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WWII vet wants friend on war memorial

Apr. 10, 2013 - 09:07AM   |  
Ruth and James Phelps converse April 3 in the basement of their home in Flushing, Mich. The two have been together for 70 years and are both 91. The Flint Journal reports that James Phelps noticed on Memorial Day last year that Herman Bremer's name was not on the Flint memorial, which was built in 1951. The oversight may be corrected in time for Memorial Day this year.
Ruth and James Phelps converse April 3 in the basement of their home in Flushing, Mich. The two have been together for 70 years and are both 91. The Flint Journal reports that James Phelps noticed on Memorial Day last year that Herman Bremer's name was not on the Flint memorial, which was built in 1951. The oversight may be corrected in time for Memorial Day this year. (Sammy Jo Hester / The Flint Journal via AP)
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FLINT, Mich. — James Phelps, a World War II veteran from Flushing, noticed something was off when he had a look at the names on the Genesee County Veterans Memorial in downtown Flint the day after Memorial Day 2012.

His friend, Herman R. Bremer, was missing from the list on the monument, erected in 1951.

“I could see Rod’s (Phelps’ friend and WWII veteran) name, but I kept looking for Herman,” Phelps, 91, told The Flint Journal. “I couldn’t find him, and that’s when I started to ask questions.”

Through Phelps’ efforts, that oversight may be corrected in time for Memorial Day this year. Friends of McFarlan Park in Flint plans to add a plate with Bremer’s name on it to the Genesee County Veterans Memorial, 67 years after Bremer’s death, during a Memorial Day service in May.

Bremer graduated from Herbert Hoover High School in 1941 and was employed at AC Spark Plug division of General Motors before joining the Army Air Forces on Jan. 19, 1943, according to an MLive-Flint Journal article published March 25, 1946.

Phelps said Bremer — whom he had been friends with since grade school — and six friends had built a raft composed of empty auxiliary tanks tied together to go fishing off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, where they were stationed just after World War II.

They had been swept out to sea after a sudden storm flooded the craft, causing engine failure, according to the article. Bremer’s body was never found, according to a report from Ancestory.com retrieved by Don Westcott, secretary of the Board of Directors of Friends of McFarlan Park.

Two of them survived by tying empty tin cans around their bodies and swimming to shore. Bremer and four friends — one of them Sgt. Roderick Hall, formerly of Flint — drowned in the accident on Dec. 23, 1945, according to the article.

Phelps had heard the news in a phone call from his wife after returning home on Dec. 28, 1945.

“I was just kind of dumbfounded,” Phelps said. “I thought, we had gone through wars, and that we would get back home and get on with our lives. It’s just quite a shock.”

Hall’s name appears on the memorial along with most of the men Phelps knew who died in the war.

But a listing for Herman R. Bremer is absent.

“He sacrificed his life in the Army and should be recognized on the memorial just like the rest of the fellows on there,” Phelps said. “I just want him to have closure.”

A gravestone with the name Herman R. Bremer does, however, appear in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Bremer left two surviving brothers, Charles and Jack, a daughter, Constance, and his wife, Bernice. Bremer’s family could not be reached for comment.

Phelps and his three brothers all served in World War II. Phelps was in the Army, while two older brothers were in the Army Air Forces and a younger brother served in the Coast Guard.

Joe Mishler, president of Friends of McFarlan Park, said getting a veteran’s name added to the memorial is pretty straightforward.

“If we determine they were in military service at the time of death, along with residency, those are the criteria,” Mishler said.

Mishler is in the process of obtaining military documentation for Bremer and seeks to have Bremer’s name engraved on a plaque at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.

Friends of McFarlan Park cannot determine exactly how the original list of veterans was compiled or why Vietnam veterans from Holly appear on the Genesee County Veterans Memorial. In some cases, a veteran’s parents had lived in Genesee County, but the veteran didn’t at the time of service.

Mishler said in the last two years, two to three World War II veterans’ names have been added to the memorial.

Near the end of that war, Phelps had boarded a ship in Marseilles, France. It departed on July 14, 1945, en route to Okinawa, Japan — some 5,500 miles away.

A major event stopped the crew short as they approached an area near the Marshall Islands on Aug. 6, 1945: The atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The crew finally arrived in Japan 63 days later, in September 1945.

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