MANISTIQUE – Frederick “Sonny” Minor has been attempting to be part of the Upper Peninsula’s Honor Flight since he first heard about it in 2011. On May 1, he got his wish, and boarded a plane, along with 75 other well-deserving veterans.
Minor, 90, was the only veteran from Schoolcraft County to take part in the flight’s fourth “mission” to Washington, D.C. The U.P. Honor Flight, a local hub of the National Honor Flight Network, transports WWII veterans to see memorials dedicated in their honor. Minor, a lifetime member of VFW Post 83, signed up to serve the nation in 1942, the same year he graduated from Cooks High School. “I didn’t get drafted,” he said. “The reason I signed up was because you had your choice of what branch you wanted and I picked Army Signal Corps – that was a real interesting one to go into.”
After entering the service in December, Minor said he traveled to Missouri to attend a school.
“They teach you how to do stuff,” he said. “I took up radio teletyping, and then I passed that.”
After almost one year in Missouri, he attended another school in New Jersey until he received his orders to head out to the South Pacific island of New Guinea. Minor served 37 months total in the service, 24 of which were on the island.
Upon being discharged from the army, Minor said he took home more than just his experience – he left with a new name.
“My name was Russell going in, and coming out, I found out my birth certificate was ‘Frederick Russell’ instead of ‘Russell Frederick’,” he said. “My mother always called me Russell, and I graduated out of high school as Russell Frederick.”
Minor also took home various decorations and citations from the Army, including: the Victory Medal, the American Theater Ribbon, the Asiatio Pacific Theater Ribbon with one bronze battle star, three Overseas Service Bars, one Service Stripe, and a Good Conduct Medal.
Returning home as Frederick, Minor started his own garage business in Cooks and was married in 1948. He retained that business for 15 years before moving on.
“My dad had part of a station out on U.S. 2 on the corner of Cooks,” he said. “He retired and I bought him out … I finished making my living there.”
During his time owning the business, Minor said he and his wife won multiple trips from larger corporations, such as AAA, to the Bahamas, Las Vegas and Hawaii. The couple had three children – Suzette, Gwendolyn, and Fred.
Since moving to Cooks with his family in 1926, Minor still calls the area his home, and was delighted when he heard about the U.P. Honor Flight. He called the organizer of the flight, and was put on the waiting list. Eventually, Minor was called to be part of the organization’s fourth flight.
Among the 76 soldiers and 76 “guardians”, Minor boarded the flight on May 1. The day started early in the morning, and the veterans ate their breakfast on the plane during the approximately 2.5 hour flight.
Upon arriving at the Ronald Reagan airport, Minor said a tribute was awaiting them.
“When we came into the airport, they had fire trucks shooting water over top of the airplane,” he said. “They had some kind of light shining on it to make it look like a rainbow – it was really pretty.”
The veterans then boarded busses and were escorted to their destination by police vehicles.
“They gave us a nice recognition,” Minor said.
Upon arriving at the memorials, Minor said he was most touched by the Iwo Jima Memorial, which is set in the South Pacific, where he served.
“They had a lot of memorials for the European war, but everything of mine was in the South Pacific,” he said.
The other memorials were also near and dear to his heart, he explained, still more were just interesting to see.
“They had some monuments there … the soldiers looked just like they were real,” he said. “It was kind of odd to see that.”
As the day slowed down, Minor said he and his guardian, Paul Makela, of Gwinn, traveled with the rest of the veterans for one last stop.
“We had a full schedule that day until about six o’clock in the evening,” he explained. “Then we went to watch the changing of the guard – that was really nice to watch.”
When the veterans boarded the plane for their return trip home, they were given numerous commemorative items, such as CDs, coins, a jacket and hat – even a comforter made by area Girl Scouts. Minor also took part in “mail call”, where letters written by family members and others prior to the flight are distributed to the veterans.
“I got an envelope plum full of letters,” Minor said. “I had one little girl from Green Bay, Wis. who wrote me a little note.”
With the experience fresh in his mind, Minor said he is appreciative of the flight’s organizers, volunteers, and other veterans.
“They had a lot of work put into it,” he said.