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WW II veteran picked as grand marshal for Royal Oak Memorial Day Parade

Royal Oak Memorial Day Parade (Royal Oak Veterans Events Committee/Facebook)

The vast majority of World War II veterans are gone now, but Art Fishman, 96, of Oak Park served in the U.S. Navy during the war and still keeps an active schedule that would likely tire men decades younger.

Fishman, among other things, will lead Royal Oak’s Memorial Day Parade as grand marshal May 29.

He was a below deck engineer on the USS Robertson in the Pacific islands when the war ended with the Japanese surrender Sept. 2, 1945.

“We were going from Iwo Jima to Okinawa,” Fishman recalled. “The captain told us we were lucky to be alive and said the war was over.”

Fishman was a young high school student in Detroit when he came home from the movies and saw his father listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech on the radio after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” the president said.

Fishman still remembers part of the speech.

“My dad had tears in his eyes,” Fishman recalled. “When I heard the word ‘infamy’ it really hit me.”

Fishman was too young to join the military at first, but went through training and served toward the end of the war. He was a fireman 1st class when he was discharged from the navy in June,1946.

“We had guys who gave their lives so we can sit and talk about whatever we want to talk about and have liberty,” Fishman said. “I was fortunate that I went through an area of the war where there was so much fighting and I was not harmed when so many were.”

He grew up with his wife-to-be. They married in 1947, moved to Oak Park three years later and raised their three boys. Fishman worked in home construction and real estate investments. He and his wife lived in West Bloomfield, but he moved back to their Oak Park home, which he still owned, after his wife’s death.

“I talk to young people now and they don’t even know what the word ‘infamy’ means,” he said. “We shouldn’t forget our past.”

Fishman was named the 2022 Michigan Veteran of the Year for his work with veterans and veterans organizations. Last year, he took part in the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial groundbreaking in Royal Oak and serves on its board, in addition to his other veterans related activities.

Fishman is also the past commander the Jewish War Veterans-Shapiro-Rose Post 510, and his fellow members will be on hand when he leads Royal Oak’s Memorial Day Parade

David Wandroff, chairman of the city’s Veterans Events Committee that organizes the parade, said the speaker at the ceremony after the parade will be Robert Middleton, who is the commandant of the Montford Point Marines of America, whose members are Black veterans first allowed to join the U.S. Marines in 1942. That move during WWII eventually led to the integration of the armed forces.

“There’s a lot of diversity in Royal Oak,” Wandroff said, “and we’re trying to portray that a little bit for the Memorial Day Parade … There are not a lot of World War II veterans left, and while we have the opportunity to honor them we should.”

Last year, local veterans of different ages and branches of military services joined together and walked in the parade. They will do so again in this year’s parade, Wandroff said.

This year’s parade starts at 9 a.m. on Main Street at Lincoln Avenue on Monday, May 29. The Memorial Day Ceremony immediately follows.

Hundreds of marches from up to 60 different groups take part in the parade, which is more than 100 years old and now draws at least a couple thousand spectators.

Royal Oak started a visually arresting Field of Honor event last year at the Centennial Commons downtown park.

One-hundred-and-eighty-nine people from Royal Oak made the ultimate sacrifice from the Civil War and World War I through the Korean and Vietnam wars. Their names are listed on the city’s granite war memorial.

Cards with details of each of the fallen service members’ lives are attached to each of 189 American flags on 6-foot poles that will be installed for the Royal Oak Field of Honor this year on the hill in Centennial Commons. Information includes each service member’s birth and death dates, burial locations, rank and branch of service, and the war they served in.

The Field of Honor is set to be in place from May 29 through June 5 to pay tribute to Royal Oak heroes who died in active military service.


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