“Between ten of us, we had keys to everywhere on that ship.  We made wine on that ship, and they never found the distillery.”

Marion Graff reminded me of an 18 year old in a 92 year old’s body.  He was very cavalier with me during my entire visit, immediately making me feel a part of his life.  “Come on in, sit down,” he instructed immediately as I entered his home.

Marion was born on August 19, 1922 in Ironwood, Michigan – along the border of the Upper Peninsula Michigan and Wisconsin.  His family moved to the Grand Rapids Area when he was three years old.  In 1942, he chose to put college on hiatus and enlisted in the United States Navy.  He was assigned as Pharmacists Mate Second Class on the USS battleship West Virginia.

I could tell Marion was proud to have been on the West Virginia.  He led by telling me that the ship had just been serviced and updated before deployment, making it the most advanced in the fleet.  Its battle stations could hit any coordinates given within range with only one test shot for calibration.  The ship was so valuable and kept at sea so long it once ran out of fuel and had to be re-loaded while still at sea.

During the course of 1943 – 1945, Marion traveled 71,615 miles on the USS West Virginia, which spent 223 days in combat, sank one Japanese Battleship, and shot down 23 Kamikaze / Japanese planes.  The ship spent a total of 3,000+ 16″ projectiles, approximately 30,000 shells, and over 200,000 rounds of small caliber shot.  That totaled 5,500 tons of ammunition.  Losses included four killed due to a Kamikaze attack, four in observation planes, and four others.  31 men were wounded during its mission, with two men MIA.

Though it was a serious tour, he admitted it was what you made of it.  In his words:

When Marion returned to Grand Rapids, he re-enrolled at Aquinas College, finishing out a Business and Finance degree.  He went on to work, first for John Hancock Insurance, then started his own venture as a General Agent selling insurance.  He sold his business to Steenland Insurance Agency after retirement and disinterest in running the business (though not disregard) from his five children.

When asked about the youth today and the upbringing of his grandchildren, he responded, “It’s a whole different world.”  He worry’s about their ability to make their way in the world, especially due to the affects of the credit card.  “They should have never invented it,” he said.  He’s shocked at how many spend far beyond their ability, compared to his upbringing at a time when one spent only what he had.

He also is concerned with the culture of the College Degree.  “It’s coming to the point where if you don’t have that piece of paper that says ‘Degree’ on it, you’re lost.  You’re going to work for an $8.50 or $10 job.”  What to do about it, well that’s a whole other conversation.