David Lauderdale

Old warrior leaves an unexpected legacy

At one time, Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Bastion Jr. was secretary to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Supreme Allied Commander.

He was part of the invasion of North Africa in World War II and rebuilding Germany. He was chief of staff of the 7th Infantry Division in Korea. He helped protect Fort Knox. His service in the U.S. Army was decorated by five countries in addition to his own.

Later in life, Bastion led a different type of troop movement -- military brass retiring to an out-of-the-way place called Hilton Head Island. He and his high school sweetheart, Louise, moved here in the late 1960s.

Retired military couples helped shape Hilton Head. They were Pearl Harbor survivors and D-Day heroes who, like Bastion, didn't talk a lot about it. Bastion's friend Jim Muir said when he moved to the island in 1970, nine members of his West Point class of 1939 were here.

But by the time "Eddie" Bastion died last year a month short of his 100th birthday, few knew him. Louise was gone, and they had no children or siblings.

When seven local charities were notified of bequests from Bastion's sizable estate, they had to scramble for information about the mysterious benefactor. Bastion's distant relative, Cris Bowlin of The Seabrook, was glad to fill them in, unwrapping his medals and ribbons from a yellowed 1944 Cleveland Plain Dealer.

At 2 p.m. Friday, some of the charities will dedicate a bench to Bastion's memory at Veterans Park on the island. "He loved the military and he loved Hilton Head Island," the bench will say.

Bastion was born into it, son of a brigadier general. He was in the U.S. Military Academy class of 1933. His only sibling was shot down in World War II.

On Hilton Head, Bastion enjoyed golf, reading and martinis. He was demanding and tight with a nickel but quietly gave to people around him when they were in need. Late in life, his friends recall, the old warrior was an anonymous driver in a slow-moving, red Honda Prelude, getting honked at because he stayed in the fast lane.

Bastion's closest confidante, the late Brig. Gen. M.G. O'Connell, helped him pick the six charities for his will: the Technical College of the Lowcountry Foundation, which O'Connell once chaired; Friends of the Hilton Head Library; Meals on Wheels of Hilton Head and Bluffton; Hospice Care of the Lowcountry; The Deep Well Project; the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Hilton Head; and The Seabrook, where Bastion lived in his latter years.

Meals on Wheels board member Shirley DeHond organized the bench memorial. She was moved by what Bastion had done for his country, and the world.

And that he chose for a portion of his estate to go to charities that touch such a wide spectrum of human life on an out-of-the way place called Hilton Head Island.