Farmington— John Markham’s first job was driving a tractor on a wheat farm, before joining the U.S. Army.
The year was 1937 — he was 15 and earned $1.50 a day.
“That was $1.50 a day — not an hour,” said Markham, 92, of Farmington, who served in both World War II and the Korean War. “It was only 15 cents an hour, but I thought that was pretty good because a cup of coffee was five cents and you could buy a pack of cigarettes for a dime.”
But he wanted to serve his country, so he enlisted in the Army at age 17 in 1939.
On Monday, Markham was belatedly honored with a Korean War Service Medal. U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, a fellow veteran, presented the award to Markham during a ceremony inside the Farmington city offices building.
“Unfortunately, sometimes our country doesn’t give enough credit to those who serve,” said Bentivolio, R-Milford. “It’s a shame it has taken this long for him to receive this recognition.”
Markham, who was stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, in 1941, when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, said he was surprised by the fanfare surrounding the medal.
“I just thought they’d mail it to me,” he said. “I didn’t realize they were going to make a Hollywood production out of it.”
He said he clearly remembers what he was doing before the Pearl Harbor invasion on Dec. 7.
The Saturday night before, I had had a few beers and I was sleeping late on Sunday,” he said. “A loud radio woke me up and they were announcing what had happened at Pearl Harbor. We all crowded around that portable radio.”
Later, after several months of training, he climbed aboard the U.S. Navy’s Susan B. Anthony, headed for Ireland to fight in World War II. His unit was in combat at Brest, France, and then moved to Andenne, Belgium, for several months.
The unit then moved back north to fight the Germans, and Markham was wounded in the leg behind the Siegfried Line.
“While I was in the hospital recuperating, you’re never going to believe who showed up — Leo Durocher,” he said.
Recalling his meeting with the Major League ballplayer and manager, Markham added: “I was sleeping, and when I woke up, there he was, and he shook my hand.”
Markham later joined the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper and was transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky, but soon received a medical discharge because of a stomach ulcer.
He was deployed to Korea with the 17th Regiment in August 1951, and fought on the front lines. He was hit in the chest and wounded on top of Korea’s tallest mountain, and was discharged in June 1954.
Markham moved to Michigan in June 1962 and married his wife, Hertha, that same month after serving his country. She died in 2007.
After his military service, Markham said he worked for the IRS and the old Veterans Administration Hospital in Allen Park in the supply section.
“I retired from the Department of the Army’s tank arsenal in Warren in 1988,” he said. He worked in the document control section.