Memorial Day: JCK Honors Jewelry Industry Vets from World War II

I was flipping through JCK magazine’s 1942 archive earlier this month in search of cool ads for my weekly blog feature when I stumbled on a section of the magazine I hadn’t noticed before.

“They’re in the Army Now,” the headline shouted in big, bold letters. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I began to read about jewelers who had either been drafted or volunteered for military duty in World War II.

I come from a family with a long, rich military history. My grandfather served in World War II, several of my uncles served in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air National Guard, and my younger brother currently serves as a reservist in the U.S. Air Force. I had tears of pride in my eyes knowing that they were connected to such an honorable tradition.

I could think of no better way to honor the service of all veterans by tracking down some information about those in the jewelry industry that served in World War II. I’ve included the copy from 1942, as well as any additional content I could find from other sources.

If anyone has a special message for a family member or friend that has served in the military during any of our nation’s conflicts, please feel free to comment or email me at dford@jckonline.com.   

Enjoy and have a happy—and safe—Memorial Day.

JCK News Editor J.R. (Rod) Keagy, New Canaan, Conn.

“Turn about is fair play,” according to an old proverb, so perhaps it’s only fair that the man who has been writing the items for this department should now become the subject of one of them, himself.

J.R. (Rod) Keagy who for the past several years has been news editor of The Jewelers’ Circular-Keystone is now Private J.R. Keagy, of Co. A, 110th Infantry, APO 28, Camp Livingston, La., having been inducted into the U.S. Army on March 10.

Rod was originally called for physical examination and possible induction several months ago but because of a minor defect in sight was at first placed in a deferred classification. The recent relaxing of physical requirements moved him up to Class IA last month, and now he’s a high private in the rear rank.

In his business life, Rod has always been a good soldier who not only did faithfully and well whatever job was assigned to him, but also, in Army parlance, often performed “over and above the call of duty,” and we predict that it won’t be long before he’ll be wearing chevrons, and then officer’s bars.

According to his obituary, Keagy served as a combat infantryman with the 77th division in the battles of Guam, Leyte, Luzon, and Okinawa. After he returned from Japan with occupation troops after the war, he edited the newspaper of the S.S. Ernie Pyle, named after the highly regarded war correspondent. It was with Keagy’s battalion on the island of Ie Shima that Pyle was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Keagy was a gardener and a lover of all outdoor sports, hiking, swimming, and fresh and saltwater fishing. He remained physically active until his 96th year. He died April 21, 2010.

The Michael Boys, New Haven, Conn.

Having four sons in the Army is something of an achievement. Having four officers for sons is an even more remarkable achievement, but it is a fact that Irving Michaels, New Haven, Conn., may well boast of.

The four lads, all possessors of remarkably fine educations, are pictured above in order of seniority: First Lieutenant Howard Irving Michaels, Yale ’33 and the father of four daughters, is now in the Corps Area Service Company, Fort Williams, Maine; First Lieutenant Arnold Lester Michaels, Yale ’35, is now in the Infantry at Fort Meade, Md.; Second Lieutenant Irving Michaels, Jr., University of Pennsylvania, ’43 (joined before completing his course), is now in the Communications Divisions, Camp Edwards, Mass.; and Second Lieutenant Roy Allen Michaels, Yale ’37, Los Angeles School of Optometry, B.S. and O.D., ’36 University of Southern California, ’39 is now in the Signal Corps, Fort Benning, Ga. All four of the lads received military training while prepsters at Culver Military Academy and the three eldest were actively engaged in the Michaels Jewelers retail stores throughout Connecticut.

Irving Michaels, Jr. died in 2003 at the age of 83; he was the president of Irving Michaels & Co. He was also a 24 Karat Club member and past president of the Boston Jewelers Club. He received the distinguished Shipley Award in 1985 for his untiring commitment to AGS standards and to increasing AGS membership.

Reade F. Tilley Jr., Clearwater, Fla.

Though we declared a new policy of brevity for this column in our last issue what with practically everybody and his brother joining the services, we are going to let the bars down for young Reade Tilley, Jr., son of the Clearwater, Fla., jeweler Reade Tilley.

Tilley was cited in this column in May for bagging an Axis plane over the English Channel. We were premature. Late dispatches state that the 23-year-old officer in the American Eagle Squadron has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor in recent air battles over Malta. Credited with destroying four enemy aircraft and almost certainly downing a fifth, Tilley thus becomes an Ace in full standing. The office Bryon, slaving many an hour with dictionary and slide-rule, finally emerged with the following, which is, we believe, the first  (and probably last) poetical plaudit to appear in this column:

Not one to dilly-dally,

But rather, zoom and dive,

The total Tilley-tally

Of Axis planes is five.

In battle he’d not falta,

O’er Channel he bagged one,

And then four more at Malta—

Egad! He’s just begun.

According to his obituary, Tilley attained a total of seven confirmed aerial victories and was one of the first two American pilots to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1942, he transferred to the United States Army Air Corps and by 1944 he was promoted to Major. After the war, Tilley was involved with the Berlin Airlift and, later, as director of public information, Tilley was on the team that helped General Curtis LeMay build the Strategic Air command. While working for LeMay, Tilley returned to his pre-war passion, auto racing, and became a driver for the SAC team. Col. Tilley also served as director of information for Pacific Air Forces during the Vietnam War. After retiring from the Air Force in 1971, he worked as a consultant, was a member of the Fighter Aces Association, and also was a very active member in the Eagle Squadron Association, serving a term as its president. Working with that association, he was instrumental in the design and building of the Eagle Squadron Memorial, in Grosvenor Square, London. Reade F. Tilley died in 2001.

Harry D. Henshel and Harry B. Henshel, New York

Harry D. Henshel, secretary of the Bulova Watch Co. and a member of its board of directors, has been commissioned a major in the U.S. Army Air Corps and has already left for service. Nay more, the Henshels are a military family—son Harry B. is now a second lieutenant in the field artillery.

Harry D. Henshel was the founder of the United States Committee Sports for Israel in 1948. He was a member of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee from its inception in 1936 until his death in 1961, serving as its chairman in 1956. He also served as Bulova’s vice president. He died in 1961.

Harry B. Henshel was the former chairman and chief executive officer of the Bulova Watch Corp., died June 29, 2007 at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y,  after a long illness. He was 88. In 1948 Henshel developed the Bulova Phototimer, the first automatic sports timing device. He was also active in jewelry industry charities and other humanitarian, educational, medical, and cultural causes. After his uncle Ardé Bulova’s death in 1958, Henshel succeeded him as president at the age of 48, adding the title of chairman of the board in 1974, at the retirement of long-time company chairman General Omar Bradley.

Eugene H. Valle, New York City

No novice at things military, former New York City diamond merchant Eugene H. Valle joined the regular army for a three-year hitch in 1903, served in Mexico in 1916 and spent 19 months in France in the infantry during World War I. Placed in the Reserve Corps after Armistice, he has now been ordered to active service as assistant to the Port Quartermaster, Brooklyn, with a rating of Lieutenant Colonel. 

Jerome B. Wiss, Newark, N.J.

Jerome B. Wiss, president of Wiss Sons, Inc., Newark, N.J., jewelers, has been commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps. An active aviation enthusiast since he served as a flyer and instructor in World War I, with the rank of First Lieutenant, he has held a private pilot’s license for many years. Long active in business and political circles, he is a representative in the New Jersey Assembly, has held various offices in Newark and the Oranges, and in 1939 became the 50th person to win the degree of certified gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America.

Walter Galli, New York

Walter Galli, contributing artist to The Jewelers’ Circular-Keystone and creator of the “Strangely Enough” series of cartoons of odd facts about jewelry, deserted his brush for a musket April 7, and left for Fort Dix, N.J., where he was inducted into the Army. Around the office there is no doubt that he will outshine cartoonist Private Breger in no time at all.

I couldn’t find an obituary for Galli, but I was able to hunt down some information. He wrote and provided artwork for the comic strips Big Little Things and Stranger Than Fiction in the 1930s, and also worked on several DC Comics before the war. He died in 1974 and rests in Farmingdale, N.Y.

I asked Ralph Destino, chairman of Jewelers for Veterans, a new organization devoted to finding jobs in the jewelry industry for returning servicemen and women, to send me some thoughts he had for this year’s Memorial Day. This is what he sent:

Memorial Day should remind us to pay proper tribute to our military veterans, even when their service was in an “unpopular” war. For too many Memorial Day weekends, we forgot our Vietnam veterans, and, sadly, we seem to be repeating that forgetfulness today with those men and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. The issue this time is jobs and the appalling fact that the unemployment rate for these veterans is double the national average. On this Memorial Day, let’s remember to help them find the meaningful jobs that they richly deserve.

For more information on how to support U.S. military veterans, check out Jewelers for Veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project, and Disabled American Veterans.