HATS OFF TO LA GRANDE'S DRIVING FORCE
By Ray Linker
Observer Staff Writer
Ive spent a lot of time in veterans hospitals myself. I know what its like to have to stay there, especially after theyve told you you can go home.
Thats one reason Marion Knapp, 74, of La Grande volunteers to drive veterans to and from the hospital, mostly the Jonathan M. Wainwright Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Walla Walla.
A van, which is kept at the La Grande American Legion, is used to transport veterans from La Grande to Walla Walla on the first Tuesday and last Thursday each month, using a regular driver.
Sometimes between those two runs, people need to get to the hospital or to come home, Knapp said.
He said a man was at the hospital and was released on a Friday. The man had no way home, unless he waited until the next Tuesday.
I went and got him. There was no need for him to stay there any longer. I know how it feels to have to sit there when youve already been released, Knapp said.
For such dedicated service, performed out of the limelight and without concern for public recognition, Knapp was honored last month in a ceremony and a dinner at the VA hospital in Walla Walla.
A certificate presented by Bruce Stewart, chief operations officers, read in part, for 3,941 hours of driving veterans to the hospital for treatment.
Carol Blehm, coordinator of the volunteer program at the hospital, said the number represented the hours accumulated since Knapp began driving to the hospital in 1995.
We have volunteers with more hours, but theyve driven for a longer number of years, Blehm said. Thats a lot of hours for that period of time. Knapp was one of five from among more than 100 volunteers who received extra recognition, she said.
He received an additional token award because of his dedication to driving on a frequent basis the more than 90 miles from La Grande, especially over treacherous Cabbage Hill in the winter months, Blehm said.
That driving was behind-the-scenes as far the public is concerned.
What Knapp, who recently became a widower, likes to do in public is drive his restored Jeeps and other Army vehicles in area parades. Last weekend, he was in the Agriculture and Timber Parade through downtown La Grande.
He is scheduled for the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show parade, the Pendleton Roundup parade, the Elgin Stampede parade, the Miners Jubilee parade in Baker City and the Imbler parade.
He enjoys not only riding the vehicles in parades but also restoring them.
His favorite, a 1942 Jeep hes owned for 17 years, he got in a Pendleton junk yard.
With 1942 emblazoned on it in big white letters, it gets a lot of respect as he drives by with four American flags and the Union Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4060 flag flying tall, Knapp said. He is a member of that post.
That Jeep gets a good reception in parades. A lot of people take off their hats to it.
Knapp started participating in parades about eight years ago.
Things just kept building. The first one was in Baker City and I really enjoyed that. People were really receptive there.
Ag parades in La Grande have been pretty good, too. And the Pendleton Roundup people always call and invite me to participate in that parade.
Knapp recently bought a pickup-like vehicle called a three-quarter-ton M-37, used in Pearl Harbor and also in Vietnam. It has been replaced in the military by such vehicles as the Humvee.
He bought the M-37 in Weiser, Idaho, last week from a firm called Military Truck and Equipment. Another Jeep, a 1962, he bought in Boise, but he had to cut it up into 18 different parts.
It could be sold only as junk by the military. But I welded it back together, Knapp said. Now it has a 50-caliber machine gun mounted over the passenger seat.
Another 1942 Jeep was raced in Baker City before he bought it from a man who lived in Richland.
In all, he has five antique Army vehicles. As many as three at a time will be in a parade, he said. Doc Halliday Sr. and Glen Heryford, the latter an 88-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, usually are his other drivers in parades, he said.
Knapp, who was born on B Street, a few hundred yards from his present D Street residence, couldnt recount the number of hours hes spent on restoration of the vehicles, nor could he say how much money it had taken.
Gobs of money, he said.
He retired from logging after 38 years. He owned his own truck and logged mainly in this vicinity. He also enjoys hunting, especially for elk in the Starkey area, he said.
Among things he volunteers for is the Avenue of Flags, at Grandview Cemetery. Hes done that for five years.
We put up 150 large flags every morning and take them down every night, he said. Eighty percent of them are the size that fits over a casket, he said.
The irony of Knapps restoring Army vehicles is that he was in the Navy in the South Pacific.
I was a ships cook, but I was never on a ship. I was rotated in to relieve other guys who were going on seven days of R&R. I was on a lot of different island, including Johnson Island and Guam.
He was in the Navy from 1944 to 1948.
I thought I was going to make a career out of it. It got to the point where enlisted men would tell an officer, Im not trained for that duty and refuse to take orders. I did what I was told.
He was never in any major battles, he said, but Ive been shot at and was missed. Ive seen people die. But I was lucky.
Is he patriotic?
I consider myself a patriot. If they called me to war again, Id go. Id be the first in line.
Meanwhile, he said, hell stick to the volunteer driving and taking care of flags at the cemetery.