Appleton, Wis. (WFRV) – Raised by an Irish grandmother in New York City, put through Catholic school, and with a father who served in WWII, perhaps it only made sense for Walt Zerrenner to enlist in the Marine Corps.
“Discipline was always in my family between an Irish grandmother and Catholic school,” said Zerrenner.
“My family was not educated, they worked for the hourly wage. They thought that’s what I should do, work for the hourly wage and help support the family. But I didn’t want to do that,” Zerrenner added.
So in 1959, he and three of his high school friends joined the Marines.
“No matter what they tell you, or what you read, it doesn’t prepare you for the real thing. I really felt like for the first two weeks, they were going to kill all of us,” Zerrenner said.
First, Zerrenner was sent to Naples, Italy, but after two years there, things were about to change.
“It was funny because I’m on the train heading down to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and I’m thinking, ‘God, I hope they don’t assign me to recon.’ And I get there, they assign me to recon,” he recalled.
Then, rumblings began of a war brewing in Vietnam in ’62. Zerrenner volunteered to go.
“Basically our job was to shuttle the south Vietnamese Army around to deal with the Viet Cong,” said Zerrenner.
It was called operation Shu Fly in the early days of the War In Vietnam.
Zerrenner got out in ’63 and married his girlfriend Aline. Their 58 years of marriage would lead Walt down a new path.
Shortly after moving to Wisconsin, Aline was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers in 2009. It was then that Zerrenner felt called again to serve, dedicating his time to spreading awareness for Alzheimer’s, through serving on several non-profit boards, and facilitating support groups.
“It’s such a tough disease, not only on the individual but on the caregiver,” Zerrenner stated.
But Zerrenner has never let that stop his mission. Though his wife passed away from the disease in 2022, he continues to honor her memory, by helping others.
“I don’t know. I guess it’s just something I feel obligated to do. I started down that path, and it is rewarding to me to see how it benefits other people,” he said.