Tag Archives: World War Two

Meet James

It isn’t often that a Resident Spotlight can also serve as a Behind the Music, but when it comes to telling the story of Oakmont Rochester Independent resident James, you can’t have one without the other. Music has always been a part of his life, and whether it was using his piano skills to entertain Canadian Troops during the war, or forming a band with other residents at the age of 91, one thing is for certain: for James, the beat always goes on.

Born on the east side of Detroit in the mid-1920s, James’ courtship and marriage to his wife Gloria plays like a story from a classic song. Both graduates of Denby High School, and even dating a few times during those formative four years, the couple wouldn’t marry until later in life. “We knew each other at Denby, and then we went our separate ways,” he said of his future wife. “She married and I married, and after 30 years, my wife died and she got divorced. We had stayed in touch all those years, and now we’ve been married for 38 or 39 years.”

Before marrying his first wife and going to college, James served his country by enlisting in the Navy Air Force. “Incidentally, I really got interested [in the Navy Air Force] because of the movies,” he said. “I used to watch all of those movies with John Wayne and the flying and all of that. You know, I was 16 or 17 years old, and I thought ‘oh boy, that’s what I want to get into!’”

A Master of Metallurgical Engineering

After his service, James graduated from Wayne State with a Masters’ Degree in Metallurgical Engineering, which led him to a career working for many major manufacturers including some of the Big Three. After retiring, James and Gloria, now in their early 90s, decided they wanted to downsize and be comfortable – prompting them to move into Oakmont Rochester Independent in the spring of 2017. It was here during the course of normal dinner conversation that James realized he was surrounded by like-minded musicians – and that his musical career might just get a second act.

“We have a table of five that, since we got here in April, we sit with the same five people: my wife, myself, and three other fellas,” James said. “We found out early on that one fella plays the drums, one plays the guitar, and I play the piano.” An instant kinship was born.

Getting the Band Together

Not only did the three men have their musicianship in common, they also had some similar performing experiences when they were younger – not to mention a similar taste in music. After comparing their shared histories, they decided to get together for a jam session, and have since made plans to continue practicing at least once a month. Their planned repertoire includes Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and whatever other pieces of sheet music James has laying around in his collection.

When not practicing with the band or sharing a meal with his wife Gloria, you can most likely find James at the piano, leading a Happy Birthday singalong for residents who are celebrating In his short time at Oakmont Rochester Independent, he has become the resident Maestro – taking requests from neighbors and providing the perfect accompaniment for every new memory made.

Meet Forrest

With more than 16 million Americans serving in the armed forces during World War Two, many stories exist of the heroic efforts of soldiers and sailors, marines and pilots who bravely put themselves in harm’s way to help further the cause of freedom. And with those stories come tales of service and sacrifice that you don’t often hear – of specialized united and covert missions. Forrest’s story is one of those, and his work serving in the Army Air Force helped ensure an allied victory in the second war to end all wars.

Born in Detroit in the fall of 1919, Forrest, a resident of Oakmont Livonia, spent his early childhood just blocks from where he lives now. In the early 1920s, his father purchased an acre of land in a subdividing community known as Livonia and built a house for his young family. It was here Forrest and his parents would live until a job transfer took them down south to the Magnolia State.

“I was around 16 or 17, a junior in high school, when my dad got transferred from here to Jackson, Mississippi,” Forrest said. I graduated high school in 1938 and then went to Mississippi State College for two-and-a-half years until the war came along. In 1941 in November, just before Pearl Harbor, I enlisted in the Army Air Force – the Army and Air Force were together at that time.”

Eyes on the Skies

After enlisted, Forrest was sent to Weather Observer School, where he and the men and his unit learned to read the skies. This work took him all over the country, from Texas to Illinois, eventually landing him back in Grand Rapids for a short time before heading down south to the Caribbean, and eventually, Natal, Brazil.

While the job of observing and predicting the weather is now commonplace on nightly newscasts, in the 1940s, it was a progressive and evolving science – and one that the Army was determined to master. Forrest and the men of the 4th Weather were charged with forecasting the weather across the Atlantic Ocean and over to North Africa – a major front in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern theater of the war.
Armed with this essential information, the Army Airforce was able to safely schedule and fly bombers down from America to a base in Natal, and eventually across the ocean to land in Africa – a task paramount to stopping the allied powers and winning the war. “A lot of people don’t know that’s how they got the bombers over there,” said Forrest. “Most people have never even thought of it.”

“I Know Them, and They Know Me.”

After serving in the Army more than four years, Forrest left in January of 1946, and ended up back Livonia working for Evans Products in Material Control – but his heart was still in the skies. “I made one great big mistake after [the war] and didn’t stay with the weather,” he said, chuckling. “Everyone, I guess, makes one great big mistake in their life, and that was mine.”

Soon after returning to Livonia, Forrest married his wife of many years, Margaret, and along with his own two children, raised two stepchildren as his own. “She had two children and I raised them as mine,” he said, slightly choking up. “And they still call me ‘Dad.’ And I know them, and they know me.” And just like Dad, his children, Heather and Forrest, haven’t ventured too far either, living close by in Garden City and Livonia.

Though he’ll soon turn 98, Forrest is still passionate about making others smile, telling a joke, and his favorite sport: golf. If you walk into Oakmont Livonia and see a group of seniors laughing and smiling, chances are, Forrest is the reason why.