Seven decades have passed since the Mitchell men were in uniform.
They survive today as living testaments to those who fought in World War II, and on Memorial Day, when the nation remembers those who died in war and its veterans.
The men and women who fought in World War II are now mostly in their 90s. The Mitchell men are: Marion, 98, who served in the Army; John, 96, who was in the Army Air Corps; and Roy, 92, who was in the Navy.
Marion was at D-Day, John flew bombing missions over Europe and Roy was on the USS Enterprise when a kamikaze dive-bombed the ship.
The National WWII Museum notes that 430 World War II veterans die each day. Although 16 million served during the war, only 697,000 remain alive today.
About 8,000 World War II veterans lived in the Sacramento region during 2014, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures. That’s down from about 38,000 in 2000.
Recently the Mitchell brothers gathered in North Highlands at the home of Nancy Andrews, Roy’s daughter.
We lost a third of our airplanes and crews in our outfit. I made it back because of the luck of the draw.
John Mitchell, 96, a B-17 bomber pilot during WWII
Marion Mitchell, a combat engineer during the war, chokes up when asked about those who didn’t make it back from combat in Europe.
“Yeah, I do” think of those who didn’t survive, he said, before tears welled up in his eyes. He was at D-Day, but he minimizes his combat experience.
“I don’t celebrate Memorial Day these days,” he said. At one time, he placed flags on the graves of servicemen, along with fellow Veterans of Foreign Wars members.
He was discharged after the war ended and went on to hold jobs as a crane operator at Mare Island and an ironworker in San Francisco and Sacramento. He worked 24 years at Aerojet.
His wife of 60 years, Emelia, died in 2009. He lives today in a home near American River College.
John Mitchell piloted B-17 bombers during the war, though he trained to be a fighter pilot.
He and his fellow B-17 crews performed dangerous, valuable duty, pummeling German forces and industry. During the war, while stationed in England, he completed 30 missions between September 1943 and May 1944.
“We have always put the flags out on the graves of those who served on Memorial Day,” he said. “I think of the crews who died. We lost a third of our airplanes and crews in our outfit. I made it back because of the luck of the draw.”
After his term of active duty, he met his future wife, Evelyn, in Jackson, Miss. They have been married 70 years.
After his discharge, John worked as an aircraft mechanic at McClellan Air Force Base.
He also raised walnuts and cattle in Natomas before moving to Grass Valley when Sacramento International Airport was built on John and Evelyn’s land.
Roy Mitchell, who also now lives in Grass Valley, joined the Navy in 1943. Seaman first-class Mitchell boarded the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier.
“I’m really lucky that I made it back,” he said. Roy was on the Enterprise during 13 battles.
He was on board when a Japanese pilot dived his plane into the “Big E,” killing more than a dozen sailors. The ship returned to Bremerton, Wash., for repairs.
Later, the Enterprise and Mitchell would participate in Operation Magic Carpet, repatriating thousands of American military personnel from England and other foreign locations. He was discharged in 1946.
He has belonged to the American Legion for decades. On Memorial Day, he goes to a legion hall for speakers, singing and a gun salute.
He met his future wife, Doris, on a blind date, and they were married in 1947. He worked in the lumber industry and then in road construction.
The couple has lived the past 47 years in a Grass Valley home built shortly after the Civil War. Doris Mitchell sums up the three Mitchell men this way:
“Well, they were young boys when they went in,” she said. “They have always been really, really good people. They did what they had to do. They did their duty and came home and raised their families.”