RENSSELAER — George Tonner and his family dug into his closet last week for the perfect ensemble as he prepared to receive a special honor from the Rensselaer American Legion.
A plaque honoring Tonner’s 75th continuous year as a member of the American Legion was presented by Legion Post 29 commander Ed Jones during a ceremony. While accepting the award, Tonner wore a well-preserved, blue buttoned-up shirt given to him 75 years ago in his first year as a Legion member.
He also brought a Legion cap that he was given in his first year. It, too, was in near mint condition.
Tonner, who is believed to be the only living World War II veteran on Post 29’s active roster, entered the Army Air Corps in 1943. He was honorably discharged a year after Word War II ended, according to son Greg Tonner.
Trained as a navigator for B-24 bomber planes for the Air Corps, Tonner, who turns 96 in September, served stateside during the war. He was joined at the presentation by sons Greg, Ned and Chris and wife Betty.
Greg noted that when his dad earned his wings with the Corps, they would attract women who would try to steal them off an airman’s shirt.
“You had to watch them like a hawk,” George said.
George also recalled his time as a member of the Legion’s Drum and Bugle Corps, which played at venues throughout the Northwest region. They also serenaded U.S. Rep. Charlie Halleck, who was born in DeMotte, whenever he would visit Jasper County.
George’s father, Paul, was a professor of music at Saint Joseph’s College and served as director of the Drum and Bugle Corps. George played a baritone bugle, which is still in his possession.
The Drum and Bugle Corps would often charge $50 to perform at various events, which, George said, “was about $1 a man since there were 50 of us.”
Scott Donnelly, of Rensselaer, also hit a milestone with the Legion this year. He has been a member for 50 continuous years after serving in the Army from 1964-68.
He, too, was presented a plaque last week.
Donnelly said he served stateside during the Vietnam War and was stationed at a number of Army bases.