“I Was A Spectator in the Greatest Generation.”
April 20, 2021
Submitted by Jerry Wilkerson on behalf of Major General H. Lloyd Wilkerson, USMC (Ret)
He was a PFC rifleman in LtCol Chesty Puller's 1stBn, 7th Marines at Guadalcanal. He participated in the Korean War (1950-1) at Pusan and North Korea, commanded the First Marines in Vietnam, and commanded 3rd Marine Division and III MAFI on Okinawa (1975-6). He has written about his assignment to help establish the Marine Memorial Club in his recent book, "I Was A Spectator in the Greatest Generation."
The following is an excerpt from his book. "I Was A Spectator in the Greatest Generation.":
I was assigned as Personnel Classification Officer and commanding officer of the personnel in the headquarters. As the only second lieutenant in the headquarter, I was sort of the errand boy! The chief of staff was Colonel E. O. Ames. He had served as a temporary brigadier general during the war and in demobilization he was reverted to his permanent rank of colonel. Colonel Ames decided that I should help him with the establishment of the Marines Memorial Club.
The Western Women's Club owned the building at 609 Sutter Street at the beginning of World War II. The Club rented the building to the U.S. Navy to be used as quarters for the Navy women officers and enlisted who served in the Bay Area. They were primarily serving in the Twelfth Naval District headquarters in the city. At the end of the war when the Navy was demobilizing and had no further use for the facility, the Club decided to offer the building for sale. Colonel Ames and the local Marine Corps leaders envisioned that the Marine Corps commitment in the Pacific area would always require Marines and their families to travel to San Francisco to board ships bound for the Pacific assignments. The considered that a hotel ty pe accommodation like the Club could make their time in San Francisco much cheaper than regular hotels in the area. With that reasoning, they petitioned the Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington to use some of the accumulated Recreations Funds from organizations being demobilized as a memorial to those Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war. It was suggested that such an expenditure of funds for a living memorial was far more acceptable than building monuments. The Commandant of the Marine Corps approved a large sum, about $800,000 to be used for the purchase.
I was too junior to attend the final settlement with the Western Women's Club representatives, but this figure has stuck in my mind over the many years. My chore was to go to Navy and Marine Corps surplus activities and select furniture for the many rooms of the newly established Marines Memorial Club. We had the good fortune to be visited by one of the brothers who owned the 21 Club in New York City. At least two of the brothers had served in the war, Major Bob Kriendler in the Marine Corps, and Colonel Mac Kriendler in the Army Air Corps. The later visited the Marine Corps in San Francisco to see our new facility. I was assigned to escort him during his visit, and right away I made the mistake of reserving a regular room for him at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. He informed me that he wanted a suite. We obtained it for him.
After he had toured our facility, he invited Colonel and Mrs. Ames, their daughter and her girlfriend, and Jeanne and me to dinner at Trader Vic's restaurant in Oakland, California. The seven of us were seated at a reserved table away from the crowd where the proprietor Trader Vic (Victor J Bergeron) himself sat at the head of the table with Kriendler. The two of them had never met, but they had referred customers to each other for years. Trader Vic did the ordering, caused each course to be picked up after a few bites, and another course served in its place. This went on for a couple of hours with drinks frequently changed. When the bill came to Mac, Trader said there was no charge. Mac handed the waitress a $100 bill as a tip. That was the largest time that we had ever seen! We all returned home happily. Mac took with him the drawings for the Skylight Bar and the dining room and soon returned a complete set of drawings for renovation of each floor. We used the new drawings to make those floors a delight to visit. His architect did a masterful job!