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The Telegram
  • A Marine's final salute: Family moved to tears on solemn occasion

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  • HERKIMER — Once a Marine, always a Marine.
    That's a motto used by the U.S. Marine Corps.
    Bryan Mosher, formerly of East Herkimer, said that was never more evident to him after what happened when U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Ronald Coonley arrived at his Alabama home to give his father-in-law “a final salute.”
    Mosher said 89-year-old James H. Legg had been comatose for two weeks when Coonley arrived at his home in mid-December at the request of a chaplain from Baptist South Hospice.
    “I thought it was fantastic,” Mosher said about the opportunity to have a visit from the recruiter during a telephone interview Thursday.
    Legg joined the U.S. Marine Corps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He participated in landings at Guadalcanal, Pelileu, Okinawa and Iwo Jima as a driver of landing tracked vehicles for the 1st Marine Division. Mosher said Legg was also in the first wave to land in Japan, after the use of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
    Mosher said Legg was discharged from the Marines in 1945, after the end of World War II. He said when Legg returned home to East Herkimer, he joined the Marine Corps League in Ilion and was a member of it for the remainder of his life.
    Mosher said Legg “lived his life by the same traits that were instilled [by the Marines] from day one.”
    Legg, who graduated from Herkimer Senior High School in 1941 and married Marion E. Sturges at the Herkimer Reformed Church on May 27, 1944, became well known in the farming community and was an active member of the Kiwanis Club, the Masonic organization and was a Boy Scout leader throughout his years in Herkimer.
    “Instead of following his dream [of becoming a draftsmen], he took over the family business after his father died,” said Mosher.
    Legg served as owner and president of S.C. Legg, selling International Harvester farm and garden equipment and Surge dairy equipment. He eventually went to work at various jobs in his later years, including jobs for Holt Brothers, Rural/Metro, Access Transportation and the Herkimer Area Resource Center. He retired in 2006 at age 82.
    After having some health problems, Legg moved in with his daughter and son-in-law from East Herkimer to Prattville, Ala., in November 2012.
    Mosher, a retired Navy officer, said Coonley presented a certificate to Legg “for loyal and faithful service” and also gave him a Marine Corps coin.
    “It made the hair stand up on your arms,” he said.
    Mosher said he wasn't expecting much from his father-in-law during Coonley's visit.
    “I thought he would just lay there comatose, like he had for two weeks,” he said.
    Mosher said, however, his wife Judy talked to her father while Coonley was there.
    Page 2 of 2 - “She said 'Come on, Dad. Open your eyes. It's the Marine Corps,'” he said.
    Mosher said it was then for a few brief moments Legg opened his eyes to see Coonley salute him.
    “Tears ran down my face,” said Mosher.
    Mosher also said in an email, “I believe he fully understood the changing of the guard from one Marine to another. Following that salute given by Sgt. Coonley … my father-in-law slipped into a coma and peacefully succumbed a few days later [on Dec, 16].”
    Mosher also said “Sergeant Coonley's professionalism and demeanor during this solemn occasion was in keeping with the highest tradition of the U.S. Marine Corps.”
    Legg's memorial service will take place today at the First United Methodist Church of Herkimer and Little Falls, 127 N. Prospect St., Herkimer. Family will be there to receive relatives and friends from 11 a.m. to noon, before the memorial service. Interment will be later this spring in Mountain View Memorial Gardens, in the town of Little Falls.

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