ST. GEORGE — Ken Brown is still going strong at age 100, doing his best every day to help maintain the Greatest Generation’s legacy of service and patriotism.
Ken Brown and his sister Lois Brown at Brown’s 100th birthday party, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
Brown, a World War II veteran of Iwo Jima and a part-time resident of St. George, celebrated the occasion Saturday afternoon in The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints ward building at 900 S. and River Road.
Several generations of the Brown family were on hand to celebrate as siblings, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from around the country to gather and share stories about their patriarch and enjoy his centennial birthday party.
He took some time with St. George News to explain his personal opinion on the secret to long life.
“Keep having birthdays,” he said.
Brown recently traveled to San Antonio, Texas for a reunion with the 5th Marine Division, the famous United States Marines who spearheaded the landing on Iwo Jima. The battle for the island in the Pacific was one of the key operations leading to victory over Japan in World War II.
He was one of only three former Marines still living from the 5th who could make the trip for the reunion.
“They lived by a set of standards,” Brown said about his fellow veterans. “They represented what was right and lived up to the uniform. I told them that people are watching, people are noticing. We need to project a good image and set a good example.”
Brown said it was a big deal to see his family at the party as he was never expecting such a turnout. The family also collected over 200 cards with well wishes.
His words of advice for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren reflected his hope that they live valuable lives.
Ken Brown at the 2022 Wreaths Across America ceremony, date and location unspecified | Photo by Chris Caldwell, Color Country Chapter of the DAR, St. George News
“I want them to be proud of who they are, proud of what they say and do,” Brown said. “I hope they set good examples.”
Born November 5, 1923 in Clark, Idaho, Brown originally had seven siblings. Two of his sisters died young as he grew up the only boy among five girls.
“He was always the good one,” said his sister Lois Brown. “He was always about doing the right thing.”
Brown was enlisted into the Marine Corps at age 20. He served as a Chaplain’s Assistant at Iwo Jima and was one of the first American servicemen to visit Nagasaki after it was destroyed by the atom bomb.
His relatives said that he rarely spoke about his experiences in the war as they were growing up.
“Still waters run deep,” said nephew Richard Clark. “He’s not a man of many words. But he’s always been very friendly and engaging.”
“The interesting thing about dad is we never even knew he was in the Marines until probably in the ’90s,” said son Kevin Brown, adding that it wasn’t until a family visit to the Pacific in 2002 that Brown opened up about his war experiences.
“That’s when we realized that he’d done something important for themselves and for the country,” Kevin added. “That was really impressive.”
Kevin’s memories of his dad include countless early morning fishing trips and excursions to collect fire wood. He added that Brown’s behavior in one regard was distinctly un-military.
“Even though my dad was in the Marines, I never heard him say a single swear word,” Kevin said.
“He’s the calmest person I’ve ever met,” daughter Elaine Preslar said. “Nothing ruffled him. He’s always happy, always upbeat. Such a good example of how to live life and how to live it to the fullest.”
Three of Ken Brown’s great-grandchildren present at Brown’s 100th birthday party, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
After a long career teaching religion at Ricks College, now named Brigham Young University-Idaho, Ken and his wife Jean spend their time living in Rexburg, Idaho and St. George, depending on the weather.
Son David Brown, a retired physician, lives in a motorhome and helps his dad go to various speaking engagements in his service as an ambassador for the Greatest Generation.
“He’s very active. It’s an honor to be his son and it’s an honor to follow him around and hear about his experiences,” David said. “I go up to Rexburg and follow them around, that’s kind of like my calling now.”
Members of the Color Country Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution were at the party to help celebrate with Brown and his family.
“They are the Greatest Generation,” DAR chapter regent Valerie King said. “They sacrificed, their family sacrificed. I know that Ken served overseas and saw some pretty dreadful things. But he was willing to go and serve the nation and protect freedom for all people.”
“They need to be remembered and honored. Always,” she added.
Brown’s wife Jean probably knows him the best after 73 years of marriage. She paused when asked, what is the bigger achievement, living to 100 or being married for 73 years?
“They’re both pretty challenging,” Jean said, adding that Brown’s easy-going nature made both achievements possible. “He’s just very peaceful and calm, that makes life very easy.”
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