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‘Lucky Johnny’ Milroy, 95, reflects on life in second book

John Robert Milroy came out of World War II combat unscathed and went on to lead a productive, successful and healthy life. But certainly not a boring one.

Milroy wrote his first book over a decade ago, called “Milroy Was There.” It focused on his experiences in L Company, 376th Regiment, 94th Infantry Division of the United States Army during World War II.

“All wars are horrible for all men in all armies. Politicians must learn this.”

That’s a quote from his second book, “Old Man’s Memories — Lucky Johnny,” published this year. Milroy’s second book is a brief memoir touching on some of his army memories, but also many more experiences he went through as an adult, including meeting the love of his life, and working at a bank in Alpena for many years.

“God has been very good to Joyce and me and our family,” Milroy wrote in his introduction. He and his wife have four grown children and a family of 21 so far.

Courtesy Photos John Kelton, on left, and John Milroy, freshly enlisted in the Army during World War II.

Milroy wrote the book at age 94 with these words in mind, “Keep It Interesting, Stupid.” He hopes those who read his 114-page book will find it interesting enough to finish. He turned 95 on July 7.

“This book will include some of my European World War II experiences, my experience with alcohol abuse, my attendance at two Masters golf events, University of Michigan football games, mental health issues, religion including Fr. Coco, Jesuit Priest in New Orleans, and more,” Milroy stated in the book’s introduction.

Originally from Kalamazoo, Milroy graduated high school in 1943 and signed up for the military, where his eyes were opened to racial segregation down south when he went to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“We northern boys learned about ‘Whites Only’ signs in Georgia at drinking fountains and toilets,” he wrote.

He asked a black comrade to join him for lunch, and he was shocked at the treatment received.

Joyce Petersen Milroy and John Robert Milroy

“In the south, a black man was not permitted in a whites-only restaurant,” Milroy wrote. “We barely sat down and a white waitress came to our booth and told my black friend to leave. Here we are. He is a soldier on an army base with every right to be there. I do not understand, but I have no power to do anything, so naturally I left with him.”

While in the army, Milroy battled on the frontlines, watching many of his brothers-in-arms either sustain debilitating injuries or fall to their deaths. He estimates that he is in the roughly 5% that made it through the war without sustaining any injuries. Many men got frozen feet, which often led to subsequent amputation. Others were seriously injured by gunfire or worse. This is part of the reason Milroy added the subtitle “Lucky Johnny” to his second book.

“During World War II, I wasn’t saying prayers to God because I didn’t know anything about God at that point,” he said.

He started going to Anglican church after being married in the church.

“Religion is so damn easy. God made it so easy, and … from my standpoint, and I’m 95 — you think I’m getting ready to see him,” he said with an audible smile in his voice. “He just said to you and me, ‘Be nice to people.’ It’s that simple. Be nice to people, what color their skin, whether male or female, whatever .. That’s number one. Number two is just as easy — ‘When you’re getting ready to make a decision, any decision, small decision, big decision, any decision, think of me first,'” he said, referring to God.

From left to right are Kerry Redman, John Milroy and Charles Remington, at a reunion of the 94th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. Milroy has attended 17 of these reunions, held all over the country.

Desires such as money, things, fame, and power must be cast off to focus on God’s will and what’s best for other people, he said.

“That’s all anybody needs to know about religion,” he added. “So that’s my sermon for today.”

Milroy married Joyce Petersen on the same day that John F. Kennedy married Jackie Bouvier — Sept. 12, 1953.

He worked in banking for 20 years in Kalamazoo, then spent three years at Nazareth College, then worked a few years in banking in Ft. Dodge, Iowa.

Milroy moved to Alpena in 1974 to work at Peoples Bank, from which he retired in 1990 at the age of 65. All told, he worked in banking for 38 years, and including two years in the Army, he worked for 43 years total.

The Milroys lived in a turn-of-the-century three-story home at 141 S. 2nd Ave. on the corner across from Grace Lutheran Church in Alpena.

“When we arrived in Alpena in 1974, the local economy appeared to be doing well,” he wrote. “The cement plant employed about 1,400 and Besser 600, Fletcher Paper over 400, and Abitibi maybe 500. A strip mall was opening and a Detroit company opened a mall in 1980 with a new Burger King built nearby. Alpena General Hospital was enlarging and JC Penney was still downtown, but was moving to the mall.”

Oh, how times have changed.

Two days after Christmas 2017, John and Joyce Milroy set foot into their new apartment in Saginaw, just a few minutes from their son’s home.

Milroy said he wrote and received letters from three presidents — Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — and a president’s wife, Laura Bush.

Milroy’s writing style is direct and to-the-point, with a little dry humor thrown in here and there. Reading “Old Man’s Memories — Lucky Johnny” is exactly like sitting down with this sharp, witty and endearing man for a cup of coffee. It is pleasant and easy to read. Like a cool fall breeze stirring up the colorful leaves, your heart will be filled and you’ll notice a smile forming on your own face as you venture into the world of “Lucky Johnny.”

He handed out 2,200 of his first books.

“You can’t imagine how much fun I had giving those books away,” Milroy said.

He added that his son has encouraged him to sell his second book, so that’s what he’s doing this time.

For more information or to purchase a copy of his book, call Milroy at 989-355-1166. He hopes to inspire others to write their own stories, and find a trusted friend or family member to edit their unique books.

Both Milroy’s books were published by Sarge Publications of Alpena.

To reach Lifestyles Editor Darby Hinkley, call 989-358-5691 or email dhinkley@thealpenanews.com.

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