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Marine Corps Base Quantico

"Crossroads of the Marine Corps"

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Dress blues from the 1920s shed light on the inter-war years aboard Quantico

By Adele Uphaus-Conner | Marine Corps Base Quantico | November 5, 2015

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Marine Corps Base Quantico -- Wally Jabs only remembers seeing his father Waldemar in his Marine Corps dress blue uniform once. He was a young boy watching his parents dress for a Halloween party.

“He wore his blues, and they still fit him, a bunch of years later,” Jabs said. “He was always a sharp-looking guy.”

Jabs didn’t see the uniform after that, and he never thought to ask about it. After his father died in 1987 at the age of 81, Jabs got a phone call from his youngest sister, who’d found the dress blue coat, trousers, and cap tucked into the bottom of a cedar chest.

His father had kept the uniform in one piece from the time he left active duty in 1931. All through the Great Depression, when well-made woolen clothes like the uniform were usually taken apart to be made into something useful, he’d kept it safely stowed away.

It was a lifelong commitment for someone who’d immigrated to the United States from Poland six years before joining the Marines.

“He just loved the Marine Corps,” Jabs said. “He always was a Marine — even before anyone was saying ‘once a Marine, always a Marine.’”

The elder Jabs’s dress blues — missing only one button—are now in the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where they help tell the often-overlooked history of the Corps between World Wars I and II, when it was about a tenth of the size it is today.

“Most people are not aware of the small size of the Marine Corps during this era. From 1927-1931, there were never more than 20,000 men serving annually in the entire Corps,” Owen Conner, curator of uniforms and heraldry at the museum, said. “As a result, we are always thrilled to accept the donation of well-documented history from this interwar era. Cpl. Jabs’ uniform and photos helped to fill a gap in our collection and will be ideal candidates for display in any future exhibit dedicated to the history of the base.”

Conner added that the collection is special, because it is one of the few in the museum’s possession that has a direct tie to Marine Corps Base Quantico. After completing his recruit training at Parris Island in January of 1927, Pfc. Waldemar Jabs was assigned to the maintenance department, first regiment, and posted to Marine Barracks, Quantico—as the base was then known. He served aboard Quantico until 1931.

“He was designated an engineer, but he was also a carpenter,” Jabs said.

Jabs said that in those days, all the water for the base was pumped through an above-ground wooden trough, which his father maintained. The base at that time was heavily wooded.

“They did their own hunting and fishing for meals,” Jabs said. “He was a decent cook. The real cook would often get drunk, so my father would cook breakfast for everyone.”

“I think he loved the camaraderie of the Marine Corps,” Jabs continued.

In addition to his uniform, the elder Jabs also kept an assortment of papers and photographs from his time at Quantico. Among the papers is a pass that Wally Jabs said is quite unusual, giving Waldemar permission to travel around the base at any time of the day or night wearing either work clothes or his uniform.

The photos show Quantico as it was in the 1920s, with rows of wooden barracks resembling mountain cabins, a moveable guard post, and Ford Model As on the streets of the Town of Quantico.

Waldemar Jabs left the Marine Corps as a corporal when his enlistment ended. He returned to Waterbury, Conn., where his parents lived.

“His parents wanted him to come home to help, and the pay rate in the Marine Corps was not the best. He couldn’t support a family on it,” Jabs said.

He decided not to reenlist and was honorably discharged in 1934. His discharge paper was signed by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler.

When his son Wally grew up, he joined Marine Corps, “because my father was a Marine.” He graduated from The Basic School in 1965. His father came back to Quantico to see him graduate. It was the only time he’d returned since leaving 34 years earlier.

Jabs retired as a major and now volunteers as a docent at the museum twice a week. He loves sharing his knowledge and pride in the Marine Corps with visitors and is looking forward to the opening of the new galleries in the coming years — one of which will be dedicated to the interwar years when his father served.

— Writer: auphausconner@quanticosentryonline.com
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