MARQUETTE - Shirley Moore remembers Alvar Liimatainen, Marquette's first known World War II casualty.
"I can say that Alvar was a very nice fellow," said Moore, a 1939 Graveraet High School graduate, two years younger than Liimatainen. "He was almost shy when I first got to know him, but turned out to be a lot of fun and always very thoughtful. ... Because he left for the service so early, I never knew him as a man, but I was sure that he would have been a good husband and father."
But Liimatainen didn't get the chance to be either of those things: He was killed during a bombing mission on Aug. 7, 1942, in the Pacific Theater. He was 22.
A three-foot tall wooden cross dedicated to the memory of Alvar A. Liimatainen was moved to a new spot in its home at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Marquette. (Photo courtesy of Loraine Koski).
He and the other Marquette military members who died during the war will be honored at a special ceremony at 7 p.m. Aug. 7 at Park Cemetery, said Loraine Koski, a local historian who is helping to arrange the event.
Koski has researched Liimatainen's life as well as the lives of many other WWII veterans. This is what her searching, including through past issues of The Mining Journal, has uncovered:
Liimatainen was born Dec. 4, 1919, in Deerton to Albin and Lempi Liimatainen and moved to Marquette as a young child, living in Piqua Location, which is in the vicinity of the present-day Marquette Senior High School - near where the Piqua Factory once was located. He had a brother Archie, who also served during the war, and two sisters, Aili and Agnes.
Alvar Liimatainen won a citizenship award in eighth grade and during high school, took part in musical groups, prom and Christmas party committees and track. He was also a ski jumper. He was employed at the Super Cash Way Market and the Hotel Northland as a bellhop.
The 5-foot, 81/2-inch tall Liimatainen enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Sept. 17, 1940, and graduated from the Army Radio Corps in November of that year. After additional training in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1941 and in Tampa, Fla., after the war's start, Liimatainen notified his parents on April 23, 1942, that he was in Australia.
A letter Liimatainen wrote to his brother on March 8 of that year, received months later, indicated he'd already seen a great deal of action, participating in 22 bombing raids, having been attacked by enemy ships 15 times and shooting down three enemy fighters.
The letter stated Alvar had been in a foxhole near his plane when an enemy raid hit the craft with a bomb, causing its own bombs to explode, sending Alvar and his crew to the hospital.
"I felt all right except for a little headache and I was a little jumpy at times," the letter said. "But ever since I've felt like I was in a fog, so they are putting me in the hospital for two weeks or so. ... I suppose you have been quite worried about me. Well, I was worried about myself, too, but we did manage to get out of Java and for that we are all thankful."
Sgt Alvar A. Liimatainen was killed during a mission on Aug. 7, 1942. Posthumously, he was awarded by order of Gen. Douglas McArthur the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy."
His parents were notified Aug. 12 that their son was missing in action. It would take several years before his death was confirmed and it wasn't until 1951, nine years after his death, that Liimatainen's remains were returned to Marquette for burial.
But Alvar Liimatainen was remembered as a good man by people in his hometown and people with whom he served.
His commanding officer, Maj. Felix Hardison, wrote to Liimatainen's mother, saying: "By virtue of his good nature, fine deeds and valorous conduct, Sgt. Liimatainen won the respect and admiration of every man in the unit and throughout the 19th bombardment group. Because he was such a splendid and valuable man, every officer and enlisted man feels a personal loss and bereavement. His name will forever stand high on our Roll of Honor.
"He served honorably and bravely in defense of his country. Sgt. Liimatainen was a splendid soldier, a brave man and our friend."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.