New Legion commander saw action in three wars
Seventy-odd years ago Johnny Gregerson used to dip Barbara Cheatly’s long brunette curls into the inkwell on his desk at Monroe Central Grade School.
Twelve years ago the couple met again when the school held a reunion. Both had lost their spouses.“That’s Johnny Gregerson,” Barbara remembers a friend saying at the time, “and we’re still together.”
In between, Gregerson had a 30-year career in the Marine Corps, enlisting as a private during his senior year at Everett High School and retiring in 1970 as a full colonel.
Last summer he was elected to be commander of Peace Arch Post 86 of the American Legion and will lead the group in Veteran’s Day ceremonies at their Blaine Road facility, “I grew up on a stump ranch outside Monroe,” said Gregerson, the fourth of 10 children, “but in 1944, when I was a senior, we were all gung-ho to get into the war.” This was only 18 months after the Battle of Midway and well before D-Day in Europe, and the outcome of the war was by no means assured.
As it turned out, Gregerson was still in training in Hawaii the day that the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. “It was over, and we were relieved,” he said, “because had we not done that, we would have had to fight all the way to Japan, and would have lost a million men, maybe more. We lost 1,000 men in just two days on Iwo Jima alone.”
Gregerson returned to the U.S., entered the Marine reserve and went to college in Everett before re-enlisting early in the Korean conflict. He advanced to tech sergeant and worked on triple-A (anti-aircraft artillery) 90 mm guns, then was commissioned in 1952, becoming a “mustang,” or enlisted man who is commissioned as an officer.
In Vietnam Gregerson was commanding officer of Marine Air Support squadron 3, part of the first Marine Aircraft Wing operating out of Da Nang, Khe San and Chu Lai, and later went to Japan as commanding officer of Marine Air Control Group 18. He retired in 1975 on what he called his “worst day in the Marine Corps – the day I left.”
and his first wife, Shirlee, had two children, a daughter
Jackie and a son Eric, both of whom live in San Diego.
Shirlee died in 1990.
Barbara worked at the state and national level in alcoholism research and treatment.
She began volunteering with the Whatcom County Council on Alcoholism in Bellingham. In 1972, she became the executive director of the Washington State Council on Alcoholism, a state organization that lobbied for alcohol abuse treatment facilities.
A few years later, she was
recognized by former president Ronald Reagan who appointed
Gregerson – then known
as Barbara Starr – to the National Institute
on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse Advisory Board.
She also spent more than 15 years working with the National Council on Alcoholism, of which she was elected to the board in the mid-1970s, and to president in 1990. She was the first woman to serve as president of the organization.
She went on to sit on the prestigious National Council on Alcoholism and Alcohol Treatment, a body responsible for disbursing federal research grants.
Both now 80, they said they remembered their grade school days as if they were yesterday, and their teacher “Miss Muller, who had this amazingly huge ... well, backside, that she wiggled like this while she wrote on the blackboard,” Gregerson said, and laughed, adding that “All in all, it’s been a pretty nice 80 years.”