WWII veteran served on Altoona City Council
RALPH ELY, Mar 16, 2013 (The Leader-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
then an Army reservist -- was supposed to have been on a ship sailing from Hawaii to the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
Ely ended up on a ship -- but one headed for Okinawa, Japan, and one of the fiercest battles in the Pacific during World War II.
"Bullets were flying all around," he told two members of the Pleasant Valley 4-H Club in 2004, who were interviewing him for the Veterans History Project. "There were lots of bodies floating."
Ely survived the war, but the longtime Altoona resident never forgot the importance of serving his country, said those who knew Ely. Ely died Wednesday at 91.
"He was real proud of his (military) service," said Cecil Berlin of Eau Claire, who got to know Ely when both were members of the Eau Claire County Patriotic Council. Berlin is a Navy veteran of the Korean War era.
During his life, Ely stayed extremely active in the VFW and served as commander of Post 10405 in Altoona at one time.
He also tried to erect a veterans memorial in Altoona, but he didn't live long enough to see the project come to fruition.
"That's too bad," said Ray Henning, a longtime Altoona resident who knew Ely for most of his life. "He was a great guy. Everybody liked him, and he was always so much fun to be around."
Ely liked to sing karaoke at the VFW, and he had a great voice, Henning said.
"He was a great asset to the city of Altoona," said Henning, Altoona City Council president. "He had a lot of knowledge. We're going to miss him."
Ely served on the Altoona City Council from 1992 to 2002.
Former City Council member Liz Lorge heard someone once describe him as "the big teddy bear who sat at the end of the table."
"I'm so sorry to hear about his death," she said Friday. "We didn't always agree on the issues when we were on the council, but I liked him."
Lorge recalled Ely talking about his military service and his family.
"I know he was so proud of serving his country in World War II," she said. "He was very dedicated to his wife, and he was very proud of his children."
Ely married Helen Cooper on May 26, 1944, in North Camp Hood, Texas. The pair met after he and other soldiers received candy and letters from girls in a home economics class at Eau Claire Senior High School, he told the 4-H members in 2004.
The servicemen wrote back and asked the girls to send their pictures. Cooper did, and she and Ely continued to write and later met when he came home for a visit.
The couple had three sons -- Dan, Mark and David -- and one daughter -- Anita. Helen died in 2010.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. today at United Methodist Church in Altoona. Visitation will be at 10 a.m. at the church.
O'Brien can be reached at 715-830-5838, 800-236-7077 email@example.com.
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