By Dennis Nartker [email protected]
KENDALLVILLE — He was a real gentleman, an honorable man. Devon J. "Deacon" Ihrie was a machine gunner during World War II in the U.S. Army's 100th Infantry Division that fought its way through France and Germany. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army after the war ended. For 65 years, Mr. Ihrie served with the honor guard in Kendallville, performing ceremonies at veterans' funerals throughout northeast Indiana. He had to give it up in 2013 after suffering a debilitating fall. On Oct. 1, 2014, Mr. Ihrie flew with his son Steve and 69 other veterans from Fort Wayne to Washington, D.C., on the 14th Honor Flight Northeast Indiana. On Nov. 11, 2014, during the Veterans Day ceremony at Francis Vinyard VFW Post 2749, his fellow honor guard members honored Mr. Ihrie with the ribbon the group received from the Indiana National Guard in recognition of its volunteer service at veterans' funerals. A tearful Mr. Ihrie joined members of his family in presenting the post a black stone plaque inscribed with the words from "A Soldier's Prayer." Mr. Ihrie, 90, passed away on March 8, 2016. "He was a humble, modest man, an honorable man," said Ivan Dressler, a fellow honor guard member. Mr. Ihrie was born on April 9, 1925, in Kendallville to Orrie Lee and Mary Margaret (Lash) Ihrie. He married Joyce Marie Lafever, and she preceded him in death on Sept. 12, 1984. The lifetime area resident graduated from Kendallville High School in 1943 and was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was assigned to Company C of the 399th Regiment of the 100th Infantry Division as a member of a five-man .30-caliber machine gun squad. His division joined the U.S. Seventh Army's charge across France and into southern Germany. Pfc. Ihrie carried a 42-pound, water-cooled machine gun on his shoulder in battle from foxhole to foxhole and house to house in French villages. One night it was so cold Pfc. Ihrie's squad moved from their foxhole into a pillbox. Pfc. Ihrie fell and hit his head on the gun. He had frozen blood on his face and his commander wanted to put in for a Purple Heart, but Pfc. Ihrie didn't want it. In all, the 100th Infantry Division had 163 days of combat, suffered 12,215 casualties and captured 13,351 prisoners. Mr. Ihrie was awarded several medals and battle ribbons, including the Bronze Star for bravery. Mr. Ihrie's oldest son, Dan, served in the U.S. Army in Germany from 1970-1972. In March 1972, his parents came to visit. "My dad's objective was to go back to where he had fought during the war," Dan said. They drove into France and on foot located the pillbox where Mr. Ihrie had fought for nine days. "I'll never forget the look on my dad's face. He was very emotional," said his son. They drove to the town of Bitche, France, that Mr. Ihrie's company had liberated during the war. The mayor gave each of the American soldiers a card that said "Sons of Bitche." Mr. Ihrie had always kept that card in his wallet. At a guesthouse in Bitche, Mr. Ihrie learned the owner was the grandson of the mayor who had issued the cards. Mr. Ihrie showed him the card. "I felt like my dad was a hero again," Dan said. After the war, Mr. Ihrie returned to Kendallville and worked at Phelps Dodge and Kraft Foods before retiring in 1988. Mr. Ihrie and his wife, Joyce, raised five children, all East Noble graduates. He was a life member of American Legion Post 86, VFW Post 2749, Elks Lodge 1194 and a member of the former Moose Lodge 1301. He was the second oldest of the now combined honor guard made up of members from American Legion Post 86, VFW Post 2749 and American Legion Post 381. "Devon was the sergeant-at-arms and gave us orders," said honor guard member Tom Mortimore. "You never heard anyone say anything bad about Devon. He was well-liked." Mr. Ihrie's son Steve arranged for them to go on an honor flight to Washington, D.C., in April 2014, but he fell in March. "We didn't think Devon would regain the strength to do the trip, but we underestimated his determination," said Steve's wife, Sue. Steve joined his father for visits to the monuments in Washington, D.C., with the other veterans and their guardians. He has photos of his father at the monuments and memorials, and photos of his father smiling at everyone waiting to greet him when they returned. "What I will remember most about that trip is the hard work and determination it took on his part to be there," Steve said. Steve said his father had a strong work ethic and instilled in him that no matter what job you are doing, you do it right and to the best of your ability. "As I get older, people say I look just like him and act just like him. I hope to be like him and take those words as the best compliment anyone can give," Steve said. Mr. Ihrie was laid to rest in Lake View Cemetery, Kendallville, with his fellow honor guard members performing the special 21-gun salute ceremony for a veteran. His original honor guard uniform is displayed in a glass cabinet in VFW Post 2749.