The Milan Area Chamber honors chamber soldiers on a monthly basis, and will also reach out to the community to honor others. Aaron Friese is our very first and only Adopted Soldier. We intend to continue keeping contact with him, while additionally recognizing the contributions of the many soldiers and veterans in our community.
George A. Falk was inducted into the US Army on March 14, 1941. Stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he trained for field artillery on 155 Howitzers. Falk was placed with the 36th Division, 131st Field Artillery Battery D, 2nd Battalion as a cannoneer. After a few months training in Texas and Louisiana, he boarded a train on November 11th for California, then went by boat to Angel Island.
He was assigned to serve the Captain’s Orderly on the USS Republic, which was headed for the Hawaiian Islands, where they spent one night. Two days later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and war was declared. The troops ended up in Java and were held prisoner for the next 3½ years. They would also become part of history, pressed into service as forced labor to build a 250-mile railway and the infamous bridge over the River Kwai (a story retold in the 1957 film of the same name). Scarce food, poor living conditions, brutal work, physical abuse, and disease became a way of life. So did loneliness—in his years of captivity, Falk was allowed but one letter and four pre-coded post cards.
As part of what became known as the Lost Battalion, Falk and his fellow prisoners built the “Death Railroad” from Thailand to Cambodia with picks, shovels and elephants as their only machinery. Throughout his ordeal, he managed to preserve and carry pictures of his parents and his sister Eva.
One morning in August 1945, the men—a group of 200 to 300—left for their usual work detail. As they marched down the road past a Japanese guardhouse, they were stopped and told to go back to camp. Nobody knew what was going on, but there was a tense feeling. A noncommissioned officer announced that the war was over. They were told not to make any commotion because they could still become targets for the enemy, as they piled into trucks that delivered them to a plane for evacuation. Falk spent two weeks at Walter Reed General Hospital before realizing his ultimate dream—jumping on the back porch of his home in Milan and hollering for Mom and Dad.
In peacetime, Falk worked for King Seeley, and later Chrysler. Over the years, he and others of the 131st Battalion met in Texas for annual reunions. The George A. Falk Post 5877 VFW in Milan is named in his honor. He was also inducted into the Milan High School Hall of Fame.
George Falk died February 23, 1982 at age 62. This quiet, gentle man radiated a spirit of kindness and care that belied his experience as a POW survivor. A 2005 story published in the Milan News-Leader quotes him: “I don’t have any hatred today. You don’t gain anything by hating. I also appreciate a lot of little things in life.”
Edwin, better known to his friends as Ed, was drafted into the US Navy when he was in the 11th grade of high school. “Back then kids didn’t start school until they were six, which made us older and when I turned 18, I got my draft papers,” he said. He lived in Ann Arbor at the time and served during World War II from 1944 through 1946. He took his Boot Camp Training at the Great Lakes Naval Base in North Chicago, Illinois. After basics, he boarded the USS PC 587 with a crew of about 60 sailors and 5 officers. His job was to escort convoys back and forth to the islands all over the South Pacific and be on the lookout for subs. He was stationed on Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. Ransom earned the South Pacific Campaign Medal. “Although we were in danger, we really didn’t see much action,” he recalled.
When asked if he had a positive experience in the military, he was quick to say, “Yes, being on a small ship we were like one big family.” When asked if he thought military was good for young people today, he said, “Absolutely; I like the idea of what some countries do; making it mandatory that kids just out of school serve 2 years. It has its downfalls, but for the most part it is a good learning experience.”
When Ed returned home he worked for Cream O Bakery in Ann Arbor, which eventually sold to Holsum Bakery. “The day-old outlet on US 12 Ypsilanti is a part of that business yet today,” he said. I asked if he still liked to cook and he responded that he has always enjoyed cooking.
He held down many jobs over his lifetime, and retired from Schultz Motors in Milan. He worked part time for Ochalek-Stark Funeral Services for 22 years. He is described by the Ochalek-Stark owners on their web site as one of their most enduring employees.
He married his first wife, Vina, on February 3, 1947 and they enjoyed 62 years of marriage before her death March 22, 2009. The couple had two daughters, Linda and Pam, giving him 4 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren. In 2011 he married his lovely wife Arlene. He stays busy, working 2 days a week serving food at the Milan Senior Center and being involved in their activities and from time to time he enjoys a good game of golf and cards. He is a member of the Lutheran Church.
When Barbara Weaver, former first lady of Milan, speaks about her father Allen Murry, one instantly feels the pride and bond of family love. Allen Murry, who passed from this earth in 1976 was a true war hero having earned both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star during his stint in the European Theatre. At the age of 36 years old, this husband and father of two daughters (Barbara Murry Weaver and Shirley Murry Goodwin), received his draft papers from the Ypsilanti Draft Board. The family lived in Milan at the time where the young Murry worked for the Federal Prison. After the notice came, his wife Viola, not only had to sacrifice the absence of her husband and father to her daughters, but had to give up the home they knew and move to Grand Rapids to live with her mother, which would assure Allen their provision and safety while he was away serving in the United States Army.
"I was only 8 years old," Barbara relayed, when my dad was drafted. "He saw a lot and used to set on the porch and share about the war with me," interjected Barbara's husband, Gerald Weaver (former Milan Mayor). Articles have been written about PFC Murry and his bravery. Murry entered the service in 1943 and began his basic training in Texas, but he got a bad case of poison ivy which prevented him from going with the group he trained with, but when he shipped out in October, he landed in Saarlautern-Roden Germany and WWII was full-blown. He and 4 companions found themselves outnumbered 10 to 1 by the Germans and they not only held out against the German's repeated assaults of rocket launchers, machine guns, grenades and rifles, but routed the attackers, some 50 German soldiers. Serving in the 3rd Army Infantry unit at the time, PFC Murry and the 4 companions were accredited for killing and wounding some 20 of the enemy, destroying two machine guns and three rocket launchers. He later was moved to the 9th Army Unit.
One of the memories that stuck in the brave soldiers mind and heart was when they landed at Normandy, France three or 4 months after the invasion and all he could see in any direction was row upon row of white crosses; something that needs kept alive in the minds of our young people today, as a high price for freedom continues to be paid. The cemetery is 172 acres of 9,387 American military dead.
Allen Murry returned to his family in 1946 and in June he moved his family back to Milan and continued to work for the Federal Prison. Murry lost his brother-in-law, Don Bonzheim to war, when he was killed in the France Invasion. Barbara has archived his war medals, a couple hats and stories along with his photo in a shadow box, but stored forever in her heart is the memories of her daddy, one brave hero, who made a difference for all. She is extremely active in the Ladies Auxiliary of the American Legion as another way of commemorating her father.
Andrew Wachowicz joined the United States Army in 2010 and is currently serving in the Army Reserves. He is a 2010 graduate of Milan High School and entered the Army shortly after graduation. He was stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas. Andrew served in Operation Enduring Freedom as a combat engineer, receiving the Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and the NATO Medal. He is currently ranked Specialist Andrew Wachowicz.
Andrew has had a positive experience serving in the military. “It gave me a better work ethic and helped me better appreciate what we have in America that other places don’t have,” he said. When asked if he believes the military experience would benefit young people today, even in wartime, he commented, “I believe that military experience would benefit young people today, even in wartime. Most kids these days are too worried about Facebook and gossip. The military would wake them up and show them there are more important things in life.”
Andrew is single and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5977 and American Legion Post 268. He also received the rank of Eagle in Boy Scout Troop 449. Andrew followed in the footsteps of his parents, Christy and Rob, who both served in the Army. They also served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm while in the Michigan Army National Guard. His brother Dylan, is a Marine.
This Milan native grew up on a farm right outside of Milan and is a 1943 Milan High School Graduate. Most young men today can't wait until their 21st birthday, but by the time Elmer Anderson reached that age, he had been through the US Army Boot Camp in Texas and was serving his country in Bremerhaven, Germany. He had been drafted the year prior in 1944, as so many were during WWII. The desire for young men to grow up and become their own man happens in a hurry, when you are in a foreign land and serving during war time.
Anderson was assigned to the Department of Railway Transportation, after the Allied Forces bombed Bremen (located in Northwest Germany). They took care to spare enough Bremerhaven Port right on the mouth of the Weser River and the North Sea, so it could be used for supplying the Allies after wartime. Bremen also included concentration camps such as Bremen-Farge and Bremen-Vegesack.
The city of Bremen was captured in April 1945. Working for the Railway was not an easy job, as they had to account for everything that went in and out of the port by rail. The Hauptbahnhof of Bremen is the most important rail station in the state of Bremen and was built in the late 1800s. The tracks expanded in number in 1907 and the station has been extensively remodeled due to war damage, but still maintains the late 19th century appearance. Anderson, who achieved the rank of Sergeant, relayed that the department had to do inspections and accounting and be accurate not only on cargo, but for trains carrying the wounded soldiers.
Sgt. Anderson turned 88 in September and has tried to keep memories alive through sharing with his family. One weekend, he relayed, the rail cars were searched very thoroughly, but somehow the Germans got a hold of five carloads of butter. That was the only time he could recall that the security failed.
We who have never experienced war can't fathom the destruction and decimation upon the city, with blocks being destroyed. The German people used their bare hands to pull rocks and debris from the rubble to look for their people who did not make it out. The ravages of war and the smell of decaying flesh in the heat of the day was terrible, certainly a memory he has not forgotten.
He served until 1946 and returned back to his much-loved home to work on the family farm, which his father Henry had purchased in 1926. Elmer and his lovely wife, Florence Mary (Isiemann), have been married for 62 years. They have three children; Wanda Snyder and Diane Titterington, and only son, Duane, who like Elmer, was raised on the family farm. Duane, now becomes the third generation to keep the farm a continuing legacy.
The Andersonís have been very involved in their church (Milan Free Methodist) for decades and their faith has brought them through many years.
Dr. Dennis Burke lived in Ann Arbor when he joined the U. S. Army in April of 1951, at age twenty, and took his basic training in Ft. Riley, Kansas, training as a Radio Operator. The camp was flooded out, so he was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, and trained there as a corpsman. He has lived in Milan for the past thirty-three years.
His tenure was during the Fareast Korean Conflict. (South Korea was invaded by Russian trained and equipped North Korean Army shortly after the defeat of Russia over the matter of Berlin. General MacArthur then in Tokyo, was placed in supreme command of the United Nations forces with the largest force being the United States.)
E-3 Burke served as a medical corpsman during his military stint and received the Fareast Command Medal, as well as the Good Service, Expert Marksmen Medals.
Burke described his service as the catalyst to a lifetime career, as upon discharge he returned to school on the pre-med program, graduating from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1961. After 52 years as a Family Practice M.D. he retired just this past year. His office was located in Ann Arbor.
When asked if he felt the military experience would benefit young people today, even during wartime, his response was, "Yes, excellent experience, travel, training and great friends." He and his wife, Louise have been married for 31 years and enjoy three adult children. Dr. Burke enjoys painting, music, reading, the martial arts, and boxing as hobbies. He was the U of M Boxing Coach for ten years.
Buford Lands, a Monroe County resident, was almost 19 years old when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1943. He took his basic training at Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago. Young Lands was about to embark on a journey that has grown closer and closer to his heart. He served during two crucial times in history (Japans attack of Pearl Harbor and Germans’ Dictator Hitler.)
At age 88 he recounted with tears streaming down his cheeks, about his days serving in the U.S. Military and the ravages that war can bring upon the human persona, while all the time reiterating, “It was a good experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world, because we saved our country. The American people can’t serve under a dictatorship, and that is what Hitler was; A Dictator.” Buford spent most of the 28 months he served on board the DE 764 (Destroyer Escort) USS Gandy. “Our ship went out looking for trouble & was well equipped with guns,” he said. Seaman 1st Class Lands was modest in naming only a couple of the medals received: The Purple Heart, Asiatic & Pacific Theater. Wounded when the ship took a hit, Lands spoke little of his injuries, but more of how terrible it is when one must shoot a man he never met and not knowing if the man even had a family. Lands always turned his life’s story back to the other man. He remembered vividly that August day in 1945 when the announcement from President Harry S. Truman came that two atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan. “It was an experience,” he said, “that money cannot buy. Our ship was in France when Germany surrendered and announcement came that Hitler was dead; the troops celebrated.” Our ship moved out into the Pacific and then came back to the states for repairs and then headed back into the Pacific. The ship went on mission convoys all over, sailing the Pacific, Asiatic, and Atlantic. They were sent back to Great Lakes, where it all began, to debrief and then on June 9, 1946, he was discharged. All during the service he corresponded with his sweetheart, back home. Upon returning home, just ninety days after the war ended, he went to work for the Peabody Coal Company, driving the shuttle. Raised in Kenvir, Harlan County, Kentucky in a coal mining town, it was a way of life; however the young Lands had other plans. He told his father he was going on vacation to get his wife. Just 20 days after returning from war, he took his sweetheart Vida and they eloped to Monroe County, MI and were married on January 29, 1946, where they decided to make their home.
In the interview he was asked if he would recommend military to young people today, even though we are once again in war times. “Yes, military is a good thing Ė they get experience and you have to grow up,” he commented.
The delightful couple who has been married for 67 years, have three children, five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. Buford made his living, landing a job through a recommendation from his Captain in the service, at Consolidated Paper Company in Monroe. Asked what he loved to do as a hobby, he chuckled and said, “I like to talk!” The couple are very active members of the North Monroe St. Church of God Mountain Assembly. They enjoy eating out and spending time with family and friends. Buford ended the interview by relaying that his son Kelly, took him on a one day trip this past July to visit the World War II Memorial in D.C. A trip that meant the world to him.
Thom Publiski entered the U.S. Army in October 1966 and served through 1968 during the Vietnam era.
At the young age of 19, he wanted to join the service, but admits he lacked the courage. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life, as he felt pulled in different directions by family, a girlfriend, and friends. On his 19th birthday, Thom was not only greeted by his friends and neighbors, but also with a draft notice. Having eleven uncles who served in the armed service, nine during WWII, he had a sense of pride to become a part of this group of Veterans.
Thom says, "My service instilled in me what my uncles, family and schooling at Lincoln High taught me in my upbringing; that our country is indeed great! Having a chance to see other parts of the world and the way other people lived and died in war--it told me how fortunate I am to have been born and raised here, in Michigan; in the United States of America, knowing that I, graced by Freedom and Liberty, had opportunity provided by the loyalty and nobility of those Americans who came before me. Now I strive, being the echo of my rich past, pray that I may continue this richness for future generations. The advantage of becoming a part of the U.S. military is that of Americanism. The real value is what the experience can do for you," he said.
SP/4 Publiski received the Good Conduct, Medal of Accommodation, and Expert Rifleman during his term. When asked if he believes the military experience would benefit young people today, even in wartime, he responded, "The military experience for young people today is more important than ever before, especially in war. After high school, to break away from friends and family, to think on your own, to do on your own, for your own benefit, providing self reliance and confidence. In 1896 the military at Fort Mackinaw had the highest rate of literacy of anywhere in the U.S. and today there is no greater collection of employees who are better trained or educated. The loyalty and nobility of our young who serve could return and maintain the greatness of our country as an echo in the future."
Thom is married to his lovely wife Teresa of 36 years and the couple have three children, five grandchildren with another grandchild on the way. He currently is enjoying his career in safety training. When not working, Thom enjoys working in his lawn, garden and community.
Sal enlisted soon after graduation from Swanton High School and entered the U.S. Army in September of 1985. His basic training was at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri and from there he was sent to Ft. Lee, Virginia for fuel supply training, then back to Ft. Leonard Wood for truck driving school. While based in Wiesbaden, Germany, his main job was to drive a semi-truck carrying 5,000 gallon fuel tankers to re-supply various Army Depots. He also supplied fuel to military units on field exercises via rail station tankers and truck delivery. Upon completion of a two year term with the Army (earning the rank of Specialist E-4), Sal joined the Ohio Army National Guard in 1987 and served another 4 years.
When asked if he had a good experience while in the military, he responded, "Absolutely; you learn respect, team work, honor, dedication to country, good work ethics, self reliance, trusting fellow soldiers and how to handle difficult situations. Learning to navigate a large tractor trailer on very narrow German roads and through small towns was an interesting challenge," he said with excitement. When asked if he would recommend service to young people today, even in the midst of war, he quickly replied, "I would definitely suggest service in any of the military branches. The experience is priceless, it's a great start to adult life, and a fantastic way to earn money for college."
Sal co-owns Digital Brewery, LLC, a graphic design firm located at 3 W. Main St., downtown Milan. They have been in this business since 1997 and moved to the Milan location about 18 months ago. When not working Sal enjoys traveling, cooking, music and attending music concerts. He added, "Please add a thank you to all veterans and those currently serving in the military," and so on behalf of the chamber, we thank Sal and all veterans and Soldiers for their service to our wonderful country! Milan Stands Proud!
Todd Akers, 1989 Milan High School Graduate, entered the USAF in 1990 and served 7 years; part of that time during the Gulf War. Todd's experience in the Air Force made him appreciate our country even more. When he was stationed at Castle AFB in California he was assigned to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron and didn't travel much. In 1995, Castle AFB was in the BRAC process, (dispose of unnecessary United States Department of Defense (DoD) real estate), so he was transferred to the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurburt field, Florida, where he was assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron and worked on the AC-130 Spectre gunship. Akers said, "I learned many valuable lifelong lessons; from respecting others and following directions, to what it means to make a commitment to something and not wavering from that commitment. I have so many great memories with the people I worked with and with those I met around the country and world." One of our questions to Todd was, "Was your experience in the military a positive one?" Akers responded, "If I could go back and do it all over again, I would. The only thing I wish I could change was the stress I put on my mom and dad while being deployed for weeks or months at a time without any communication or being able to let them know where I was." Todd relayed that of course he missed several big events of his sister Kendra's Life as a great High School and College Athlete, that he wishes he could have attended."
E4 Akers is the third generation in his family that the Chamber has honored; The April Tribute was about his Father Jim, the May the tribute was about his Grandfather, Perry. It just seemed appropriate to honor Todd to complete their honorable line of service.
Todd received the Air Force Longevity Service Award, AIR Force Training Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, NCO Professional Military Education Ribbon, air Force Outstanding Unit Award with 2 Devices, Air Force Good Conduct Medal with 1 device, and the Armed Forces Service Medal.
When asked if he thought the military experience would benefit young people today, even in war times, he responded, "I think it would be great for any young man or woman to experience the military for a few years no matter if it's war time or not. Would I think the same for my daughter if she said, "Daddy, I want to be a soldier?" Inside my heart I would be scared, but I would support her decision 100% and admire her the same way I admire all our men and women serving our country. So many people have the freedom to live, work and visit our country, but very few realize the daily sacrifice a soldier and their family make to allow us that luxury. Unfortunately I don't think those that serve, get the respect and appreciation they deserve, but they don't do it to get noticed," he said. Todd currently lives in Charlotte, N.C. with his wife Lisette of six years, and their daughters, Alexandra and Victoria. Todd is the Director of Operations for Flour Power Kids Cooking Studios. He enjoys golfing and spending time with family.
Perry J. Akers was married with two children, a son and a daughter when he received a draft notice at his Monroe, Michigan home in April of 1945. On April 24th of that year, Perry and his wife Nora and two children, set out for Ft. Knox, Kentucky for Perry to take his basic training. His daughter, Carol (Akers) Hundley commented, "I vividly remember when the rumblings of tanks passed by while living at Ft. Knox." While at basic training, her father met a man by the name of Glenn Aker (notice no "s" on the end, as in Perry's last name). With the last name being unusual, they struck up a life-time friendship and stayed in touch all of Perry's life; in fact, Perry admired his new friend so much, that he named his 3rd child (2nd son) after Glenn. The couple eventually had another son, Larry, making their family complete.
After basic training Perry was stationed in Okinawa, Japan during World War II. His daughter Carol remembers receiving an Easter card from her daddy while he was stationed overseas that year. Perry became a Sgt. of the 1st Air Division and earned the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon Victory Medal and the overseas service bar. During his service tenure, he was trained as an automotive mechanic, which would become valuable to him during his future career. When Perry left for war, Nora moved her family to Milan, Michigan where they lived for many, many years. Perry served through October of 1946, which was standard draft time.
Upon returning he landed a job at the Milan Foundry and from there he worked for Ann Arbor Construction for a period of time, leaving that to drive truck for Russell Finch Trucking. Perry then landed a job for a Toledo Trucking Company, but after a tragic accident, where two men drove into the back of his truck that resulted in their deaths, Perry told his wife he just couldn't bear to drive trucks anymore. He then became a Continental Casualty Insurance salesman. He worked as a salesman for Sinkule Motors in Milan, Laskey Ford and ended up with Schultz Motors of Milan which he retired from.