Flag presentations honor two local war heroes

By: 
JACKIE KOCH

(Left) Florine Purkey accepts a flag on behalf of her late husband, Richard Purkey, who was honored on Memorial Day for his military service. Pictured next to Florine is her daughter, Shelley Purkey Hunt. (Right) James Felton receives an American flag in honor of his military service during the Memorial Day ceremony at Brookside Cemetery on Monday. Sitting next to Felton is his wife, Marilyn. Photos by Jim Lincoln.

Richard Purkey passed away in August 2016, but the stories of his kindness and character live on in his wife, his daughters, his neighbors and others who knew him. He was honored posthumously by Tecumseh’s VFW Post 4187 and American Legion Post 34 at Monday’s Memorial Day gathering, with his wife, Florine, receiving a U.S. flag in his stead. 

How did Florine feel about her late husband being recognized in such a way? “There are no words to describe that,” she said. “Proud,” daughter Shelley Hunt said. “Oh, extremely proud,” Florine agreed. She was also given honors, as his wife, during the ceremony.

Richard joined the Marine Corps in 1948 just after graduating from Tecumseh High School and served until 1952, during which time he was involved in the Korean War and was seriously injured when a chain holding a vehicle he was working on broke, causing his face to be crushed between a tire and the vehicle body and requiring six months of recovery in a military hospital.

After he left the armed forces as a staff sergeant, he returned to Tecumseh and met his future wife at a dance when she was 17 and he was 22, and they wed within a year. The two were married for 63 years and had two daughters, Shelley and Laura (Bozeman) and many harrowing experiences, including trips to the emergency room for two serious electric shocks Richard received on separate occasions and for the time he smashed his hand while working on a school bus. “He was an adventure,” Florine said.

“He used to tell me stories about boot camp,” said his wife, of his training at Parris Island in North Carolina. “He’d be in line to eat, and some sergeant would say, ‘See that bird over there? Chase it!’ and there was no bird there. And he’d have to run and chase all around.” Florine said that years later, Richard told her there was something he wanted to do on their way back from a trip to Florida. The couple stopped to visit Parris Island. “We watched them training out on the field and he said, ‘Boy, has this place changed,’” she said.

One story Richard would tell was when he and his longtime friend and fellow Tecumseh resident, Don Maves, were stationed together in Korea and found a small boy upside down in a trash container, searching for food. The boy was with an older girl who was also destitute, so Richard and Don raised funds to ensure that the children were fed and able to go to school.

In addition to being a master mechanic and running Purkey & Sons Garage in Tecumseh for more than 32 years, Richard was also a Tecumseh Public Schools bus superintendent, a volunteer firefighter for the city for 25 years, a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and a community member passionate about helping others, and working on family history by documenting thousands of graves for others and creating memorials at Brookside Cemetery.

His wife recounted her husband’s interactions with their neighbors and how he built swings and structures in their yard for neighborhood children to play on. “These people thought the sun rose and set in him,” Florine said. “All the kids in the neighborhood played in our yard. I loved it.” “He was a jack of all trades,” Shelley said, and mother and daughter listed a fireplace mantel, tables, shelves and various other furniture he created out of wood, as well as being a key builder of Shelley’s house.

Their minister asked them once how they knew they were right for each other, and Florine told her, “We were at a dance and he asked me to dance, and he just fit.” Richard answered the same. “I loved him with all my heart and soul,” she said.

“He was a man of integrity, just honest, trustworthy,” Shelley said. “A very serving man. He would help anyone.” His wife recounted Richard’s sense of humor and ability to engage with people as prominent personality traits that endeared him to many. “He just was wonderful,” Florine said. “A very, very kind man.”

 

Jim Felton

Jim Felton doesn’t much like talking about himself, but fortunately others are willing to sing his praises. The Korean War veteran was recently honored for his service by Tecumseh’s VFW Post 4187 and American Legion Post 34 during Memorial Day ceremonies May 29 at Brookside Cemetery.

His youngest daughter, Vickie, newly elected commander of the VFW post, said her father was so focused on being responsible for the 21-gun salute that he wasn’t aware what was happening. “I didn’t even hear my name mentioned,” he said.

“I led him up to the stage so he would know where to go,” Vickie said. He was awarded the 2017 Patriot of the Year award, a United States flag and two plaques of recognition. “I was very surprised, very appreciative to get it,” Jim said.

“I was thrilled,” Jim’s wife Marilyn said with pride and a bit of emotion. “I think he deserved it. He’s worked hard for it.” She said the family has been active in working on behalf of the VFW and the American Legion. “We’re just overwhelmed.”

The West Virginia native came to Tecumseh in the summers after his sophomore and junior years of high school, stayed with his older sister and her husband and worked in the area, and returned after graduation. He met Marilyn, who grew up in Holloway, in 1951 on a blind date arranged by a friend. “I went, and that was it,” she said.

Jim enlisted in the Navy the same year. “We were married on December first and he went into the Navy on December third,” Marilyn said. His ship was based in Boston and he spent time overseas and in Japan and Korea. Their first daughter was born while he was in Korea. “She was about three or four days old before I knew it,” said Jim. At that time, Marilyn worked at the Holloway telephone company, and no messages could be sent out of the country due to security issues. “Fortunately my main operator, she had a few connections and finally got a telegram sent out to him,” she said.

He served from 1951 to 1953 and has been a member of the local VFW post and the American Legion for 62 years, holding various positions in the VFW including commander, chaplain and sergeant at arms. Since 2008 he has been in charge of a combined VFW and American Legion special ceremony, funeral and parade detail and has been involved in giving tribute to hundreds of deceased veterans.

The couple has been married 65 years, and has three daughters, including Vickie, Jan (Clewis) and Pam (Wells). Jan, and their five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, were also able to attend the ceremony, and only Pam, who lives in Texas, was unable to make it.

“I got pretty aggravated at (parade marshal) Gary Naugle,” Jim said. He wanted a program for the ceremony, but Naugle avoided giving him one due to information in it that would spoil his surprise, according to Vickie. “I asked him three or four times to get one,” he said.

“I think everybody ought to do it,” Jim said, about joining the Armed Forces. “You can get more out of a hitch in the service than you can get out of any other thing that you’re doing, because you’re intermingling with a lot of people, a lot of different kinds of people, age, nationality, doing different jobs. I think it’s great.”

The Feltons lived in the Tecumseh area until 1976 when the family moved to Tupelo, Mississippi, where Jim worked as a product engineering manager with the Tecumseh Products Company. In 2002 they returned and settled in Raisin Township.

According to his daughter, Jim has a garden and takes care of the lawn, among other activities. “He’s very, very busy,” Vickie said. When he reflected on his Navy years, he had mixed feelings about the experience that gave him an opportunity to travel, and also put him in positions he wouldn’t have chosen for himself. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for what I did, but I wouldn’t give you a nickel to do it again,” he said.

 

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Tecumseh Herald

 

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