BELDING, Mich. — Milt Rackham has been living in West Michigan with his wife Carol for several decades at this point in time, though he still lives with the things that happened during his time fighting overseas in the second World War.
“I know I did what I needed to do for our country at that time,” the now 95-year-old Milt Rackham told FOX 17.
He has been running his furniture upholstery business out of a workshop attached to his Belding home since the 1960's. But long before that, he spent 5 and a half years serving his country.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Milt was just 17-years-old and months away from graduating high school.
"I went to the service officer and I told him I was 18.. He says, Milt you can't fool me, says, remember I was your Scoutmaster. I know how old you are,” Milt said.
He ended up sticking around to graduate, along with just 3 other men remaining. The rest had already signed up for the service and been sent overseas.
Milt went through basic training near Boise, Idaho. He remembers a particular statement made by a man named Jacob just before he graduated from training.
“There was a couple of gentlemen sitting there, and he says, how many of you think is going to come home alive? I never did forget that because I had a lot of bad things happen,” Milt said.
He never spoke much about those bad things that happened after he came home. Despite raising 7 kids, a dozen grand kids and several foster children, he really only told his story once, in a book he wrote in 2013.
The book is called PT Boat-81 Still on WW2 PTS Nightmare Patrol.
When FOX 17 sat down with Milt last week, he opened the book to a page he says was the most difficult to write. There is a photo of the PT Boat he served on with a massive gash ripped in it's hull, the result of a skirmish with 2 Japanese destroyers.
“I go tell the skipper, I say you know we’ve got 2 destroyers on each side. He says, the hell we do," Milt recalls.
"He says well, we’re going to have to be ready to get the hell out of here because speed is the only thing we have. “
But this wasn't his first time under pressure from the enemy. Milt was also involved in the Batlle of Kiska, an effort by the allied forces to reclaim an island off Alaska from the Japanese.
“The Japanese had it made because they holed in on a mountain in a cave, ya know. And so if you'd come to them, they can shoot you out,” Milt said.
He was there on the island for some time. For about a week there it was his job to move the fallen soldiers onto boats so they could be taken back to the States to be buried.
“You've got a job to do. You concentrate on it, you do it,” Milt said.
Eventually he would end up in the South Pacific, being seriously injured while guarding a United State munitions ship.
Milt recalls a projectile that “landed right between my legs, made a hole in the floor here... just missed enough that it went inside of my feet.”
"The was was over that day for me," he said.
But before Milt would be able to come back home, he would end up spending over a years time in a New Guinea military hospital.
“I was hurt bad and wasn't healing. Other guys get better and go home... that’s a hard feeling,” he said.
When he did finally make it back home to the United States, he said only his physical wounds had healed.
“When I came home I was a basket case, I really was," Milt said.
"I didn’t want to do nothing, no-one to bother me, I didn’t want to bother anyone else.”
But as Milt was finishing his thought, his wife Carol butted in jokingly saying, "until he met me, and now he’s bothered all the time.”
Carol helped him start a new life. Eventually Milt would discover his second calling in doing furniture upholstery work.
Finding peace and a renewed sense of purpose in West Michigan, Milt is proud of his service, but acknowledges openly that he is still dealing with the harsh realities of what he had to do.
Still, Milt says if he had the chance to go back in time, he would serve his country all over again.
“To me I feel I was just doing my job, sometimes a hard job, but I was doing it.”