Metro Detroit events honor WWII sacrifices and service

Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

At ceremonies around Metro Detroit, veterans, dignitaries and citizens gathered Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, when Germany's surrender ended World War II in Europe.

In Warren, more than 200 former service members attended a commemoration in City Hall, where Mayor Jim Fouts saluted "the most unselfish and most giving generation." Also honored was Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol, a Warren resident who was one of three Michigan Marines killed two months ago when their helicopter crashed along Florida's Panhandle in dense fog during a nighttime training exercise.

In Royal Oak, a V-E Day event at Memorial Park included a flyover of the Yankee Lady B-17, courtesy of the Yankee Air Museum, and remarks from Henri Nussbaum, a Warren resident who fought with the French Resistance for two years.

Before speaking in Royal Oak, Nussbaum said there is no way to describe the feelings he had on V-E Day, 70 years ago. He added that the women who worked in armament factories were instrumental in the effort to defeat Germany.

"We would have not won the war without Rosie the Riveters and Detroit," said Nussbaum.

Attendees in Warren included retired congressman and World War II veteran John Dingell and Guy Stern, a veteran of the war who is an author and director of the International Institute of the Righteous at the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Speakers included retired Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart Jr., a member of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew 43 combat missions during the war as a P-51 fighter pilot under the 15th Air Force.

Stewart, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, said before addressing the audience that as years pass, it becomes increasingly important to commemorate the war and those who served.

"I think time robs us of memories and unless we do this every once in a while, people will lose the significance of what went on during World War II," he said. "So that it doesn't happen again, we are going to have to practice eternal vigilance to maintain our freedoms."

Stewart, who shot down three enemy FW190D-9 aircraft in a single mission, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters.

Others attending the ceremony included U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, and Maj. Gen. Gwen Bingham, commander of the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command in Warren.

Fouts, who acted as master of ceremonies, is a former high school government teacher who supplied historical context during his remarks by discussing figures who played important roles during and after the war.

Among them were Harry Truman, who was president on V-E Day, and combat veterans John F. Kennedy, the nation's 35th president, and Bob Dole, a former senator and presidential candidate.

Before the speeches, a band played '40s standards from big-band legends Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller.

At the Royal Oak commemoration, World War II veterans, home-front heroes and school kids unfurled a 30-foot-by-60-foot American flag, captured by a photographer aboard the B-17.

Memorial Park is the future home of The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial, a $3 million official state tribute to Michigan's contributions during WWII.

Included will be lifesize bronze statues, a walkable Michigan map and a wall of stars in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Russell Levine, board vice president of the memorial, said it is important to get the project done as soon as possible.

Of the 16 million Americans who fought in the war, just 800,000 are left, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration.

"My father was a World War II veteran. He is not here, but all these other guys are," said Levine. "There aren't going to be many more opportunities to personally thank the soldiers, sailors, airmen and the home-front workers."

Levine added the memorial will be a way to educate future generations.

"This will be here long after we are dead if we do it right," he said.

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