Korean War Navy veteran Ralph Keppel will be the Grand Marshall of the Memorial Day Parade hosted by American Legion Post #91 in Corvallis on Monday.
Keppel is 89 and has been a strong servant in the American Legion for 59 years.
“Probably 30 of those years I served on the honor squad for burying the veterans,” he said. “I’ve been post commander and went through the chairs. When we were young we did a lot of that stuff. My wife has volunteered a lot and that’s what you do in a community.”
As a longtime honor guard, Keppel said he feels like he’s marched in the Corvallis Memorial Day parade for what feels like “912 years.”
“The American Legion Stevensville Post has a wagon that they pull all us old ducks,” Keppel said. “I can’t tell you the love and the appreciation you get from the people as you go by. It just about brings you to tears as you go down that street, everyone is cheering for you and waiving at you. It is a terrific rush.”
Keppel said he is looking forward to riding in a jeep and doing the presidential wave as grand marshal.
Ralph and Marilyn Keppel have been married 67 years and built the house they live in 54 years ago. She worked for Ravalli County and he was a masonry contractor for 40 years who
Built the First Security Bank 65 years ago. He’s been a volunteer fireman, served on the zoning board and driven cancer patients for treatment.
He just completed making and painting 100 crosses to mark veteran’s graves in the Riverside Cemetery in Hamilton.
“There are over 1,000 military graves in that cemetery, just the ones we know,” Keppel said. “Gaining new and young members is a challenge. We are having a real struggle to have young people to join in they have too many deviations with all the electronics and all the other stuff they do, so they don’t have time for it.”
Keppel served in the Navy from 1950–1954 in undersea mines. His dad (Andrew) served in WWI, his son (William) served in Vietnam and his grandson (Scott Lette) served in Afghanistan.
Keppel said his father, born in 1894, only had a third-grade education because he had to start work in a factory at age 12 to support his family before child labor laws.
“He learned the tile trade, was very smart and learned in his own way,” Keppel said. “He made me earn everything I ever had, to make me stand on my own feet. That sounds tough but when you have to earn something yourself you take care of it.”
Keppel is a native Montanan who grew up in Missoula, before he had even travelled to larger Montana he went to boot camp in San Diego. He remembers that once he caught a bus to Hollywood to watch the radio show of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
“Well Rita Hayworth came out on stage and I was sitting in the front row,” Keppel said. “She put her face about six inches from mine and winked. Life has a lot of nice experiences.”
The Ladies Auxiliary sponsors the parade and select the theme, this year it is “The American Legion’s 100th Birthday.”
The Corvallis Memorial Day parade begins at 10 a.m. at the north end of Main Street with local school children, floats, music, clubs, horses, politicians, emergency vehicles, classic cars and veterans.
The Corvallis High School choir will give a performance after the parade and will host a barbecue.
After the parade, Post 91 will conduct its annual memorial ceremony at noon at the Corvallis Cemetery where they read the names of all the veterans buried at the cemetery dating back to the Mexican War (1848). Then Post 91 goes to Woodside Cutoff Bridge to honor those who died at sea.
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