MARQUETTE — Five area men recently were added to the Marquette County Aviation Wall of Honor at Sawyer International Airport.
Their accomplishments span civilian and military careers, decades and wars. They join more than 80 men and women on the wall. They did what most of us only dream about: they flew.
Richard R. Harvey
Born in Lackawanna, N.Y., Rich Harvey grew up in Negaunee. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in June of 1962 and was stationed at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base before going to Vietnam as a B-52 wing gunner. Harvey also was on Air Command staff in Vietnam during two deployments, from 1969 to 1970 and from 1971 to 1972. He logged 666.4 hours of combat in the air, flying 146 combat missions over North Vietnam from bases in Thailand, Okinawa and Guam. Bombing runs were frequent and long; while stationed in Guam, Harvey said a run to a target in Vietnam could take 15 hours.
Over his long career, he flew every model of the B-52, one of few pilots to do so. After the war and a stint as a recruiter, he returned to Sawyer in 1981. Harvey, now 63, retired from the Air Force in 1985 as a chief master sergeant. He left the military with honors including two Meritorious Service Medals, six Air Medals, two Air Force Commendation Medals, the Vietnam Service Ribbon and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with a Bronze Palm.
His degree was in business and accounting, so after retiring from the Air Force, Harvey managed local banks. He is now the CEO of Superior Iron Range Community Federal Credit Union, where he’s worked since 1997.
“I think it’s an honor and a privilege,” Harvey said of his induction to the wall of honor. “I knew a lot of guys on that wall, and it’s an honor to be in that category.”
Reino “Ray” Niemi
Ray Niemi grew up in Skandia and graduated from Michigan Technological University in 1959. He served on active duty with the Air Force from 1959 to 1963, and remained on reserve duty throughout an active civilian aerospace engineering career. Working for aerospace companies including Brown Engineering, United Space Boosters and McDonnell Douglas, Niemi contributed design and development work on NASA programs. He worked on the Saturn, Apollo, SkyLab and space shuttle programs, and from 1978 to 1997 continually moved up in the industry, managing design for the SpaceLab project and heading the work on SpaceHab modules.
Niemi received NASA commendations including the Apollo Achievement Award and the Skylab Achievement Award, and retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1986 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1997 and has since passed away.
Arthur Bernard Benson
Originally from Michigamme, Art Benson was stationed in Italy with the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944 during World War II. He entered the Army as an infantryman, but wanted to fly, and became a gunner for the Air Corps. He flew as a left waist gunner in a B-24 Liberator bomber, also called the “flying boxcar,” he said.
According to his combat performance record, which he still has, his combat missions included bombing runs over Romania, Austria, France, Germany and Czechoslovakia, targeting strategic spots like oil refineries and railroad bridges.
From May 13 to Sept. 1 of 1944, Benson flew 50 combat missions in the 449th Bombardment Group, 719th Bombardment Squadron. He earned six Battle Stars, and the Air Medal with three Oak Clusters.
He completed his 50th mission the day before his 20th birthday, he said.
“We got in 50 missions and none of us got a scratch. We were lucky. We were just lucky,” said Benson, now 83, noting Axis pilots considered it a good day if they brought down an Allied bomber, and many bomber crews did not return.
After the war, he returned home, and sailed the Great Lakes on steamers for awhile before spending 19 years working on the railroads in the Upper Peninsula. He now resides at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette.
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Robert Phillips grew up in Ishpeming and Harvey. He joined the Army in 1967 and was trained as an aircraft mechanic at Fort Eustace, Va. Eight weeks later, he went to Vietnam and was stationed in Plekeu, where he was crew chief and observer for the 219th Reconnaissance Aviation Company.
Phillips flew and maintained L-19 Birddog recon planes, and completed 28 combat missions during the 1968 Tet Offense, spending more than 500 hours in the air. He earned the Air Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Army Commendation Medal, along with the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross, leaving the Army as a specialist.
When Phillips came home, he joined the Marquette City Fire Department, retiring as a captain. He now lives in the Harvey area.
Emil John Kaurala
Emil Kaurala was born in Mass City in 1924, and enlisted in the Army during World War II, training as a motor mechanic. He served in the south Pacific, and completed his service in 1946. Kaurala came back to the area and worked as an auto mechanic, but wanted to work on airplanes.
He fulfilled that desire in the 1950s when he became a partner and founder in an air service which later became Northern Airmotive. He later became an aircraft mechanic, and a valued member of the aviation community.
For 30 years, Kaurala provided air mechanic service to Marquette County planes and pilots. His accomplishments also include establishing the first local air ambulance service, flight instruction and maintenance, and a Marquette-to-Lansing charter service. Kaurala resided in Negaunee Township until his death in 2006.