Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 24, 2017

A helping hand

By Linda Wenger, The Journal | Feb 19, 2013
Courtesy of: Orris family Eldon Miller of Kalona is one of several area veterans Mike Orris of Washington squires around at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iowa City. Orris works virtually every Tuesday from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the hospital. In 2010, he received the President's Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama. Orris has volunteered for 5,850 hours. He used to go on Thursdays, too, until the price of gasoline increased.

Mike Orris knows a lot of people — a lot of people— and most of them he got to know during more than five decades of volunteerism.

Orris put in more than 48 years as a volunteer for the Washington County Fair. He has volunteered more than 50 years for Handicap Fishing Day. And Orris's face is very familiar to the veterans who go to the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in Iowa City.

When he managed the fairgrounds, he was paid $2,000 a year, but he never kept the money. He donated back to 4-H'ers to add onto the amount of premiums they were paid at the fair.

"They didn't get much money — $ 2 or $3," Orris said.

He was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of his volunteer work.

During Handicap Fishing Day, Orris’s job is to hand out pop. There is one person who fishes who is only allowed one can of pop. Orris keeps track of that one can because more than that can make the person sick.

Orris remembers one participant who was so excited to catch a small fish that she fell into the pond at Marr Park — she had to be “fished out.”

Tuesdays find Orris in Iowa City at the VA Hospital. He arrives by 5 a.m. and leaves about 4 p.m.

“I make the coffee at 5 o’clock,” he said, “and they start calling me about 5:15 and leave at 4 p.m. — 11 hours and that’s enough for an old devil. I’m pretty worn out. The only pay you get is your meal.”

“They” includes anyone who needs a specimen taken to the lab or a patient who needs to move from one department to another. He said there are nine floors and 42 stations that he stops at.

“I used to go every Tuesday and Thursday,” Orris said, “but gas go tso high that I only go on Tuesdays now.”

In 2010, Orris received the President’s Award for his volunteer work at the VA Hospital. He received a letter signed by President Barack Obama. At that time he had volunteered 5,000 hours. He’s up to 5,850 hours now.

Orris also plays “Taps” at funerals for veterans.

He blew the bugle when he was in the Navy during World War II. He enlisted in the Navy in 1944 when he was 17. He was involved in the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. His brother and his best friend were killed in the war.

He now uses a recording of “Taps” and holds a bugle to his mouth at the funerals. He once drove to Atlantic, Iowa, to play “Taps” for someone he thought lived in Hills.

“Howard, he was in bad shape,” Orris recalled, “and he had no family around. I was in ICU when he passed away. He asked me right before he died.”

Orris didn’t hesitate to make the 300-mile drive to Atlantic to fulfill his promise to Howard.

Orris and his wife are planning their last trip to Hawaii to visit the grave of his brother who is buried in “the Punchbowl,” the national memorial cemetery for the Pacific on Oahu. His son is taking them.

After the war, Orris flew from Guam to Iwo Jima to visit his brother’s grave. He carries a photo of the grave in his billfold.

The son of an Ainsworth man, Hugh Morris, was a colonel and he was in charge of Iwo Jima at the time. Col. Morris took him to the top of Mount Suribachi, gave him a rock and let him carve his initials in the rock. He wonders if it is still there.

At a later time, his brother’s remains went to Hawaii where he rests today.

The Rotary Club honored Orris in 1992 with an Outstanding Service Award. He received a plaque from the Chamber of Commerce for outstanding service in 2005.

Orris is still volunteering and he’s still getting to know people, probably a lot of people.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Mar 05, 2013 03:23
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Mar 04, 2013 11:43

ālea iacta est

During the Roman republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-east and Italy proper. In 49 BC, supposedly on January 10 of the Roman calendar, G. Julius Caesar led one legion south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he (deliberately) broke the law on imperium and made armed conflict inevitable. According to the historian Suetonius, Caesar uttered the famous phrase ālea iacta est ("the die has been cast"). Suetonius's account depicts Caesar as undecided as he approached the river, and attributes the crossing to a supernatural apparition. The phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has survived to refer to any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase "passing the point of no return".

Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Feb 22, 2013 11:41

New book at the Washington Library-  You will get your reward in Heaven, Mike.

A Higher Call
by Adam Makos


Five days before Christmas in 1943, over the skies of Germany, Charlie Brown, a 20-year-old farm boy from West Virginia, encountered Franz Stigler, a 29-year-old German flying ace.

Brown, the pilot of a B-17 bomber with a crew of nine, was on his first mission over Germany. Stigler, in his Bf-109 fighter, already had scored 22 "victories," or kills of enemy planes.

Brown's plane, nicknamed "Ye Olde Pub," could easily have been number 23. It had been damaged so badly its guns no longer worked. The four-motor plane was limping along on only an engine and a half.

The remarkable story of how and why Stigler decided to spare Brown's plane is reconstructed in A Higher Call by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander.

It's a story that's been told before, but never in so much detail.

Casual readers may grow impatient with all the personal and military background about Stigler, a former commercial airline pilot turned reluctant warrior. It takes 155 pages to get to the minute-by-minute reconstruction of what occurred on Dec. 20, 1943, when Stigler chose not to down Brown's plane, but to simply salute his enemy.

But the buildup is worth it to appreciate the life-or-death drama that's based on interviews with both Brown and Stigler, as well as military records.

Stigler was one kill away from being awarded the Knight's Cross, one of the German Air Force's highest honors. But all the horrors he had seen earlier in the war led to a personal epiphany that had been building.

When Stigler flew close to Brown's plane, he saw "the eyes of the wounded bomber crew, young men no different than the ones he had been killing for two years," Makos writes. "He knew the Cross stood for bravery. But Franz realized it also represented a man's success at his most corrupted service to the world -- his prowess at killing other men. Franz knew he could not stop fighting. The war would not let him. But never again would he celebrate his job as a fighter pilot." He decided he couldn't shoot down a defenseless plane.

Before telling the story of Brown and Stigler, Makos, editor of the military magazine Valor, tells his own story, including how in 1996, as a high school student in Montoursville, Pa., he narrowly escaped being aboard a TWA flight that crashed, killing 16 of his classmates and his favorite teacher on their way to France.

Later, he followed three rules in editing his military magazine: "Get the facts right, tell stories that show our military in a good light, and ignore the enemy -- we do not honor them."

That third rule changed after Makos met Brown and Stigler. Brown had tracked down Stigler, who moved to Vancouver, Canada, after the war. They met in a 1990 reunion that led to articles and TV stories about the German fighter pilot who spared the American bomber.

When Brown was asked why Stigler had shown such mercy, he said, "I was too stupid to surrender. And Franz Stigler was too much of a gentleman to destroy us."

Of course, wartime chivalry goes only so far. A footnote near the end of the book points out that as the war wound down, "American fighter pilots knew that any German pilot still flying had to be an expert. This awareness led some American pilots (a small, unknown percentage) to shoot German pilots in their parachutes or after landing."

It concludes that "their logic was pragmatic. They did not want a German expert returning to the skies to kill a ten-man bomber crew, a buddy, or them."

Brown and Stigler, former enemies who became friends, died within months of each other in 2008. Their story is worth retelling and celebrating.

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