News-Register File Photo##Retired Marine “Gunny” Brandon signs off with a salute after his speech at a Veterans Day presentation at the Evergreen Aviation Museum. The retired gunnery sergeant loved wearing his uniform.
News-Register File Photo##Retired Marine “Gunny” Brandon signs off with a salute after his speech at a Veterans Day presentation at the Evergreen Aviation Museum. The retired gunnery sergeant loved wearing his uniform.
News-Register file photo##Gunny Brandon stands next to a wooden statue of the flag raising at Iwo Jima in this 2014 photo.
News-Register file photo##Gunny Brandon stands next to a wooden statue of the flag raising at Iwo Jima in this 2014 photo.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Gunny Brandon shakes hands with students from McMinnville High School at a Veterans Day celebration at Evergreen Aviation Museum. The retired Marine was an active presence in the community, owning a variety of businesses. He was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Gunny Brandon shakes hands with students from McMinnville High School at a Veterans Day celebration at Evergreen Aviation Museum. The retired Marine was an active presence in the community, owning a variety of businesses. He was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Semper Fi

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, in the chapel on the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum campus. Interment will be conducted at Willamette National Cemetery under the direction of Macy & Son Funeral Directors.

Gunnery Sergeant Brandon won a Navy Commendation, Cross of Valor and multiple Purple Hearts during his service in Vietnam and Korea. He was known for his patriotism, his love of the American flag and, his outspoken support for veterans and veterans causes.

Born June 29, 1935, Brandon grew up in Grand Ronde. When his older brother was killed on Iwo Jima during World War II, he was inspired to join the Marine Corps, he told a group of high school students at a living history event in 2014.

When he turned 17, he said, he hitchhiked to the recruiting office in Salem. Soon he was being yelled at in basic training.

He shipped out to Japan, then joined the fighting in Korea, all before his 18th birthday. After the war, he served stateside for a few years, then was deployed again, this time to Vietnam.

He served with Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, known as the “Magnificent Bastards,” in the battle of Dai Do. In the battle, which took place April 28 to May 5, 1968, about 400 Marines faced more than 3,000 North Vietnamese Army regulars.

More than 2,000 North Vietnamese were killed and several hundred were wounded. Ninety-four Marines were killed and most of the rest were wounded, including Brandon.

Despite his injuries at Dai Do, Brandon returned to the front lines. But he was much more seriously hurt a few weeks later. He spent almost three years in the hospital, recuperating and learning to walk again, before returning home.

He still carried shrapnel from his wounds, and continued to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, he told students more than four decades later.

After retiring from the military following 20 years of service, Brandon drove a laundry truck, ran a construction company and owned a gym. He once ran for a seat on the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners.

Most of all, though, he devoted his life to patriotic and veterans’ causes.

He opened the first vets’ club in McMinnville, running the gathering place for many years prior to construction of the American Legion Hall.

To honor veterans, he put up numerous flagpoles in McMinnville, other locales in Yamhill County and other parts of the state. He erected a replica of the Iwo Jima memorial on his property, where he said he often welcomed veterans in need of shelter or other support.

He dreamed of building a memorial honoring military wives and mothers, too.

“It’s always bothered me that the men get all the glory, when the wives and mothers don’t,” he told the News-Register in 2009. “They suffer so much, and they raise our kids.”

Brandon wrote a memoir, “Gunny, A Story About a Marine Gunnery Sergeant,” peppering the narrative with the same salty language he used as a gunnery sergeant — and still used daily in describing his war experiences

He took his vintage vehicles and his Marilyn Monroe statue, skirt billowing, to many parades and veterans’ events. He was a “star” in the McMinnville Christmas parade in 2001.

He represented the Marines as one of five grand marshals in the Turkey Rama parade of 2011. The next year, he was named grand marshal  for Portland’s Danner Memorial Day March and Commemoration Ceremony, billed as the biggest Memorial Day event in Oregon.

He was honored by many organizations over the years.

In 2012, the Marine Corps University Foundation honored Brandon and other members of the Magnificent Bastards during a celebration of the Marine Corps’ 237th birthday. Another time, the Remembering America’s Heroes foundation presented him with an Oregon Military Hall of Fame plaque reading, “In recognition of Above and Beyond the Call of Duty, a grateful Oregon remembers.” 

One of his most treasured honors came in 2004, when he donned cap and gown to receive his honorary diploma from Willamina High School.

He’d dropped out his junior year to join the Marines. Even though he’d passed his GED test in 1964 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, missing his high school graduation had worried him for more than five decades. 

“It’s this little thing that’s been hanging over my head, and I needed to do this,” he said, thrilled to be part of the ceremony. “Part of the fun was knowing that a lot of the kids who graduated are grandkids of people I went to school with.”

In addition to presenting at living history programs at the Evergreen Space Museum, Brandon addressed students and adults at many events. In 2014, he was among speakers at the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Memorial Day observance.

He competed in McMinnville’s Biggest Turkey competition in the 1990s.

In 2015, he joined Turkey contestant Consuelo Christianson, another veteran, on stage at the lip sync contest. They performed a song that could have been written in Brandon’s honor, “I’m Proud to be an American.”

Brandon is survived by two daughters, Jan Hulke and Rita Van Dyke, both of McMinnville; a son, Russell Brandon of Alaska; and eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His wife of more than 50 years, Shirlie, preceded him in death.

 

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Larry Giddings

Semper Fi Gunny

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