SCARBOROUGH — Marion Alexander has often been the quiet one.

Sitting at her kitchen table in a modest but immaculately kept mobile home in a picture-perfect retirement community, Alexander, 79, stirs a cup of coffee and answers questions between pressed lips. She has held a job since age 14. She raised seven children. She has been married to her husband, Lou Alexander – he’s the chatty one – going on 41 years.

And every Memorial Day for the past 34 years, she gets to be the one out in front of the parade, proud to remember the servicemen and women who have died in service to their country.

“Every year I tell the girls, ‘I want to carry the American flag,’ ” she said. “I think about how lucky we are to be here.”

Since 1982, Marion has hoisted the flag for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6859 Ladies Auxiliary Unit, marching in the annual procession down Congress Street in Portland, one of the handful of ceremonies where she carries the colors.

It is an honor she does not take lightly.

In pressed black slacks, a white button-down shirt and a stars-and-stripes scarf tied around her neck, Marion carries the banner from Longfellow Square to Monument Square during Portland’s annual Memorial Day commemoration. She does not tire from the weight of the flag, she said. She works out.

Both Marion and her husband have deep connections to the military.

Lou, a gregarious 81-year-old, served 22 years in the Air Force doing aircraft maintenance, much of it during the Vietnam War. Their son followed him into the same branch, serving 20 years.

Lou Alexander helps his wife, Marion, fold a flag behind their home in Scarborough. Lou served 22 years in the Air Force doing aircraft maintenance, much of it during the Vietnam War, and the couple's son served 20 years in the same branch.

Lou Alexander helps his wife, Marion, fold a flag behind their home in Scarborough. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Then there is Marion’s brother, Calvin Fox. Serving as an infantryman under Gen. George S. Patton, Fox was one of the 16 million American service members who helped Allied forces win World War II.

Family members told Marion about her brother’s return from the war, and how she jumped onto his lap when she was still a small child, pinning decorations to his uniform. The country gave him and the other returning service members a hero’s welcome.

But years later, as she watched soldiers come back from the Vietnam War, Marion said she could not help but feel the country never paid them their due.

“I think about all the veterans from World War II, and all the things they went through,” she said. “When the Vietnam War was over they didn’t get any respect, and they should have.”

Lou joins his wife on Memorial Days, but can no longer march in the parades, he said, pointing at his bad ankle. Instead, this year he’ll ride in a convertible, waving to the crowd.

Marion’s affection for and devotion to the flag aren’t confined to the holidays. Outside the couple’s home, eight small flags line their front lawn. A larger flag hangs from the front stoop, and every morning she competes with her neighbor to see who can raise the banner first.

On a recent morning, when the neighbor came out around 5:45, Marion’s flag was already up.

“I try to put mine out and beat him,” she said. “I say, ‘Good morning, Lloyd, I beat ya!’ ”

After Lou Alexander left the Air Force, he returned to Maine and continued doing aircraft maintenance, at the Portland International Jetport, and then worked at Maine Medical Center. His wife also worked at the hospital in the central services department, cleaning surgical instruments and performing other unglamorous but necessary tasks. Then on the same day in 1995, both retired, they said.

“We walked out hand in hand and went to Florida the next day,” Lou said.

Since then, the couple have traveled the country, seeing 49 of the 50 states – all but Kansas, they said – and they have the fridge magnets to prove it.

But every year, they are sure to be home for the procession, to remember those who didn’t come home.

“I’ll do it as long as I can,” Marion said. “Even if I’m 90, I’ll still try to do it.”

 

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