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Life Story / Obituary
Major Robert M. Japinga USA (Ret), age 91, of Lakeland, Florida, passed away on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Born June 9, 1924, to Martin and Marguerite (DeFouw) Japinga. He was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Sally. He is survived by his children: son Richard and Andrea Japinga of Bridgewater, New Jersey; son William and Jean Japinga of Ardsley, New York; daughter Katherine and Derek Whiteman of Douglas Michigan; grandsons Ian, Brian and Christopher Japinga; and brother Norman and Shirley Japinga of Holland Michigan.
Robert (Bob) enlisted in the US Army in 1943, becoming a company Radio Operator in the "Rolling W" 89th Division; the first troops convoyed directly to Europe, in WWII. He was most proud that his company was the first to liberate a Nazi Concentration Camp (Ordruf) in Germany. During and after the end of the war, he was given two temporary duty assignments serving under his father, MAJ Martin Japinga, in Ste. Meneholde and Reims, France. Major Awards included earning a Combat Infantry Badge, and being awarded a Bronze Star for combat actions. He attended the Biarritz American University before finally returning to the U.S. in April of 1946. He joined the Michigan National Guard with his father, and was promoted to Sergeant. He was later selected for Officer Candidate School, and graduated as Second Lieutenant. Upon assignment as an Officer, he served in South Korea as an Intelligence Officer in the Korean War interrogating North Korean and Chinese POW's. After the 1953 Armistice, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Transportation Corps, and was posted to Yokohama, Japan. Subsequent Cold War assignments included managing the construction logistics of the BEMEWS Early Warning radar systems in Thule, Greenland; promotion to Major, and Commanding Officer of a Truck Company in Augsburg, Germany; and a temporary assignment as an Observation Officer on patrols in East Berlin. Later assignments included managing transportation of the booster rockets for Project Gemini, and unmanned Projects Apollo flights, and military cargos to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. His final overseas assignment was in Inchon, South Korea, as the Director of Military and Executive Officer of the harbor. He was also stationed in multiple locations throughout the U.S., and retired in 1967.
He graduated from Hope College in Holland in 1951, and earned a Master's Degree in Transportation from the University of Tennessee in 1956. He began a 2nd career with International Minerals and Chemicals Corp. in 1967 and spent five years as Manager Director of a Canadian subsidiary in Vancouver, B.C. He transferred to Lakeland in 1974 as the Distribution Manager of IMC's phosphate division in Lake Wales; retiring a 2nd time in 1982.
Bob had an amazingly detailed memory and delighted in entertaining anyone he met with stories about his time in the Army.
Visitation will be Tuesday, August 4 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Dykstra Funeral Home – Mulder Chapel; 188 West 32nd Street. A Graveside service with military honors will take place Wednesday, August 5 at Pilgrim Home Cemetery at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the VFW.org.