‘This is a day for reflection and honor’

Woods community gathers to remember the fallen

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 30, 2017

 Madeline Johnson, 3, of Grosse Pointe City, waves an American flag during the ceremony.

Madeline Johnson, 3, of Grosse Pointe City, waves an American flag during the ceremony.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

As World War II veteran Robert Roselle made his way to the podium during the Grosse Pointe Woods Memorial Day ceremony May 29, the audience gave him a standing ovation.

“What a greeting,” the Woods resident said as he began to share his story of his time in the U.S. Army.

On Monday, the Grosse Pointe Woods Historical Commission hosted its 35th annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Circle of Honor, located at Vernier Road and Mack Avenue. Memorial Day honors those military members who died while serving, and the Woods ceremony also acknowledged all living veterans and current active military personnel.

It was Valentine’s Day 1944 when 18-year-old Roselle officially began serving in the military. As the war raged on, the Detroit native was on his way — after receiving his draft notice —  to basic training in Chicago and then California. The Cass Technical High School graduate was in the 89th Chemical Mortar Battalion, 9th Army, which eventually went to Europe.

“We sailed from Boston Harbor on a converted freighter,” Roselle said, remembering that there weren’t any ovens on board, only steam kettles. The menu included “hard-boiled eggs; warm, unfried bacon, and canned, stewed tomatoes.”

The vessel docked in England Dec. 14, 1944, and on Feb. 1, 1945, the young soldiers crossed the English Channel to France. Next stop: Belgium. By the time the 89th Battalion was stationed in Germany in 1945, the presence of the Russian Army nearby changed the dynamics of the conflict between the German and American soldiers. 

“The German soldiers and refugees began to surrender,” Roselle said. “We knew the war was coming to an end. May 8, 1945, the war in Germany ended; however, the war in Japan was not over.”

Roselle’s troop soon left Europe and returned to New York City July 4, 1945. Because the longshoremen had the holiday off, the soldiers couldn’t leave the ship and were stuck for another day, but found something to occupy their time.

“We stayed on board and watched the fireworks,” Roselle said.

Roselle and his comrades were given a 30-day furlough and were told they would then go to Japan, as more battles were to come, but when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the battalion stayed put. Roselle, whose wife, Mary Sullivan Roselle, was present at the ceremony, remained in the Army until April 1946.

Roselle, who was Detroit deputy mayor, received another standing ovation at the end of his presentation. During the event, Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke also addressed the crowd. He asked all the veterans to stand and be recognized.

“This is a day for reflection and honor … and to remember all of those who have sacrificed so much for us,” said Novitke, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964 to 1968 with time spent in Vietnam. “As we say, always remember, never forget. Sacrifice is empty without remembrance. Setting aside this special day is a small way we give back.”

Mary Kaye Ferry, of the Grosse Pointe Woods Historical Commission, presided over the event, and the Rev. Matthew Swiatek, of Crosspointe Christian Church, located in Grosse Pointe Woods, gave the invocation.

“Dear God, we humbly ask you would continue to bless this nation,” he said. “We come to you and we thank you for this event.”

Members of the Grosse Pointe North High School “Pointe Chorale” performed, and North senior William Fishwick sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning of the ceremony.

The Anchor Bay High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Michigan No. 931 Color Guard participated in the ceremony, as did Cub Scout Troop No. 290 of Mason Elementary; Girl Scout Troop No. 71293 of Ferry Elementary; Girl Scout Troop No. 75334 of Parcells and Brownell middle schools; and Girl Scout Troop No. 74770 of North High School.

The Mel Stander Gentlemen of Swing Band, directed by Ralph Miller, provided music for the ceremony, and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter did a flyover. After the event, the veterans gathered for a group picture.

Several city officials attended the event, including Woods Mayor Pro Tem Arthur Bryant, who was in the Navy Reserve from 1961-67.