Melvin Earl Westerbur was born to Theodore and Dena Westerbur, on a homestead along the Missouri River, near Garrison, North Dakota, on March 23, 1920, the final day of a three-day spring blizzard. He passed away peacefully in his Canton, Michigan home, under the devoted care of his family and Henry Ford Hospice, on June 16, 2013 at the age of 93.
Melvin was the beloved husband of Irene for 66 years. He also leaves behind daughter Joyce Westerbur (Tony Davis), son Ted Westerbur (Patricia), and daughter Nancy (Dr. Thomas Palmer). His grandchildren are Derek Westerbur (Sunny), Ross Westerbur (Wendy), Andrew Palmer, and Bethany Palmer. Great-grandchildren are Adam, Alec, Aaron and Aidan Westerbur, and Makenna and Brenna Wallentine. He will be missed as well by nieces and nephews, and a large number of cherished friends and neighbors. " Mel "had three older siblings: Theodore, Freda (Beers), and Anna (McCartney); all preceded him in death.
Mel was a decorated WWII Army Veteran who served in Normandy, Northern France, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater. On Christmas Eve, 1944, Mel participated in the rescue of survivors of the sinking of the troopship Leopoldville, torpedoed in the icy English Channel outside of Cherbourg harbor; years later he was made an honorary member of the 66th Division at one of their reunions.
As someone able to speak German, he was at times assigned to work with the German POWs. A non-smoker, he would give his cigarette rations to the prisoners. For this and other kindnesses, one of the prisoners created a beautiful sewing box as a gift for Mel's mother. The sewing box folded out into multiple levels, with perfect dove-tail joinery; it was made from scraps of wood, using only shards of glass for a tool.
Mel was honorably discharged after 4 years of service in 1945. Mel was a Diesel Mechanic (and company barber) for the Army during the war. His skills were recognized with eventual promotion to sergeant.
Following the end of the war, he married the beautiful Irene Kevelighan, who had worked at the Willow Run bomber plant, riveting wingtips on B-24 bombers, a real "Rosie the Riveter". He supported their young family by continuing to use his considerable talent as a mechanic, maintaining the large paving machinery creating the new lnterstate highway system. Later on, he worked as a locomotive diesel mechanic for Ford Motor Company until he retired. Always drawn to learn, he earned a G.E.D, and became a licensed refrigeration technician; he was also a skillful welder. He was always keenly interested in history and read extensively. When the children were quite small, at bedtime he would bring in his guitar and sing some sentimental songs, or read some famous poems, which they were encouraged to memorize.
Following his retirement from Ford, Mel traveled to Europe on a personal pilgrimage. He visited a number of military cemeteries where many of his WWII comrades are buried. He visited the family of the instructor of the German refresher course he had taken in preparation for the trip. They took him to the nearby wall with guard towers, which at that time separated West and East Germany – no one suspected then that it was soon to fall. He connected with members of the Westerbur family still living in northwest Germany. The Westerbur relatives held a get-acquainted gathering for him. He was greatly amused when one small boy asked him where his gun was: after all, everyone from America must be a cowboy and have a gun. One of the family members there was a cousin who had served in the German U-Boat service, and had survived: only one in five of German WWII submariners returned. Truly a remarkable image: Mel crossing the North Atlantic in a convoy, with cousin John lurking below in a submarine, neither aware of their connection. Cousin John's wife was disapproving of the film "Das Boot", commenting that it was "schmutzig".
Having grown up on a farm, Mel had a lifetime connection with the natural world. His green thumb was universally acknowledged, particularly when it came to roses, and later, clematis. He loved animals, particularly dogs, and those who abused animals were the targets of his rare, but in this case, sharp criticism. His love of animals, gardening, and music continue strongly in the lives of his family.
In retirement, he enjoyed woodworking, producing turned wooden vases and pen casings as gifts. He experimented with various wood combinations, colors and grains. He used his mechanical, analytical, and inventive capability to modify the power tools he had on hand to accomplish a particular task he would have in mind.
Mel possessed a mischievous sense of humor, which could surface unexpectedly. Completely unpretentious himself, that humor could lampoon hypocrisy, the self-absorbed and self-righteous. Asked by the hospice nurse about his smoking history, he replied deadpan "Well, I haven't started yet!"
His faith defined and structured his daily life. He would often be heard humming or singing a hymn that happened to be on his mind at that time, as he would go about his tasks and activities. He loved having anyone play on the piano hymns he would request, and spending time in fellowship. So many have expressed what an inspiration he was to them, his kindness, thoughtfulness, helpfulness so appreciated.
This member of the "Greatest Generation", a "remarkable man" (in the words of his doctor), will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved him.
The family will receive friends for a Visitation beginning at 4:00pm on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at Harry J. Will Funeral Home 37000 Six Mile Road, (east of I-275 and Newburgh roads) Livonia, Michigan 48152.
The visitation will conclude with a Funeral Service to celebrate his life at 7:30pm in the funeral home Tuesday evening. The Service will be led by Matthew Jensen.
Melvin will be laid to rest in Parkview Memorial Cemetery with Military Honors provided by the United States Funeral Honors Team on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 11:00am.