World War II Veteran Gilbert Myllymaki recognized with Honor Flight

By 
Melody Montgomery
Special to the News-Argus
Friday, November 11, 2022
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Gilbert Myllymaki served in the United States Navy from 1945 – 1947 in the South Pacific. In September this year, he flew with his granddaughter Jenny Albert on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Jim Swoboda

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inety-five-year-old veteran Gilbert Myllymaki typically lives a quiet life in Belt. He enjoys a good nap and a game or two of cribbage at the East Side Bar, where they have a crib tournament every other week. His daily routine recently changed, and the spotlight shown on him. He was on local television and interviewed several times after returning home in September from an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where he was recognized with other conflict-era veterans. 

“It was weird,” said Myllymaki of all the attention on him when he returned. Friends, family, boyscouts and even a television crew met him at the airport.

While in Washington, D.C., Gilbert Myllymaki received another surprise. Montana Congressional Representative Matt Rosendale honored him at Montana’s Pillar with World War II medals. One medal is the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, and the other is the World War II Victory Medal. 

It was Myllymaki’s first trip to Washington, D.C.

“It’s too fast moving for me,” said Myllymaki of D.C.

He went with his granddaughter Jenny Albert, who checks in on her grandpa daily. She also filled out the application for the honor flight and reached out to several politicians regarding the medals, and Rosendale was the first to reply.

“Since we were already in the process of trying to get his medals, I figured if he was going to be in D.C., it would be a perfect chance for them to give them to him there,” said Jenny Albert. 

It was also her first trip to Washington, D.C. There was a lot of walking. She pushed her grandpa in a wheelchair a total of 8 miles that day visiting the monuments in Washington, D.C. 

“There were more monuments than you could remember,” said Myllymaki.

Their tour group in Washington, D.C. was composed of three busloads of veterans. There were many additional busses in D.C. that day, carrying around 400-plus veterans total.

“They call it Super Saturday,” said Jenny Albert. “Altogether in D.C. that Saturday there were 400 Honor Flight vets.” 

Out of all the World War II vets, Gilbert Myllymaki was the youngest there.

“Maybe that’s because I volunteered rather than be drafted,” said Myllymaki.

 

Service in 

South Pacific

Gilbert Myllymaki served in the United States Navy from 1945 – 1947 in the South Pacific. He knew that, with the draft, he would have to serve in the military, so he volunteered for the Navy.

“I had a step brother in the military already. He was writing home that the Army ain’t the place to go, so I thought the Navy would be better if I could get in there before they’d take me by the draft, so I volunteered … When you’re in the Army you have to pack your lunch bucket. When you’re in the Navy, you don’t have to pack your lunch bucket,” said Myllymaki.

Their ship was narrow, only 32-feet wide. It held 32 crewmembers, Myllymaki said. 

“It was pretty rough riding,” he said while looking over old photos.

His bunk on the Navy ship was a hammock with a mattress. They were tight quarters. His head was about six inches from the next bunk, he said. He received a bag of belongings with every thing he would take on the ship. 

“It was a pretty heavy outfit,” he said.

Even his bed was in there. The mattress was held on the outside. 

“It was quite a change for a dry land farmer,” Myllymaki said of his time in the South Pacific. “One time we were out on the ocean for 12 days. I didn’t eat – only coffee and raisins. It wouldn’t stay down so I thought ‘Why should I eat?’”

Once he worked though his seasickness, he found he had a hidden skill for barbering.

“We had a guy aboard the ship that was cutting hair. Then he got transferred. He had a full set for cutting hair, and he sold it to our gunners mate,” said Myllymaki. “He thought he was gonna make money, but he didn’t cut many’s hair. They never came back. So I talked him into selling his hair cutting kit to me, then I started charging 25 cents a head. Even the officers were coming to me. I could cut that good of hair I guess. From that day on I never drew my pay. Then when I went to go and draw it they said you’ve got to draw the whole thing. Well, what would I do with it out on the ocean? So I had somewhat over $700 when I got discharged,” said Myllymaki who still has the haircutting equipment. 

He was in Guam when the bombs left and the war ended.

“We never got into any gunfire,” said Myllymaki. 

He and his fellow crewmembers were headed for the Aleutian Islands when World War II ended. They had aboard the ship foul weather gear/winter clothes.

“We had just got started that day, and the war ended so they threw all that foul weather gear overboard. There was some good stuff there,” said Myllymaki.

It was hard to see such good winter gear tossed out to sea.

“I was wondering if I could hide one,” he said, “but there ain’t no way you could hide one.”

Finnish Homesteaders

Gilbert Myllymaki’s family was one of the original homesteaders in the area. Myllymaki is a Finnish name. It translates to Mill Hill. His dad emigrated from Finland. Gilbert Myllymaki is the oldest of his two siblings and the last one living. He was born in the Highwood Mountains on the ranch.

 “Grandpa Myllymaki took a homestead here in the Highwood Mountains. They couldn’t get any more land. That was my mother’s side of the family. My dad’s side also homesteaded up there on Willow Creek. He tried to get more land and he couldn’t get it. So he sold his place to Richard Maki, and he went to Geyser. There you could get a homestead in your wife’s name and your own name. Then there was what they call a Quick Claim. So he bought that Quick Claim out.” 

Gilbert Myllymaki met his wife, Delores Koskela, when he was taking a horse home that had a colt. He was custom haying at the time.

“When I was taking that colt and mare home, I met her on the road. She was taking coffee to her grandfather, her father and family. She might have been twelve years old then.”

When he returned from service, he went straight to work for his uncle Walter Myllymaki in Stanford. He was glad that he made it home, he said.

He did not ever return to Hawaii.

“My wife wanted to go there and I told her I’d spent enough time there,” said Myllymaki, but the couple did travel to other places, including Finland, Jamaica and Mexico.

Myllymaki speaks Finnish. Delores was also Finnish. Her last name translates to “rapids.” 

“When I started school in the first grade, I came home and told my mother ‘They don’t talk like we do.’ I had to learn English. It don’t take long for a young kid to learn English.”

Kiitos for your service, Gilbert Myllmaki, and for sharing your story.

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