GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Pat Sanderson recently showed off her new and first tattoo while sitting at breakfast at Real Food Cafe with fellow Marines Judy Williams and Jenna Slye.

It’s a military tattoo, which is unsurprising considering her service in the Marines during the Korean War.

The timing might be surprising to others, however.

“I went zip lining and got a tattoo at 85 (years old),” she said. “I’m thinking about (skydiving), but my husband was a paratrooper, and I see what happens when the chute doesn’t open.”

Sanderson and Williams both married fellow servicemen and have both since lost their husbands. They connected at the American Legion Post 258 in Grand Rapids, where Williams spent many years in leadership following her service in the Vietnam War.

Both of her boys were serving in Iraq at the same time while she was working at the club. So she relied on the friendships she made to help get her through.

Slye is the youngest of the group, having served during the Gulf War and the War on Terror.

Although the post is made up mostly of men, these three represent a growing number of women not only serving in the military but joining fraternal organizations after their service to connect veterans and help them through the challenges they all face after service.

Slye will take over as commander of the post in June, with the experience of losing many of her comrades.

“They either passed away in Afghanistan, or they passed away from their injuries. Sadly, a couple have passed away from mental health, suicide, so that’s a huge thing. That’s why I became involved with the American Legion,” said

This Memorial Day, they are all thinking about loved ones they’ve lost.

For Sanderson, it’s her three brothers. For Williams, her husband and her father. For Slye, it’s the friends she has lost along the way and the man who inspired her service.

“I’m thinking about my uncle who was killed in Vietnam. He is the reason I joined the military in the first place,” she said.

The three women all showed off their American Legion hats, which mimic their service hats and have the same distinguished red pom on the top. The poms served a purpose then and now.

“If you go into a doorway on a ship, and I’ve done it, where I stood up too fast and just cracked the top of my head so hard, this would cushion it,” Slye said.

Now, they’re a sign to other veterans that they have a community of people who know their struggles.

The American Legion Post 258 is the only maritime post in the country. The members will host the 17th Annual Legacy Run on June 1 to June 3 to raise money for children who have lost their parents who served. It will be at the Boat and Canoe Club in Grand Rapids at 401 N Park St NE.

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