More than a quarter of the residents at Samaritas Senior Living in Grand Rapids have served in one branch of the military. Samaritas takes great pride in saluting those men and women in special ways throughout the year. A symbolic flag is place on their doors, a veterans coffee time lets them reflect on their service and a pinning ceremony for special recognition.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, they invited us to sit down with two special men, Ernest St. Johns, a U.S. Marine who served during World War II and the Korean War along with Dale Borst, U.S. Air Force, who served from 1951-55.
Ernest joined the Marines on his 17th birthday in January of 1944, prior to finishing high school. He recalls being a Marine detachment on an aircraft carrier and toward the end of the Okinawa campaign sent back to the states for repairs. In August they were headed west again, two days out of San Francisco. He recalls the next campaign would be the invasions of the Japanese Islands where they anticipated half-a-million Americans would die in the invasion. Civilians were being trained and armed to fight; tens of millions of Japanese were expected to die. Just two days out from this all happening, he was standing watch as the captain’s orderly and at about 0200 hours, the communication’s officer came to see Ernest; he had a message for the captain. The message said that a bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima; World War II was over.
When asked about being fearful during his service, St. John recalled times at night, when magnesium flares would drop through the clouds. Night was turned into day and crews never knew if it was a Kamikaze. He also vividly recalls the time that the U.S.S. Franklin was on the horizon, explosions going off all around the deck. Seven hundred men would not survive.
In 1946, he finally got a chance to finish high school. But in 1950, just as he was getting ready to head off to college, his country needed him to serve during the Korean War. He was never called up to fight overseas, but his best friend from World War II was, and didn’t survive. Ernest misses him to this very day.
After his time in the military, St. John went off to college and then the seminary where he became an Anglican Priest. Just two years ago, on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul, he celebrated 55 years in the priesthood. Ernest and his wife spent a lot of time in retirement, volunteering during disasters, including 911.
He enjoys his coffee time at Samaritas with fellow servicemen, Dale Borst.
Borst joined the U.S. Air Force, serving from 1951-55 when the Korean Conflict was taking place. While he never got into actual combat, the big thing when he joined was the experimentation with air to ground communication teletype. This allowed him to go to many different places and see all walks of life.
One of the biggest things the military opened his eyes to, was not people’s difference, but rather, their similarities.
After the military, Borst went on to do a lot of architectural work along with working with mentally challenged children and adults. His time in the military, he says, really helped.
To Dale and Ernst, along with all who serve, thank you very much for your service and sacrifices.