I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jeffries at this year’s Memorial Day parade. As I walked past him, the words “World War II” on his hat caught my eye and I had to do a double take. Fighting back tears, I stopped to thank him for his service. He must have noticed the look of disbelief on my face because, although he doesn’t look it, he announced that he was 96 years old. I then watched as several other people had the same reaction as I did. You almost feel compelled to shake his hand because he is such a big part of this country’s history and a generation that is disappearing fast.
Joseph Beard Jeffries was born in Royal Oak, MI on April 10, 1922 to Carl & Eleanor Jeffries. One of 6 boys! After moving around a bit with his family, he came back to Michigan after high school and settled in Garden City. He soon landed a job at the Ford Rouge Plant as a journeyman apprentice. But soon after, WWII began and Joe enlisted as a Navy Seabee. Originally stationed in Rhode Island for training, Joe eventually went to California and then Hawaii.
During Joe’s 26 months overseas, he remembers three “close-calls” that nearly cost him his life. Before arriving on land, 3 kamikazes began shooting at the ship he was on. He was surrounded by barrels of gasoline and knew if anything struck close to him, that would be the end of his life. As one kamikaze was within 100 yards of him, the naval gunner struck one of the engines and the plane blew up. Joe recalls debris falling everywhere.
Another time, a trailer that Joe and several other soldiers were on rolled over. When help arrived, they were taking the critically wounded first. Joe was left because he was believed to be dead since they could not find a pulse. Just as the first round of wounded soldiers were loaded up, Joe let out a groan. When someone heard him, they unloaded a less critical soldier and loaded Joe into the vehicle. He was partially scalped and spent many weeks in the hospital. Several other soldiers did not survive the accident.
Joe spent most of his time overseas on the switchboard. One day he was called out to repair a broken line. When the repair was completed, he radioed to base that he was on his way back. Joe remembers feeling like he tripped, but that he got up and continued walking. When he got back to base the guys saw him and said “Where have you been?” and pointed out the blood on his shirt. Joe had actually been shot, and had likely passed out from shock. He laid there for about 3 hours before eventually coming to and making his way back to camp, not realizing what had happened. Reality set in when another soldier told him it was a good thing he passed out after being shot because the shooter probably thought he killed him. If he would have gotten up, the shooter would have shot again.
Even Joe admits that those were his “three strikes”. Joe became a civilian again on October 26, 1945. The war had ended and Joe came back to Garden City. Within a week, he got his old job back at Ford. But after they tried to put him on midnights, Joe left and began working at Edison. He recalls that all the girls that worked there were single and, with a big smile on his face, called it a “bachelor’s paradise”. I guess it’s no surprise that this is where he met his wife, Mary Hyde. They married in August 1950 and had seven children: Nancy, Sharon, Joe, Janet, Diane, Patrick, and Tim (who he lovingly calls “the caboose”).
The Jeffries family eventually moved to Redford in 1977 and Joe retired from Edison in 1984. After 67 years of marriage, Mary passed away on January 23, 2018. Joe still lives in the home, and although he doesn’t drive anymore, he still cuts his grass! Before leaving Joe’s house one afternoon in June, I asked “What’s your secret to living so long?” Joe responded, “Just keep breathing.”