2016-10-20 / Front Page

WW II vets feted on Honor Flight

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

WORLD WAR II veteran Richard Murie reflects at the Korean War Memorial during an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. WORLD WAR II veteran Richard Murie reflects at the Korean War Memorial during an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. Two World War II veterans from Leelanau County who fought on opposite sides of the globe were given hero’s welcomes during a Mid- Michigan Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

“It was a day of sadness, recollections and thinking about what life is all about and how we need to be more kind to one another,” offered Richard Murie of Solon Township, who watched the D-Day invasion of Normandy aboard the U.S.S. Nevada battleship. “We need to appreciate what we have, and try to be a greater friend to mankind.”

Peter Simon, who at first thought the sound of bullets whizzing by his legs on Okinawa Island was made by wasps, was moved as well.

“This was a wonderful day,” he said. Honorees were greeted last Thursday by red, white and blue celebrations when departing and arriving from Cherry Capital Airport, and a band belted out Glenn Miller classics as they entered the terminal at Reagan National while travelers waved flags and applauded. They had spent the night before and night after the flight as guests of Lake Ann Camp.

HONOREE PETER Simon and his guardian Chet Janik share conversation at the World War II Memorial. HONOREE PETER Simon and his guardian Chet Janik share conversation at the World War II Memorial. Murie, who was accompanied by his son Cliff on the trip, offered praise to the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight organization.

“They did a fantastic job. I commend them all. And throughout it all, and mixing with the different people, I didn’t hear a vicious word from anybody,” Murie said.

It was the sixth honor flight for the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight organization, which has no paid staff, and its president Tricia Donnegan. Based in Mecosta County, the nonprofit recently enlarged its territory and now assumes responsibility for arranging flights for residents of 52 counties in Michigan.

WORLD WAR II vet Peter Simon (middle, behind post) is shown during the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. WORLD WAR II vet Peter Simon (middle, behind post) is shown during the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Small in numbers but strong in community support, Mid-Michigan Honor Flight transported 61 honorees to Washington for the day, where they also viewed the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials. Some 55 were World War II veterans, now all in their 90’s.

Vets were routinely interrupted by passersby who thanked them for their service — some of many inspiration moments on the trip.

“At times when you looked at the Korean War Memorial, to see those fellows, and especially at Arlington, tears came to you because you saw those tens of thousands of gravestones knowing those fellows had given all to their country,” Murie said.

Leelanau County’s two veterans on the visit took time during flights to and returning from Washington D.C. to recall the war and its impact on their lives.

Peter Simon was a ‘runner’

Simon recalls with a smile his first encounter with enemy soldiers in 1943. He was inducted into the Army at a reception center in Chicago where German POWs were dishing out breakfast. Feeling adventurous, he asked, “Could I have twice as much?” in German, and was awarded with heaping helpings of food. His parents had immigrated to America from a German settlement in Russia, so German was routinely spoken while he was growing up.

Eventually a POW came by to ask him his age, which was 18. “At the conclusion of the conversation he got up, and I heard him say to another prisoner, ‘They are scraping the bottom of the barrel.’

“I’d like to meet him,” said Simon.

Which says a lot about Peter Simon. He’s too unassuming to be a war hero, seemingly too humble to show all the accomplishments of his life.

Simon recalls that the invasion of Okinawa was hardly eventful, but completely ridding the island enemy soldiers proved a struggle that lasted the rest of the war.

“It was the biggest surprise. There was nobody there ... there was really nobody to greet us,” he said.

The Japanese had broken off into small groups, often camped out in caves, forcing the Americans to seek — and blast — them out. “We were out on patrol and came around a hill and the infantry stopped us. Pretty soon there was a sound like 'thump,' and dust and smoke came out of a nearby cave. And then we were told to move on. That was an introduction that we were at war,” Simon said.

Simon and his Army buddy Steve from Canton, Ohio, were green to the ways of the island.

“One of our first time on foot, we were just green guys. Everybody else was experienced. We went over a ridge, dumb as that was. Steve was with me and just ahead. And there were a bunch of hornets flying. You knew they were hornets because you heard this ‘ZZZ’, ‘ZZZ.’ And Steve remarked, ‘Watch out. You might get stung by one of those things.

“Pretty soon these hornets were not going by our head anymore. (Bullets) were going through the grass. The Japanese were shooting at us. We learned from that incident,” Simon said.

He recalls much more from his time spent on Okinawa, including being told when the atom bomb was dropped and that it drew power from the sun.”

Simon seamlessly adjusted back to civilian life and went on to lead a successful career. He studied electrical engineering at Benjamin Franklin Institute in Boston through the GI Bill, and returned to Michigan to start the Simon Electric Company in Midland. “We had only two customers: Dow Chemical and Dow Corning.”

Simon later on teamed with Westinghouse to install non-glare lights in airports across the country.

His wife, Carol, taught school and then raised their two daughters Sonja, who lives in Grand Rapids, and Kristel, who along with her husband Bill Wiesner lives next door to Simon in the Timberlee area. His two granddaughters attend NMC and Hope College.

D-Day from a battleship

Murie, who turned 93 earlier this month, played in his high school band in southern Ohio and at night took up an apprenticeship in welding. When the war broke out, he tried to enroll at Annapolis but found that he couldn’t read the eye chart. He still enlisted in the Navy in February 1943 with a desire to become a sea-bee — but the Navy had other plans.

“They sent me to California for six weeks to bugle school, then assigned me to the Nevada,” Murie said.

At first the Nevada was charged with leading convoys across the Atlantic — Murie recalls a Christmas eve storm that tore off gun turrets — until arriving in Belfast to prepare for D-Day.

“I remember the bombardment on D-Day and the tremendous flotilla that was there,” Murie said. “We were constantly bombarded. The LSTs coming past us full of men, the destroyers moving back and forth and shelling different places. Mine sweepers were cleaning the fields of mines. Wave after wave of landing ship crafts were coming in and beaching.

“My station was damage control on the top side by the big guns, and that’s probably why I’m so deaf today,” Murie said. “The guns on the coastline that were shooting at us, we couldn’t shoot at them. We didn’t get hit, but the British cruiser, the Glasgow, got hit in an empty airplane hangar.”

The Nevada continued to bombard German land strongholds including those in Italy and Africa before returning to America for repairs, Murie said. He put in for assignment to a Naval cruiser, but once again the Navy had other ideas.

“They said, ‘You’re going to Memphis.’”

Murie was given the assignment of creating a 100-piece drum and bugle corps, and received a captain’s commendation for the result. He also saw to it that all military funerals in the district included a bugler to play taps.

One of his other assignments was to play with “Clyde McCoy and the Sugar Blues,” a jazz band that had hit the top of the charts in the 1930’s. Rather than sit the war out, all band members joined the Navy and entertain troops.

“I wasn’t a member of the band, but they accepted me because I was a half-assed pretty good trumpet player,” he said.

Murie recalled spending Victory in Europe day marching down Beale Street.

“My drum and bugle corps was a major part of it, and I was leading that corps down the street and everybody cheered. There were soldiers and sailors all marching. And I might have been kissed,” he said.

Murie, too, used the GI bill to begin a civilian career. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Ohio University, and then a master’s degree from Iowa State University and in 1955 a doctorate.

He managed research programs for Monsanto and eventually worked on nuclear reactors in a General Motors research lab in Indiana, eventually winding up his career in Warren.

But he never stopped being a student or a professor. He taught college at Lawrence Tech while working for GM and in Monterey, Mexico, during vacations.

After retiring to Arkansas, he taught a class in Spanish for travelers. He also lost his wife, Rosemarie, to diabetes in 2006.

Then in 2012 at the tender age of 88, he earned a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

“In 2013, the kids decided that needed to come up and live with them. I’m living with Cliff in the summer and fall ... I appreciate the effort my son has done to help me, and my daughter. I appreciate how they have welcomed me into their homes,” he said.

Reflecting further on the Honor Flight, he said, “Today was many remembrances of the sacrifice that so many of these people made in all these wars we were in. Vietnam was terrible and Korea was violent. And the wars we are in recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. It made me appreciate what these people are doing to make the world safe.”

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