Thursday, May 31, 2012

MEMORIAL DAY: Burdens, honors and brotherhoods

Steve Robertson

Above: Changing of the guard. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington National Cemetery. Washington, D.C.

Children kneel in front of a World War II veterans' memorial at Lake View Cemetery near Calumet, Mich. on May 28, 2012.

Members of the Marine Corps League Keweenaw Chapter 1016 rehearse the rifle salute before a Memorial Day service at Forest Hills Cemetery in Houghton, Mich.

Marine Corps League member Bob Botkins grabs a cord on the United States Marine Corps
flag while setting it up before a Memorial Day service at Forest Hills Cemetery in Houghton,

Every war veteran ceremony that Frank Steiner IV remembers, an eagle has flown over.

"It's amazing," Mr. Steiner said. "It's a spiritual thing, you know?"

Mr. Steiner is a member of the Marine Corps League, Keweenaw 1016 chapter. He honors memorial services and ceremonies with fellow Marine Corps. League members at veteran memorials and funerals, including the Memorial Day burial ceremony of a Korean War soldier who was previously declared MIA for 61 years.

On Wednesday, Mr. Steiner traveled to Houghton to honor the original date of Memorial Day, May 30 at Hancock County Veterans Memorial Park. There were veterans of wars from the Korean War to the current war in Afghanistan.

   Frank Steiner IV talks with Joe Tormala before the May 30 Memorial Day services at
   Hancock County Veterans Memorial Park in Houghton, Mich.
The veterans trade stories about their deployments and trade advice about navigating a variety of veteran service programs for health and wellness issues. While the day is meaningful to veterans in honoring their fallen comrades, it also aggravates bad memories that they have worked through their lives since to get past. The veterans relive a sense of the comraderie that they experienced in their old units.

Korean War veteran James Moehrke said he vividly remembers his role in the war. He was in the 19th Ordinance Direct Support and participated in Operation Glory, recovering dead soldiers from battlefields, and Operation Big Switch, a mass exchange of prisoners of war.

"We had to go out and get the corpses off the field," Mr. Moehrke said. "And boy did they reak. Oh, boy. Did you ever hear of the Black Death over there? The rats would feed on the corpses and the mosquitos would bite the rats. Then the mosquitos bit you and if you had contact with this virus, you had about 10 days to live. There weren't many people who made it past 10 days."

The Marine Corps League, like other veterans associations, rotate duties between members for each ceremony. The ceremony honored a plaque commemorating veterans of the global war on terrorism, including the Iraqi War.

   Veterans pick up spent blank rounds after a rifle salute during a Memorial Day service
   at the Hancock County Veterans Memorial Park in Houghton, Mich. on May 30, 2012.
The plaque also listed two names of Copper Country natives who were killed in the war, including staff sergeants Paul Johnson, of Calumet, and Thomas Christensen, of Atlantic Mine.

Mr. Johnson, 29, was a squad leader in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was killed Oct. 20, 2003 during a mounted patrol when the vehicle he was in hit an improvised explosive device near Fallujah.

Mr. Christensen, 42, was killed Dec. 25, 2003 when his unit's living area came under a mortar attack in Baquba, Iraq. Also killed in the attack was Staff Sgt. Stephen C. Hattamer, 43, of Gwinn, Mich.

Shortly after the blessing of the plaque, nine M-1 Garands were fired three times in cadence to honor Mr. Christensen and Mr. Johnson, along with all of the fallen soldiers.

Mr. Steiner, among other veterans, celebrated two memorial days in three days. Memorial Day, which used to be called Decoration Day, originated after the American Civil War to commemorate Union soldiers who died. Sometime in the 20th Century, the holiday was extended to memorialize all American soldiers who have died.

Congress enacted the Uniform Monday Holiday Act on June 28, 1968 that rescheduled four holidays, including Memorial Day, to a specified Monday, to create a three-day weekend.

Soon after the ceremony, Mr. Steiner and Iraqi War veteran Joe Tormala — who was wounded in the same attack that killed Mr. Christensen and Mr. Hattamer — spotted a bald eagle soaring.

"Again," Mr. Tormala said, watching the eagle. "It's amazing that this has happened after every ceremony. It really makes you think about what's out there spiritually — you just don't know."

The sighting invoked an experience Mr. Tormala's mother, Mary, had at a Native American Memorial Day service she attended. 

In a service for Spc. Robert Voakes, a 21-year-old Native American soldier who was killed June 4, 2011 in Afghanistan's Laghman province, Mary saw three eagles soaring and circling over the service. Two of the eagles, she said, swooped down and landed in trees near the service, uncharacteristic to their natural behavior of avoiding humans.

"Isn't that amazing?" she said. "It was amazing."
   Marine Corps League Keweenaw Chapter 1016 member Paul Smigowski stands at-ease during a Memorial Day service at Hancock County Veterans Memorial Park in Houghton, Mich. on May 30, 2012.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pfc. Arthur Leiviska, missing for 61 years, comes home

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Battisfore details the account of Pfc. Arthur Leiviska, a Korean War soldier who was declared MIA for 61 years, before a Memorial Day burial at Lake View Cemetery near Calumet, Mich.
   A map of Pfc. Leiviska's patrol, in blue, and the area of ambush, in red.
   It was there when Mr. Leiviska was captured and marched to a POW

CALUMET, Mich. -- A tear streams down the cheek of James Moehrke as he stands next to the hole and coffin of his friend, Pfc. Arthur Leiviska, a Korean War soldier who was captured during a patrol in early 1951. Mr. Leiviska's remains were recently identified and transported here for burial.

"We went to the teen center," Moehrke said, pointing towards downtown Calumet a few miles away. "We used to chum around together in our teen years."

He said the burial ceremony of Mr. Leiviska on Memorial Day didn't bring any closure for himself.

James Moehrke.
"It was a war that we fought and we didn't accomplish anything," he said.

Mr. Moehrke said Mr. Leiviska volunteered.

"I knew that he wanted to join the service," he said.

Mr. Moehrke was drafted into the U.S. Army and arrived in Korea six months after Mr. Leiviska was captured. He said he was a part of Operation Glory, a mass exchange of military war dead and Operation Big Switch, a mass exchange of prisoners of war.

Mr. Moehrke said that because his papers were lost in Seoul, now South Korea's capital, he overstayed his deployment by 38 days.

Mr. Leiviska was officially declared missing on January 21, 1951, the day after a patrol he was a part of was attacked by elements of the North Korea People's Army, according to a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command report on Mr. Leiviska.

Mr. Leiviska was a private at the time. He was in L Company, 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Mr. Leiviska's remains landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport just after noon, May 26. On Memorial Day, Leiviska was laid to rest in Lake View Cemetery, six decades after he was officially declared missing in action by the U.S. military.

Mr. Leiviska's unit operated near Yangyon-ni, Republic of Korea. According to the JPAC report, Mr. Leiviska's patrol was two kilometers south of the 3/17 Inf. position when it engaged in a firefight with a "small group of NKPA soldiers with small arms and automatic weapons fire." The patrol advanced further south, to Ping-gol, where it was ambushed by a larger NKPA contingent. The patrol suffered 19 casualties before returning to friendly lines. Three survivors of the patrol reported later in the day at Yangyon-ni that Mr. Leiviska was missing.

The United Nations Command repeatedly requested the NKPA and Chinese People's Volunteer Forces to provide lists of American and allied servicemen held in their custody throughout the war. Mr. Leiviska was not on any prisoner of war list given by the NKPA or CPVF.

It was later found that Mr. Leiviska was captured and transported to the Suan Bean Prisoner of War camp complex in what is now the North Hwanghae Province, about 40 miles southeast of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. According to the report, Mr. Leiviska died on April 20, 1951 and was buried there. He was 18 years old.

"It has been 60 years since he went missing in action," said Melissa Huuki, whose mother was Mr. Leiviska's sister. "I am at peace knowing he is back home to rest in peace where he belongs."

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 7,900 Korean War soldiers are still unaccounted for. In total, nearly 390,000 people went missing during the war.

The Korean War was a full-scale military conflict that lasted for 3 years, 32 days. Since no peace treaty was signed along with the cease-fire agreement, the last 58 years have been regarded by some as a low-level war. Tensions between North and South Korea have come to light in the recent past.

Mrs. Huuki expressed her family's gratitude for finally receiving closure about her uncle.

"We heard about the positive match a week before Christmas, 2011," she said. "I wish my mother were here to celebrate with us."
The U.S. Army Honor Guard salutes the flag representing Pfc. Arthur Leiviska before presenting it to his family during his Memorial Day burial ceremony.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mirror Lake: Isolated, But Known

   Two fishermen fish in a canoe (right-center) near the shoreline across Mirror Lake, in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park on May 11, 2012.

"The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man's mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others."
   A bald eagle flies over Mirror Lake. May 11, 2012.

My dad, Jesse, and I hiked in to Mirror Lake for a day adventure. It was the first time I'd ever been to Mirror Lake, an elongated body of water with two fingers of land jutted into the water.

It's a body of water one would never know existed unless one looked closely at a map of one of the most isolated areas in Michigan. Local residents know of it, but few know exactly where it is and how to get there. But of course, to know where all lakes and rivers sit and wind through the nearly 60,000-acre Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park would require extensive map studying and hiking.
   Jesse Niemi on the Mirror Lake Trail. May 11, 2012.

It was about 60 degrees (F) during our hike and arrival to the lake. Over the course of the four hours we were there, the temperature dropped 10 degrees and brought with it rain clouds that dropped occasional sprinkles. It felt like dew falling off a tree in a breeze.

   A swamp we walked by during our off-the-trail hike on our way to the fishing spot on Mirror Lake. May 11, 2012.
It's a 2.5 mile hike to Mirror Lake from the parking lot, which takes about an hour to accomplish. The first half-mile of the hike from the parking lot is uphill -- hiking up the same escarpment that makes up Summit Peak, the highest point of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Even on the trail to the lake there are hills to ascend and descend.

In essence, the hike is literally a grandpa's saying -- uphill both ways.

Because we heard before we left that there were already people staying in a cabin on the lake, we planned to go off the trail and fish from somewhere across the lake from the cabins. This part of the hike led us into swamps and muddy terrain. It was about 60 degrees (F) during our hike and arrival to the lake. Over the course of the four hours we were there, the temperature dropped 10 degrees and brought with it rain clouds that dropped occasional sprinkles. When the warm weather left, so did the bugs. I would always rather deal with the cold than to deal with the bugs.

Dad wouldn't like if I disclosed the specific spot he cast from. He did say that he never saw the lake conditions that we experienced -- waves -- which are usually small on Mirror Lake, if any develop. The waves in the late afternoon were cresting, or "white capping." Usually the lake is near flat, like a mirror.

It was a great way to experience the start of summer, despite catching a splake too small to keep, and getting nothing beyond bites after that.


From Silver City: Highway M-64 turns into 107th Engineers Memorial Highway. Turn left onto Forest Highway 117/South Boundary Road for about 12 miles. There will be a sign for Summit Peak and Mirror Lake.

From Wakefield: Turn onto Thomaston Road, which eventually becomes County Highway 519. Drive about 16 miles and turn right onto Forest Highway 117/South Boundary Road. Drive about 13 miles. There will be a sign for Summit Peak and Mirror Lake.

   Two fishermen cast lines on Mirror Lake. May 11, 2012.

   Jesse Niemi checks his watch in the afternoon on Mirror Lake. May 11, 2012.
   Walking a narrow path between a steep hill and cliff face near Mirror Lake. May 11, 2012.