"Then and Now" /A celebration in the Finnish /American Perspective/ "Ennen ja Nyt"/
The Education Program
|Another FHM Educational presentation|
HONORING OUR WAR HEROES
News Report by Elaine Lillback
FINNS IN THE U.S.A. MILITARY WARS The November meeting of the Finnish Heritage Museum was enriched by the presentation by Melvin L. Fundermark representing the VFW informing us of our local Fairporters who have helped fight and defend our haloed place here on earth.
Linda McAdams introduced Melvin who is a Fairport native, having grown up on Plum Street. He is a graduate of Harding High in 1949, and married Lucille Hilberg in 1950. He served in the United States Navy on the U.S.S. Sigourney for 3 ½ years in the Korean Theatre. He is a graduate of Kent State University in 1956 where he played football, and ran track. He is a member of the Hall of Fame group of 2008. He was employed by Bridgeport Brass Co. for 35 years in management, and has been retired for 25 years. An interesting sideline, during the Korean conflict, Melvin served closely with Ross Perot, who later ran for the presidency of the U.S.A.
In the center of Fairport Veteran’s Memorial Park stands one of the finest honor rolls in the State of Ohio, honoring the heroes of World Wars I and II. The beautiful circular memorial is lighted in the evening, containing twenty-seven panels of names, placed in alphabetical order without rank or title. This memorial was dedicated November 26, 1944. World War I dead included early Fairport residents John E. Cooper, Matt Jacobson, August M. Luoto, and Thomas A. Praskis (Braski). World War II dead include: Robert G. Aho, John B. Bodak, Arthur B. Congos, Delmar Gray, Wilho Hill, George E. Katila, Albert G. Kiikka, Norman R. Luoma, Oswald E. Mackey, Edwin A. Manninen, Donald W. Mattson, Leighton P. McCormick, William S. Ode, David J. Orris, Adelbert E. Pohto, Daniel J. Reboczi, Arthur R. Sekki, Arnold W. M. Stuuri, Joseph T. Toth, Jr., Steve Urban, Toivo Wasara.
There are no Finnish veterans from the early Revolutionary War or any existing record of any from the Civil War, but many joined but saw no action in the Spanish American War of 1898. A delegation of Finnish men, accompanied by Mr. Leino and 24 volunteers formed company M. and served as Reservists in Columbus, Ohio. Of the 126 veterans from Fairport who served in WWI, 57 were Finnish, and of these, 4 were killed in action. Matt Suomela served the Rainbow Division with valor at the Argonne and Verdun.
Among the soldiers mentioned for their meritorious service were: Colonel Don Blakeslee, an Ace pilot, who shot down fifteen German planes in WWII. A full colonel in the U.S. Army 8th Air Force, he first enlisted in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps in 1940 as a Flight Officer with the Canadians when the Germans attacked London. Winston Churchill recognized their service as “big-time.”
Blakeslee flew 230 missions over enemy territory. After the entry into the war, Blakeslee flew the Thunderbolt, leading the first allied fighter groups over Berlin. He was the “most decorated pilot in WWII.” He was a 1935 graduate of Harding High. His mother was of the Hervey family lineage. (Finnish)
Another man honored was Eino Werronen, a Tech 5 Sergeant, U.S. Army Radar operator and rifleman who served in Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea and Luzon All Asiatic-Pacific Theater, receiving 4 Bronze Stars, the Philippine Liberation Medal and Victory Medal, and the good conduct medal. Edmund Kuivila, (deceased FHM member) was mentioned for his service and time as prisoner of war having been shot down during WWII.
In a question and answer period, Elaine Lillback referred to her husband, Eugene Lillback, a former Fairporter, who served in WWII in the Battle of the Bulge, receiving three war Medals, two U. S. Silver Stars and the top British Silver Medal from the King of England for destroying a mined field and a bunker, and leading American and British troops through the area, without any fatalities.
“What is a veteran?” asked Fundermark. “Is he just a fighting man, a survivor of many battle fields? He is an ordinary, and yet extraordinary human being- a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs. He is a soldier and savior, and is nothing more than the greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known. When you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say ‘Thank You!’
” Originally Veterans’ Day, November 11th was known as Armistice Day celebrating WWI in which 54 million soldiers fought in combat. It later honored the 416 thousand dying in WWII; the 58 thousand in Vietnam; the 4.4 thousand in Iraqi Freedom and the 3,700 in Afghanistan. There has been a lot of sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy. “Let us go forth this week, this day, and remember all those brave veterans who gave their lives,” urged Fundermark. Following the sharing of a picture of Colonel R. Blakeslee with his Thunderbolt in Russia, Mel put his trumpet to his lips for “Taps” in memorial to all veterans and their service.
A listing of the names of all Fairport servicemen as presented by Melvin Fundermark will be in the files of the FHM.
Eric Jylanki, Nadine and Jim Visti served lovely fall refreshments.
© Text by Elaine Lillback, © Photos/artwork by Lasse Hiltunen