It’s Memorial Day 2016. Reflection and BBQ’s. I see a lot of memes asking to remember “this day isn’t about the BBQ”. If you think about it, a lot of personal history gets discussed and shared over food, so maybe it does go hand-in-hand. We’ve covered a lot of veteran’s stories thus far in this blog. This post hits a few categories:
Gone – a park that was decommissioned or no longer exists
Survivor – someone who received a namesake park / playground while living
Back in the day, the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department had a somewhat staunch rule about naming parks. Specifically they were named for those persons who had died; persons who contributed significantly to the City of Detroit and/or highly decorated war veterans. Exceptions were sometimes made. There are only a handful of parks where the person was living when they ‘received’ their honorary park. Joseph Pagel falls into this category. Lyle Maxton Skinner, John Yaksich, Robert Simanek and Leroy Messmer were other veterans with this honor as well as a few non-veterans. Continue reading “SK2c Joseph Lloyd Pagel Park 78”
As a youth, Bill Messmer [1903-1973] found his love of music while attending Detroit’s Eastern High School. Musically gifted, he directed and organized a 16 piece orchestra as a teen. His mother recollected how Bill would purchase his sheet music at the Jerome H. Remick music ‘house’ in Detroit. One day, she ran the errand of picking up his sheet music and had an encounter with the famous composerRichard Whiting, [nice story at that link] who managed the desk as a fledgling composer. Continue reading “US Navy Rear Admiral William Leroy Messmer – Park 77”
So from what I hear and overhear.. I think this park got an upgrade or new signage over the summer. There is always a lot of confusion about how to spell the Yaksich name. Someone actually thanked me for spelling it correctly. Ahhh.. it’s just the small things that make me happy. I haven’t trolled through this neighborhood lately so I will have to make it a destination to take another photo. ag
ONE MAN BLITZ
This neighborhood park is sandwiched between Anglin and Brinker Streets north of Nevada on Detroit’s east side. Unfortunately, it is devoid of all signage to point to the heroics of John T. Yaksich, a courageous WWII hero. Conant Gardens, a historic and permanent African American Detroit neighborhood is nearby. See photos below.
By February 9th 1943, newspaper headlines were screaming:
JAPS ADMIT DEFEEAT IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS; the nation could partly thank Private Yaksich.
As a Marine in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division at the Guadalcanal, he became known as “The One Man Blitz” for singlehandedly capturing Japanese weaponry and his courageous fighting which earned him the Navy Cross.
At his own will and under heavy fire, Yaksich overtook a Japanese machine gun operator and subsequently captured his weapon. Before killing the gunner, he saw hand-to-hand combat with two other Japanese soldiers and bayoneted them both.
Figuring he may become overpowered by additional enemy soldiers, he returned to his own front line and refreshed his cache of weapons/ ammunition. Secretly, he worried about being reprimanded by his platoon leader for leaving camp without permission.
“I knew that if I had asked to go they wouldn’t let me,” commented Yaksich. “So I told my buddy to give the word when I was .. to far to be called back to camp.” Upon his return, Yaksich requested volunteers to help him carry the enemy machine gun back to the front lines. A friend named Billy ‘Red Dog’ Van Orden stepped up to assist. The Marines returned to the field and captured a second machine gun Van Orden had spotted. Recalled Yaksich, “Van Orden shot the gunner. We picked up the machine gun and ran. Snipers tried to get us, but we were lucky. Van Orden was magnificent.”
John T. Yaksich was born on April 7, 1922 and was released from service in November 1943. It was a hard road returning to civilian life but he made it through WWII and felt lucky in doing so. He died on January 23, 1991. He is one of the few Detroiters to be honored with a memorial park during his living years.
Tucked behind and to the side of Denby High School is the Lyle Maxton Skinner Memorial Playfield. Stocked with newer equipment, this playground is attractive and services the neighborhood off Duchess and Morang on Detroit’s eastside.
Lyle grew up on the west side of Michigan. Married to Jennie and living in Flint, he enlisted in the US Navy on June 15, 1937. During World War II he served aboard the Aircraft Carrier the USS Hornet. As a Watertender First Class, Lyle worked in the ship’s engine room / boiler room. October 26, 1942 marked the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands located in the Pacific Ocean north the Solomon Islands. In this battle, the US military was playing a game of catch-up against numerically superior Japanese forces. The Japanese were heavily bombing ships in the area. During the attack, the USS Hornet was being violently shaken by bursting bombs and Skinner was ordered to abandon ship. Instead, Lyle entered an oil-filled elevator pit and rescued a trapped shipmate who would have died otherwise. The USS Hornet later sunk.
Lyle’s courage and heroism earned him the honor and award of the Navy Cross. Unlike many war heroes, Lyle lived through this experience and was able to accept the medal personally. He returned to the west side of Michigan and died in the small village of Leroy, Michigan in 1984.