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Heroism is recognized

November 12, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Their mother kept all the letters her sons wrote from the midst of the action in World War II.

Dick Contois was in the U.S. Army in Europe, while his youngest brother, Lee, was in the Navy in the Pacific.

"She worried terrible, but she was proud," Dick Contois said of his mother, Arta Contois. "I wrote to Mother once in a while." Lee, however, was a more frequent correspondent as his daughter Barbara has found as she's reading through the boxes of letters her father sent to her grandmother during the war.

Article Photos

Lee, left, and Dick Contois served in the U.S. military during World War II. Lee holds the box of letters written by the brothers from the war zones to their mother, Arta. She saved every letter. Together the two made the U.P. Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., in late September. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)

"Their mother kept every letter," Barbara Contois said. "In one, my dad wrote that he had more clothes once he was in the Navy than he did when he was at home."

Dick and Lee were not the only Contois brothers to serve their country during WWII: Brother Arden was also in the military, but was stationed stateside.

Dick and Lee made the trip to Washington, D.C., with the Upper Peninsula Honor Flight on Sept. 27.

The Contois family - including father Wilbert and a total of eight kids - lived for many years in Sands Township before moving to Marquette in 1938, when the boys were still young.

Dick, who's almost 90, graduated from high school in 1940 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. He was sent to Texas for basic training to be a mechanic who worked with gliders.

"I was in Africa, Sicily, England, France and Germany during my time in the service," Dick Contois said. "England was my favorite of the countries I visited."

Lee, 87, joined the Navy when he was 18.

"My boot camp was at Great Lakes (in Illinois)," he said. "It was great. It was a good learning experience."

Some of the places Lee visited during his service were Okinawa, the Philippines, New Guinea and Guam. Did he have a favorite stop?

"Well, I really liked Honolulu," he said with a grin.

He served on Landing Ship Tank 891 as an electrician second class and survived through some interesting situations.

"While we were in Okinawa, near the beach, we ended up with three holes in the bottom of the ship and got towed off. We couldn't get the anchor up," Lee said. "The flotilla pulled out without us. We met a cargo ship that filled our deck with fog oil."

Smaller boats with fog generators would be supplied with the oil to lay out smoke.

"That would be a screen so the Japanese planes couldn't see our ships. We'd hear 'bogeys at 20 miles. Bogeys at 10 miles. Bogeys overhead ...' We were happy for the smoke screen."

What are the brothers' strongest memories from World War II?

"Her," Dick said, smiling as he pointed at his wife, Jean. "We met at a carnival in England. We were married Jan. 13, 1945, in Lester, England, and our son Norman was born there."

Lee Contois well remembers other American troops.

"I felt sorry for the soldiers serving in the jungle," he said. "They had rats and reptiles to deal with and only had K rations, nothing hot to eat. That really bothered me.

"They'd come on our ship and have at it like it was Christmas dinner when they got to eat. We had a dry bed and three meals a day. We were lucky on our ship."

Both brothers returned to America in 1946.

Dick and Jean had four children. He worked as a carpenter for Spear and Sons and at K.I. Sawyer.

Lee and his wife, Dorothy, had three daughters. After the war Lee returned to Spear and Sons, where he had worked before the war. Later, he worked for Marquette Concrete, then the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad, where he was a locomotive engineer for 31 years.

The Honor Flight trip was special to the Contois brothers.

"I have never been on anything so great in my life," Lee said. "Everyone was so kind."

Dick added: "The people were so amazing when we came home. I could not believe it when we got back. There were so many people there to greet us (at the Delta County Airport). It was wonderful."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.



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