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Vet shares Navy tales: Memories, with a sense of duty, respect and integrity

The American flag. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)
November 20, 2022

Don Rhule truly enjoys talking about his experiences serving as a flight engineer with the Navy.

Like the time a pilot flew their plane underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

“That was a thrill,” Rhule said as he shared stories and photos alongside his wife, Anne Suomi-Rhule.

They live at Shenango on the Green in New Wilmington, where they met at Bible study.

“We were known as the ‘hand- holding couple’ in this building until he got a walker,” she said.

They were both widowed by their first spouses and have been married for nearly eight years.

Suomi-Rhule is always interested in hearing more about her husband’s time with the military, especially since they met later in life.

Her first husband, John, served in the Army, she added.

Rhule, who turns 99 next month, is proud of his military service, when he served with the VPB-18 Patrol Bombing Squadron, an affiliation emblazoned on the Navy baseball cap he often wears.

The Pittsburgh-area native joined the Navy at the age of 18 soon after high school, leaving behind a job at Union Switch and Signal in Swissvale.

He got his orders on Aug. 4, 1941, and would go on to serve for about three years as part of a flight crew aboard a ship that spent time in the South Pacific.

“They were searching for submarines,” Suomi-Rhule said.

She asked if they had ever found a submarine. Rhule recalled tracking what they thought was a sub for quite a ways.

“It turned out to be a 55-gallon drum,” he said. and it was empty.

As for the Golden Gate Bridge stunt toward the end of World War II: Rhule did not know the pilot was going to fly underneath the San Francisco landmark, so it was quite a shock.

Almost 80 years after the war’s end, Rhule still has his log books and a map of his crew’s flight path in the South Pacific.

The map was put together by his son, the late Steve Rhule, who served in Vietnam as an Army pilot, was a pilot for Continental Airlines, and helped run the Grove City Airport.

Rhule earned multiple medals and returned to Union Switch and Signal after the war, working there for a total of 43 years before retiring.

He and his first wife, Eileen, raised three children, Steve, Patty and Don, and they have three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Suomi-Rhule is happy to report that he is in relatively good health, and they enjoy visiting the Veterans Affairs facility in Butler, where a volunteer interviewed Rhule about his military service.

Both of them took up stained glass making after a workshop was held at Shenango on the Green; quite a few few pieces made by Rhule decorate their windows and the facility’s dining room.

Rhule also built 100 tables and benches along with other residents to donate to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“My time is well spent,” he said.

He advises new military members to listen and obey the rules.

He agreed with his wife that a good way to honor Veterans Day is to thank a veteran and take the time to listen to their stories if they are willing to share.

“I knew that when I met him, he was a really good man,” Suomi-Rhule said.

Rhule’s daughter Patty recalls asking him last year about the best times of his life, and he immediately said that he loved being in the Navy.

He has always embodied the best values the U.S. military imparts: A sense of duty, respect for others and integrity.

“He set a shining example for my brothers and me. I am proud to be his daughter, every day,” she said.


(c) 2022 the Allied News

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