Patriotic program

OCBA to offer royal salute to local vets

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

A man who survived one of the most harrowing experiences of World War II will be among the featured speakers at a special Veterans Day ceremony presented by the Oakland County Bar Association on Friday,  Nov. 9.

The program, which will begin at 4 p.m. in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Auditorium and is open to the public, also will include brief remarks from veterans of the Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq/Afghanistan wars, according to Mike Schloff, a past president of the OCBA who is chairing the event.

“The heart of the program will be a series of short talks from veterans of each of the major conflicts,” said Schloff, a decorated Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War. “We are particularly honored to have a Navy veteran, John Heller, who was aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis when it was sunk in the Pacific after delivering the atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan. His story will give us all pause for thought.”

The Indianapolis, a Navy cruiser, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945 shortly after completing its top secret mission that eventually led to Japan's surrender and the end of World War II.  Nearly 300 crewmen went down with the ship, while the remaining 900 sailors were cast about in the Pacific awaiting rescue. Heller was among the 317 crewmen who survived the four-day ordeal in the ocean, while nearly 600 others died of exposure, dehydration, and shark attacks, according to historical accounts of the Indianapolis tragedy.

Following Heller to the podium at the November 9 program will be Billy Powers, a sergeant in the Marines during the Korean War. Powers fought with the Marines in the 1951 Battle for the Punchbowl, one of the bloodiest offensives during the Korean War.

Also scheduled to deliver remarks at the program are Michael Zehnder, a Vietnam War vet who is the director of Public Services for Oakland County, and Sean Wilson, a deputy with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department and a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

Judy Cunningham, president of the OCBA and corporate counsel for Oakland County, will present a special proclamation in honor of area veterans. She will be accompanied by her father, Dr. Harry Kems, who served as a Navy lieutenant during World War II. A retired dentist, Dr. Kems has been active with the St. John's Armenian Church in Southfield, where he spearheaded efforts to “design, create, fund, and build a veterans building on church grounds” a number of years ago, according to Cunningham. In September of 2011, he also participated in a “Pride and Honor Flight to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. with a group of Armenian-American veterans,” Cunningham indicated.

Adding to the flavor of the event will be the posting of colors by the Huron Valley AMVETS Post 2006 Color Guard; the singing of the National Anthem by Jill Richardson of Birmingham Public Schools; the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by Oakland County Circuit Judge Michael Warren; and an a cappella performance by the Men of Grace from Grace Gospel Fellowship in Pontiac.

“The Veterans Committee of the OCBA has worked hard to make this program happen,” said Schloff, a former chair of the committee. “To my knowledge, there has never been a county celebration of this type in Oakland County and we want to make it an annual priority from this point forward. We welcome the public to attend, offering everyone an opportunity to express their thanks for those who have served and are serving our country.”