Former Congressman John Dingell, Little Caesars Pizza Founder Mike Ilitch, Tuskegee Airman Alexander “Jeff” Jefferson and heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis are among eight metro Detroit military veterans who will be inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor ceremony in Lansing on May 17.
Dingell, who was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II, was ordered to take down the first wave of a planned invasion of Japan in 1945.
Ilitch served as a senior sergeant in the Marine Corps from 1947-1951. Instead of taking a minor league contract from the Detroit Tigers, he joined the Marine Corps and served in Parris Island, Quantico and Pearl Harbor, where he was an expert rifleman.
Jefferson, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces, U.S. Air Force during World War II, was shot down over Toulon in southern France in 1944, while attacking a radar installation. He was captured and was a prisoner of war. He was one of the founders of the Detroit and national chapters of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Louis, who was placed in the Special Services Division of the U.S. Army, went on a celebrity tour with others, including Sugar Ray Robinson, traveling more than 22,000 miles and staging 96 boxing exhibitions before 2 million World War II soldiers.
Other metro Detroiters who will be inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor include:
- Donald Eugene “Digger” Odell, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Air Force, from Mount Clemens
- Tyrone Chatman, SP4, U.S. Army 1970-1972 from Southfield
- Keith King, SP4 U.S. Army 1969-1971 from Redford
- Vincent W. Patton III, master petty officer, U.S. Coast Guard 1972-2002, from Detroit
In total 12 of Michigan’s most distinguished military veterans will be recognized at the first-ever event. The Hall of Honor event begins at 2 p.m. at the Michigan Military Museum, 702 W. Kalamazoo St., Lansing. It is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit www.mimilitaryvethallofhonor.org or call 517-539-1903
Michigan became just the 12th state with an entity to recognize veterans, active-duty and reserve personnel statewide. The inaugural event will honor soldiers with a connection to Michigan for their military service, or for their combined military, community and professional accomplishments.
“Honor is a core military virtue that, unlike fame, implies true worth, genuine virtue and real achievement — valorous and meritorious,” said retired Major General Robert W. Smith III, president of the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor. “The military veterans for whom we will honor at our inaugural ceremony exemplify these attributes through their military, personal and professional achievements.”
This year’s Hall of Honor inductees will be honored in two categories – Veterans and Military. Jefferson will be recognized in the Military category while the others will be honored in the Veterans category.
Here is some detailed information about the metro Detroit’s inductees in alphabetical order:
Tyrone Chatman, SP4, U.S. Army 1970-1972, from Southfield
Having grown up around drug and alcohol addiction, crime and poverty on Detroit’s East Side, Tyrone Chatman enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 17. He spent one year in Germany before serving in Vietnam, where he was a member of the Pacification Initiative, visiting villages and helping the civilians get the things they needed.
Decorated three times, he returned to Detroit, where he enrolled in a social work program at Wayne State University and began to assist fellow veterans with the stress of returning to a country that didn’t appreciate military service. Today, he is the executive director of the Michigan Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit that offers counseling, substance abuse treatment and housing to Michigan veterans.
Odell has been awarded the Spirit of Detroit award six times, received special proclamation by former Detroit City Council President Mary Ann Mahaffey and received the American Legion’s Americanism Medal.
John D. Dingell, second lieutenant, U.S. Army 1944-1946, from Dearborn
A World War II veteran, Dingell was ordered to take down the first wave of a planned invasion of Japan in 1945.
When he returned to the United States, he served as prosecuting attorney for Wayne County and then followed his passion for politics. In 1955 he began serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, a position he held until 2015.
He was a ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was viewed as a giant in shaping landmark laws cleaning up air and water, protecting endangered animals and advocating for national health care. He was chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 2007-2009 and was the 43rd Dean of the House of Representatives from 1995-2015.
He is one of only four people to have served in the House for 50 years, and during his career he has served with 2,453 different U.S. Representatives.
In 2014, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dingell died in 2019 and survived by his wife, Debbie Dingell, the first non-widowed wife to succeed her husband in Congress.
Michael Ilitch Sr., Sergeant, Marine Corps 1947-1951, from Detroit
A baseball enthusiast, Ilitch was offered a minor league contract after high school by the Detroit Tigers but instead joined the Marine Corps and served in Parris Island, Quantico and Pearl Harbor, where he was an expert rifleman.
After returning to the United States, the Tigers again offered him a contract and he played baseball for four seasons until a knee injury ended his dreams of making it to the major league.
In 1959, he opened his first Little Caesar’s Pizza Treat in Garden City.
Little Caesar’s soon grew into a successful franchise and he was able to purchase the Detroit Red Wings (1982), the Fox Theatre (1988) and the Detroit Tigers (1992). He established Ilitch Holdings in 1999.
Known for his dedication to Detroit, his work also has made an impact around the city with the “Little Caesars Love Kitchen” to feed the hungry; the Little Caesars Veterans Program, providing business opportunities to veterans; Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, helping thousands of children, and the Ilitch Charities for Children.
In 2008, then Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick gave the Ilitch family the key to the city.
Ilitch died in 2017 at the age of 87.
Alexander “Jeff” Jefferson, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army Air Forces, U.S. Air Force from Southfield
During his 19th mission over Toulon, southern France in 1944, while attacking a radar installation, Jefferson was shot down. Parachuting to safety and landing within a forest, he was immediately captured by Nazi ground troops. He was sent to a prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III in Poland, a specialist Luftwaffe-run camp for captured Allied Air Force personnel.
During his period of internment, Jefferson says he was treated like any other Air Force officer by his German captors.
He was then moved to Stalag VII-A, just outside Dachau. After the Russian Army entered Poland, the prisoners were marched to Munich by the Germans, where they were freed by General George Patton’s U.S. Third Army.
Jefferson’s many honors include a Purple Heart, Air Medal Air Force Achievement Medal Prisoner of War Medal, Air Force Presidential unit citation and an induction into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame.
A Tuskegee Airmen, he and his fellow airmen were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. An award-winning documentary, The Luft Gangster: Memoirs of A Second-Class Hero (2016), chronicles his life and legacy.
One of the famous Tuskegee Airmen born in Detroit, Jefferson was one of the founders of the Detroit and national chapters of the Tuskegee Airmen. He retired from the Detroit Public Schools as an assistant principal in 1969. He is 97 years old.
Keith King, SP4 U.S. Army 1969-1971, from Redford
King enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969 and at 19, after completing Military Police Advance training, was sent to Vietnam. There is was a M-60 machine gunner with the U.S. Army’s military police, protecting supply convoys running ammunition along the dangerous routes to American troops fighting in South Vietnam’s war-torn Central Highlands.
He earned the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Vietnam Service Medal (with two bronze campaign stars), Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Medal.
After the military, King earned an associate’s degree in business from Macomb Community College and held a succession of roles including sales manager for WPTT-TV, director of retail sales for WJR-AM and FM, vice president for new business development for J.K. Kidd and Co., and president and CEO for Keith King & Associates, LLC.
He has served as the national public affairs chairman for Vietnam Veterans of America (2005-2011) and president of the National Business Development Council, Detroit (2013-present). In 2012, he was named the State of Michigan, Midwest Regional and National Veteran Small Business Champion by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Joseph Louis “Joe Louis” Barrow, technical sergeant, U.S. Army 1942-1945, from Detroit
Placed in the Special Services Division of the U.S. Army, Louis went on a celebrity tour with others, including Sugar Ray Robinson, traveling more than 22,000 miles and staging 96 boxing exhibitions before 2 million World War II soldiers.
He received the Legion of Merit (a military decoration rarely awarded to enlisted soldiers) for “incalculable contribution to the general morale.” The honor qualified him for immediate release from military service in 1945.
His career has made him a household name. Louis finished his career with a 116-6 overall record and .951 winning percentage. He was named the No. 1 heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization in 2005 and in 2007 was ranked No. 4 in EPSN.com’s 50 Greatest Boxers of All Time list.
Countless statues and places honor him, including a large fist in downtown Detroit and the former home of the Red Wings, Joe Louis Arena.
He died in 1981 at the age of 66.
Donald Eugene “Digger” Odell, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Air Force, from Mount Clemens
Odell served with distinction as a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. He was shot down on his 17th mission over North Vietnam in 1967 and languished in the Hanoi Hilton for five and a half years as a POW where he survived torture and other mistreatment at the hands of his captors.
During his long military career (1952-1975), he was a flight Instructor, for Aviation Cadet Training and director of public affairs at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
He earned a Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with “V” device for valor with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, two Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, an Air Force Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 11 Bronze Battle Stars, Prisoner of War Medal and a Daughters of the American Revolution Medal of Honor.
In 2017, Odell was honored with street sign named after him at Selfridge Air National Guard Base on the 50th anniversary of the day his plane was shot down. He is 84.
Those who will be honored in the Veterans Category include:
Vincent W. Patton III, Master Petty Officer, U.S. Coast Guard 1972-2002, from Detroit
A member of Operation Support Democracy, Patton’s career has included staff and operational assignments, both afloat and ashore, throughout the United States and a joint military assignment in Cuba and Haiti.
He was the principal advisor to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Defense. He was the first African-American selected for the service’s senior-most enlisted rank as the eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard from 1998-2002.
Patton was an advisor and chaplain for the United Services Organization and director of Government Partnerships and Advances for Military Advantage from 2004-2011.
He was the 2016 president and CEO of warriors4wireless and senior vice president for leadership development for New Day USA.
Among his many accomplishments, he earned the Distinguished Service Award, two Meritorious Service Medals, three Coast Guard Commendation Medals, three Coast Guard Achievement Medals, three Humanitarian Service Medals, eight Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal and countless other accolades.
Four Michiganians will be inducted in the Military category:
- Margaret A. Brewer, brigadier general, U.S. Marine Corps, from Durand, Military category
- Duane D. Hackney, chief master sergeant, U.S. Air Force, from Flint
- Charles S. Kettles, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army, from Ypsilanti, Military category
- Jack R. Lousma, colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, from Grand Rapids, Military category
The Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor was established in 2018. It recognizes Michigan’s most distinguished service members and veterans through a Hall of Honor induction while creating a means and location to educate future generations of Michigan’s military legacy. To learn more, visit www.mimilitaryvethallofhonor.org. You can also follow the organization on Facebook.