My Uncle Bob. He passed away last week at the age of 97.
Marines, Benedictine celebrate Corps’ 240th
By Patrick McArdle STAFF WRITER
Nov 11, 2015
MANCHESTER — If anyone embodied the idea at the 240th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps’ founding on Tuesday that “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” it was Robert Kiernan.
Enlisting in the U.S. Navy right after Pearl Harbor, Kiernan learned to fly and then got an invitation to join the Marines.
Kiernan continued to serve, even after the war, but just around the time of the Korean War, he felt another calling.
For almost 50 years, Kiernan, who is known as Brother Robert and who will be 94 next month, was one of the Benedictine monks living at the Weston priory. Since breaking his leg, Kiernan has lived at the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington, but on Tuesday he was at Garlic John’s restaurant for the yearly celebration of the formation of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Organized every year by Donald Keelan of Arlington, the celebration brings Marines from all over Southern Vermont to the restaurant for a chance to reminisce and share the bond of shared experience.
Participants range from those like Kiernan, who served during World War II, to active Marines such as Staff Sgt. Bill Wolff and Sgt. Ian Bushee, both of whom are currently serving as Marine recruiters in Manchester and Rutland respectively.
Many at the event move a little more slowly than they did while in uniform but remember the details of their service clearly.
Kiernan, who is originally from Maplewood, N.J., said he enlisted right away in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but wasn’t called up until March.
At the time, Kiernan was a student at Cornell University.
“I was studying chemistry, and I wasn’t too keen on it so I wanted to do something else. I decided to learn to fly,” he said.
Kiernan earned his wings at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and in Jacksonville, Fla. He said the last piece of training was performing eight landings on an aircraft carrier.
For about a year around 1943, Kiernan flew dive bombers as a member of Squadron 234. Kiernan remembers flying from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, out of Guadalcanal, at an airfield started by the Japanese but completed by U.S. Marines.
During that year, Kiernan flew about 60 missions.
“We weren’t in combat all the time. We were usually in combat for six to eight weeks then we went back behind the lines and did other training,” he said.
Kiernan’s service included coming back to the United States and serving as a Marine instructor in California for about a year.
In 1945, Kiernan went overseas again. He was stationed at Ulithi, an atoll in the western Pacific Ocean, where he and his fellow Marines thought they were getting ready to bomb the Japanese mainland but after the atomic bomb was dropped, the war ended quickly.
“I thought we were going to get into a war with Russia, so when it was time for a discharge, I signed up for the reserves, and I flew in the reserves for another five years,”
During that time, Kiernan worked as a broker on Wall Street, but he felt the call to a vocation to a religious life. He visited the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky where Thomas Merton was living. Kiernan said he was impressed by Gethsemani and wanted to pursue the same life for himself.
“I didn’t find I was doing anything meaningful. My life was interesting enough but I couldn’t find any direction for it. I wanted to do something that was really meaningful in my life and when I made the retreat to Gethsemani, that impressed me so much, I wanted to do that for the rest of my life,” he said.
Kiernan was at Weston for 47 years until he broke his hip in July 2014. Since then, he has lived at the Vermont Veterans Home where, through therapy, he has been able to learn to walk with a cane.
The veterans home will see a benefit from the Marine Corps birthday. Retired Cpl. Roger Preuss brought two vials of sand from Normandy that he had gotten last year which were sold at the lunch to benefit the home. The purchasers, both Marines, were prominent: David Meiselman, chairman of the board of trustees at Southwestern Vermont Health Care, and Jerry Carr, a retired Marine and astronaut who was the commander of the Skylab 4 flight in 1973.