From Ironwood to Ypsilanti

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2009,
Fall 2009
Original Images:



Author: Bill Nickels

Jim Soraruf was born in 1924 in Ironwood, Michigan. Accidental events created a trail for Jim to follow from the Upper Peninsula to Ypsilanti. He remembers growing up during the Depression as a wonderful life, “I never knew I was poor.” His mother came from Czechoslovakia and his dad was from the mountainous area between Austria and Italy. He was his dad’s only son and loved going trout fishing with hm.

Pearl Harbor was bombed when Jim was a senior in high school. He remembers going to church Sunday morning and hearing kids say Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. Representatives of the Marines visited his high school and showed a film in his ROTC class about becoming a Marine paratrooper. After their visit, he knew he wanted to be one.

After graduating from high school, Jim went south to Detroit to look for a job. He saw an ad for workers needed at the DeSoto plant at the corner of Livernois and Warren Avenues. He found many of his high school classmates at DeSoto and he was hired as a tool and die apprentice. In 1942, while working at DeSoto, Jim tried to enlist in the Marines. He was told to wait for the draft.

He remembers a group of 36 young men, most from Ironwood, who joined the service after the war started. Most of the group was able to enlist and most of them joined the navy. Ten did not come home from the war. His Ironwood High School quarterback on the football team was one of the ten. In addition to football, his classmate also played basketball and ran track.

His draft call to the Marines came early in 1943. It was off to San Diego for boot camp. He and all of his companion new recruits were afraid of the drill instructor. During boot camp, Jim started writing to a high school classmate who worked for Wrigley Gum in Chicago. She sent Jim a surprise pack of chewing gum. While chewing one of the sticks, the drill instructor disciplined him and made him smoke a cigarette with a bucket over his head. During review one morning, the drill instructor noticed that Jim’s fingers were spread while has hands were at his side. He was knocked down to the ground for that infraction. During another review, the drill instructor asked to see his bayonet. Finding some rust, he was ordered to eat the rust off of the bayonet. He thinks they were trying to toughen the new recruits up.

After basic training, Jim signed up for a shooting test to become a Marine paratrooper. During practice shooting, he shot well enough to be ranked as an “Expert.” During the final shooting test, his rifle clip jammed and he was unable to get five rounds off in the required time. As a result, he failed the test and did not become the paratrooper he dreamed to be. Since the Marine Corp was being deployed in the Pacific fighting the Japanese, the Corp re- alized they did not need paratroopers for their island-to-island offensives. The paratroopers were dropped from the Marines and the group was transferred to the Marine Raiders. Raiders were landed on an island from submarines to do guerrilla warfare before the main assault occurred. The jammed rifle clip during the shooting test likely extended his life.

After the Marines learned that Jim was earlier employed as a tool and die apprentice, they shipped Jim to Memphis for training as a me- chanic. After three months of training, he was shipped back to San Diego where he installed armored plates behind the seats of Navy and Marine Corsair fighters. He next moved over to North American Aviation in Inglewood for five weeks of B-25 engine training. The B-25 was a versatile two engine bomber that Jimmy Doolittle raided Tokyo with and the Marines used in the South Pacific. North American Aviation later became Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

After learning to be proficient with B-25 en- gines, Jim was shipped east to Cherry Point, North Carolina. A B-25 had a crew of seven, with four of the crew members cross trained as gunners and something else. With his train- ing in Inglewood, Jim became mechanic/top turret gunner on a B-25. His airplane flew patrol missions up and down the east coast until late 1944. After almost a year of uneventful Atlantic patrols, he was shipped back to the west coast and further west to the South Pacific. As General MacArthur promised, United States troops returned to the Philippines in 1944. The US flag flew over Bataan, Corregidor, and Manila after several months of fighting. Jim was assigned to an airfield southwest of Mindanao near the town of Zambongo. Military C-47 transport airplanes flew with a pilot, copilot, navigator, and mechanic. Jim was a mechanic on one of them as they flew equipment and military staff around the Philippines. Marine B-25s also flew bombing missions to nearby Japanese held islands from their airbase. The bombing missions were composed of three B-25s flying at night. He remembers one crew who did not return from their run.

When the war ended, he boarded a LST headed for China. A LST is a flat bottomed craft designed to land troops and equipment on assaulted beaches. On the way to China, they survived a storm with 70 foot waves and 132 mile per hour winds. In China, Jim was assigned to an air base servicing more B-25s and he continued to fly personnel and cargo. Discharge from the Marines was based on points earned from time being overseas, being married, and the number of medals one earned. After six months in China an injury earned Jim a trip to a San Diego hospital for another five months of treatments. He was finally discharged on August 16, 1946, one year after the War in the Pacific ended.

Seeking employment, Jim tried to return to DeSoto as a toolmaker, the factory where he worked before being drafted. Not getting a job there, he enrolled at Michigan State Normal College, but did not start classes. Jim says, “My father needed to give me a kick in the ass.” A cousin told him of opportunities at Kaiser in Ypsilanti. He went home to Iron- wood, married his high school sweetheart, and travelled to Ypsilanti to have eleven chil- dren and a toolmaker’s career at Kaiser and Republic Tool and Die in Van Buren Town- ship. On July 7, 1991, he married Marjean Rose. Together they live on Maple Street in Ypsilanti.

(Bill is an active member of the Ypsilanti Histor- ical Society, a regular contributor to the Glean- ings, and contributes a considerable amount of volunteer time to various YHS projects.)

Photo captions:

Photo 1: Jim Soraruf at eighteen years of age in his Marine uniform.

Photo 2: Jim (on the right) in 1944 in North Carolina. “...While chewing one of the sticks, the drill instructor disciplined him and made him smoke a cigarette with a bucket over his head.”

Photo 3: Jim in China (1945)

Photo 4: Jim and Marjean Rose on the Queen Mary (2009)