions were spurred by Arthur Manwaring of Crete, Ill., who, after many years out of the service, found another member of the unit, and the two decided they would try to find others.
Manwaring spent years traveling to different libraries to flip through phone books in an effort to track down fellow members of the unit. At one time, he'd found about 130 members, though not all of them were able to attend the yearly reunions, according to his son Bob Manwaring of Crown Point, Ind. The first reunion was held in Bloomington, Ind.
The elder Manwaring died in 2014 at age 89, but the younger Manwaring continues to attend the reunion.
"We've all become so much of a family, now," Manwaring said of the attendees. He's come to the reunion since 2001.
Frank Rancloes, 91, of Stewartstown, N.H., has come to all 32 reunions.
"It brings back memories that you've really forgotten about," Rancloes, who was a member of the engineering company, said.
He was delighted that his grandson Aaron Rancloes, a captain in the Marines stationed in San Diego, flew in to surprise him.
When the young Rancloes "popped his head in, I thought I was seeing things," the elder Rancloes said.
Clarence Searles, 90, flew from Oklahoma to attend the event. Searles was a welder with the ordnance company, and would weld pieces of the tracks on tanks.
He recalled when the unit, as part of a larger mobilization, was moving south down Okinawa Island. The unit was forgotten in the move, so they were left with no food. Searles' job was to track down souvenirs such as clothing or "any kind of weapon" to give the cooks to take to the ships and trade them for food.
Searles recalled another time, while the unit was waiting on Okinawa to head to mainland Japan, when they were told that "98 percent of us wouldn't be coming back."
"And then they dropped the bomb," he said, referring to the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber.
Larry Treinen, 91, of St. Louis, Mo., a member of the unit's engineering company, said when the men get together, they like to tell old sea stories.
"Everybody remembers things a little differently," Treinen said.
He described the attendees of the reunion as family, and said the military aspect has started to diminish and it has become more about human interest.