Local vet marks 50th year of retirement from Army

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Escanaba resident and World War II veteran John D’Antonio looks at a collection of photos taken throughout his life. D’Antonio celebrated his 50th year of retirement from the military earlier this year

ESCANABA — Earlier this year, Escanaba resident and World War II veteran John D’Antonio celebrated a unique milestone — his 50th year of retirement from the military.

“Not too many people can do that,” he said. In honor of both this milestone and Veterans Day, D’Antonio spoke about his time with the Army and his unusually long retirement.

While his service in the Army has taken him around the world, D’Antonio is a native to the Upper Peninsula. He was born in Ironwood in 1926, and entered the Army shortly after he graduated from high school.

“I graduated from Ironwood in ’44,” he said. He went through basic training at Camp Robinson in Arkansas, and also had 16 weeks of infantry training there. After a short leave at home once his training was completed, D’Antonio went to California; from there, he was sent to the Philippines in February 1945 and was assigned to the 33rd Infantry Division.

“I participated in the Leyte and Luzon campaigns,” he said. During his time in active combat, he became the leader of his squad.

When World War II ended, D’Antonio was in the city of Baguio on Luzon Island. He said that he, along with his fellow soldiers, was shocked to learn that the U.S. had used nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“It wasn’t even heard of then,” he said.

After the war, D’Antonio was sent to Japan for a year as part of the U.S. military’s occupation there. He returned to the United States in 1946 and was discharged at that time. He then reenlisted and spent two years based out of Fort Sheridan in Illinois as a military escort at the funerals of soldiers who were killed in World War II.

“After that, in 1950, I was assigned to Escanaba in the induction station,” he said. He worked there until 1956, when he was assigned to a military police unit in Germany — an assignment that ended sooner than he expected.

“I ended up with tuberculosis when I was over there,” he said. In 1957, he was sent back to the United States for medical treatment.

After being hospitalized for more than a year, D’Antonio returned to active duty at Fort Lewis in Washington. There, he worked at the fort’s personnel center — and married a woman he had met in Escanaba, who was then known as Geri Bjorkquist. John and Geri got married in January 1959, and are still married today.

From 1960 to 1965, D’Antonio worked as an Army recruiter in West Allis, Wis. He was then sent back to Germany to work at the 28th Army Postal Unit, a position he served in until June of 1967.

“That’s when I retired,” he said.

D’Antonio has been retired ever since. While he had planned to work at the post office in Escanaba, he reconsidered after his mother had a stroke and was placed in a nursing home in Ironwood.

However, D’Antonio has done some odd jobs in the area since he retired.

“I was working as a handyman,” he said. He also worked at the U.P. State Fair and as a janitor at Escanaba’s Army recruitment office.

Over the past several decades, D’Antonio has kept busy riding his bike, watching football, and working on his house near Escanaba’s water tower. He was also one of the passengers on the inaugural U.P. Honor Flight.

“I was on the very first one,” he said. He and Geri have volunteered as helpers for this program ever since.