It was when he was walking along the street in a small farming town in rural Illinois at the height of the Great Depression that Glenn Ellis saw the Sailor in his white uniform. A poor country boy, Glenn had never seen a Sailor before, and he’d never seen anything as impressive as that crisp, white uniform. In an instant, the course of his life was changed.
“He was so taken with that uniform,” says Glenn’s daughter, Jean, “that he decided to join the Navy.” And so he did. Glenn joined in 1936, as an apprentice seaman, just 18 years old. The Navy opened up the world to him in a way that he never could have imagined while growing up in poverty on that farm in Illinois.
Farming was a hard life. With cows, horses, hogs, crops, and orchards to take care of, the chores never ended. When he wasn’t farming, he rode a horse to the one-room schoolhouse for lessons. Glenn and his brother, Claude, picked up coal along the railroad tracks. In the winter, they stuffed their shoes with newspaper to keep their feet warm. It was a difficult life, too. Glenn’s mother died of tuberculosis, incurable at the time, when he was just three.
But he found the Navy, and he loved it from the start. A proud mustang, he rose in rank steadily, including promotions to warrant officer, ensign, lieutenant, and after 20 years he retired as a lieutenant commander. He served in duty stations all around the world, from Bremerton, WA, to Portsmouth, NH, to Australia, Bermuda, New Caledonia in the South Pacific, and many more. And he served on some of the most famous ships in the fleet, including the USS Lexington (CV-16), the USS Kingfish (SS-234), and the USS Fulton (AS-11). His highest command was officer-in-charge of the USS Silversides (SS-236).
He was serious about his duty, but not above having a little fun too. For entertainment, there was boxing. Glenn found he was pretty good. And there was dancing at the local bars where Bing Crosby would be singing. It was a time right out of a Hollywood movie, a time that doesn’t exist anymore.
After his 20 years in the Navy, Glenn still wasn’t done with ships. He went to work for Electric Boat in Groton, CT, building submarines. He spent 27 years there, becoming shipyard superintendent. Then, in retirement, Glenn returned to his gardening. He grew potatoes, leeks, chard, tomatoes – just about every vegetable. And he baked sweet bread, made pickles, and canned vegetables. Even into his eighties, Glenn was in his garden almost every day, tilling, planting, and harvesting.
But he was never far from the Navy. That was his heart. That and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. “My father told me that many years ago the Society helped him, his first wife and children when he was a young service man,” Jean says. “He was very grateful for the help he received from the Society.”
That’s why Glenn included the Society in his will – to honor his duty and service to his country, and leave a legacy with the Society. It’s a testament to his commitment to Sea Service members and those who serve our nation.
The gift Glenn left is a generous one from a caring man who appreciated the Navy, the opportunity to serve, and the support of the Society at a time when he needed it. “I’m proud of my father for how he lived and how he chose to leave a legacy,” Jean says. “I hope the gift he gave to the Society will help someone to be successful in the service – just as he was – and to better the lives of our military families.”
You’re also part of a tradition of service. Together – you and other friends of the Society, along with distinguished Sailors like Glenn Ellis, are supporting our mission – taking care of shipmates and fellow Marines.
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso