MARQUETTE - "Once a Marine, always a Marine," Annabelle Harsila Meyers said emphatically.
And she would know. The former Negaunee and Gwinn resident joined the Marine Corps during World War II and she's still loyal to it.
In fact, a group of Marines in North Carolina was so impressed with her attitude Semper Fi (Always Faithful, the Marine Corps motto), they recently made her Marine of the Month.
John and Annabelle (Harsila) Meyers are shown shortly after their wedding in the mid-1940s. The two met while both were serving in the Marine Corps and were stationed at Parris Island, S.C. The couple lived in the Upper Peninsula for years after their time in the military. John Meyers died in 1983 and Annabelle, who now lives in North Carolina, was recently named Marine of the Month by a corps detachment there. (Photo courtesy of Annabelle Meyers)
Annabelle Harisila Meyers is 88 years old and now lives in North Carolina. But in a phone interview asking about the honor, she said she still loves the Upper Peninsula.
"I don't get back there much anymore, but I still love the U.P.," she said. "And I love the people in the Upper Peninsula, my family and a lot of wonderful friends I have up there."
The daughter of Aina (Lahti) and August Harsila, Annabelle spent the early years of her life in Negaunee with two siblings. After her father died, Annabelle's mother married Nick Willig and had eight more children.
"We were a big crew, for sure," she said.
Annabelle attended the Negaunee schools through grade 11, living on Prince Street in Negaunee, then finished school in Gwinn when the family moved to that district.
"We were in the country and I loved it. We had room to run around," she said. "Our place was about three-quarters of a mile from Princeton. We had plenty to eat from what we grew and even the game wardens let us get away with having a deer or two."
After high school, Annabelle worked at the Breitung Hotel in Negaunee, but wanted something more.
"My brother Oliver Harsila's girlfriend was moving to Chicago, so I went with her," Annabelle said. "I had $4 in my pocket when I left the U.P. and I went to work as a nanny in Highland Park, near Chicago.
"When you get a job as a nanny, you get room and board, too, so it was a good deal," she said. "I had two kids to watch. They were well behaved. Very good kids."
But still, Annabelle decided she wanted more and wanted to help in the war effort. So she signed up with the military.
"I decided to join the Marine Corps," she said. "I went to Camp Lejeune (N.C.) for boot camp. It wasn't that bad. Remember, I was a Yooper and a Finlander, too. They picked on me because I wasn't good at running. I would hide behind a bush when we were supposed to run. But it wasn't that bad after being one of 10 kids in a family living through the Depression."
One of Annabelle's first assignments was Parris Island, S.C.
"I loved being in the Marine Corps. I was assigned to work in the PX (post exchange) where the new recruits would come in in their new uniforms. They looked so scared and there were lots of young ones," she recalled. "They would buy cigarettes. They didn't smoke, but because the older guys did, they figured they should learn.
"Working in the PX, I would see them first come in as scared young kids, but would see as they were turned into confident Marines," she said.
The PX itself was an interesting spot.
"It was a monstrous Quonset hut," Annabelle said. "There was no air conditioning. There was no fan. The recruits would come in from the rifle range all sweaty and the building would smell just terrible."
But her work at the PX did lead to something special: Her marriage.
"The first time Johnny Meyers came in to the PX, he asked me 'When does your bus leave?'," she recalled. "I said '4:30' and sure enough, he was on that bus. I had noticed him right away when he came in to the PX that day. He was a boxer and stood so straight. I liked the way he walked."
John Meyers had signed up for the Marine Corps while a senior in high school and joined the day after graduation. He had been a Golden Gloves boxer while in high school and joined the Marine Corps boxing team after his enlistment.
Annabelle and John were both loyal Marines.
"John was a good Marine. He was a farm kid from Iowa," she said. "He had just come back from overseas when he was sent to Parris Island."
John Meyers was an active Marine for 20 years and when he retired in 1960, he knew where he wanted his family to go.
"John wanted to come back to the U.P. He loved the U.P. a lot," she said. "He wanted to farm and he was fabulous at it. He was an excellent gardener, too. People said Johnny Meyers could plant a garden in gravel. And it was true."
The family included the couple's four children, Jack, Paul, Theresa and Mary, and they settled in on a farm along with a foster daughter, Shelly.
"We had been stationed in Minneapolis just before Johnny left the Marine Corps and took in some foster children," Annabelle said. "I am good with children and I liked doing that. First we had two girls, then two boys, temporarily. We ended up taking Shelly with us and then had two more foster children once we were in Michigan."
Her husband, building his resume, took a job in Niagara Falls, N.Y., but son Paul's asthma soon had the Meyers returning to the U.P. John Meyers then took a job at Marquette Branch Prison, earning a citation for bravery during his 14 years there.
"We loved the farm," she said. "We had horses and beef cattle. There was a pond and lots of trees. My husband grew strawberries and even musk melons. He knew what he was doing."
John Meyers passed away in 1983 and Annabelle moved to Gwinn.
"My daughter Theresa in Florida wanted me to come there, so I did, then we moved to Waynesville, N.C.," she said. She has lived there for the past six years.
Her recent honor - from Sgt. Doug Myers Marine Corps League Detachment 122 - was a surprise, Annabelle said.
"I went to the (Veterans Administration) hospital and was talking to the men there. They apparently liked what I had to say and made me Marine of the Month," she said. "They called to tell me and asked me out to dinner that night, but I am 88 and was pretty tired, so I didn't go that night.
"They came over to see me and brought me a Marine Corps flag," Annabelle said. "I think that's wonderful. I have always loved the Marine Corps so much. I remember when we were at Camp Pendleton, in California. My husband was on the U.S.S. Hornet and I wasn't able to keep up with the yardwork. Some of the other Marines heard and came over and cleaned up the place for me.
"Marines help each other out. They take care of each other. Once a Marine, always a Marine."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is email@example.com.