As dignitaries and public officials gave speeches Sunday at the unveiling of the in Royal Oak, a quiet unassuming gentleman briskly moved about the crowd taking photographs and documenting the event.
John Wendland, 78, a lifelong resident of Royal Oak, is passionate about veterans, history and Royal Oak's war memorials, so he was in his element at snapping numerous photographs to put into a scrapbook.
A veteran himself, serving in the 95th Combat Engineers in occupied Germany during 1954-55, Wendland is the historian of the Royal Oak Memorial Society and the , which is named for his uncle who was killed in World War I by enemy sniper on Oct. 4, 1918.
Wendland has tediously documented all of Royal Oak’s war memorials, which include two at , one in the , (also named for Frank Wendland), and the six memorials located between the and.
“John’s wife, Rosalie, told me their basement is filled with files,” said Carol Hennessey, co-chair of the . “His heart is with veterans. He makes sure there are flowers planted at the Veterans Memorial, makes sure the snow is shoveled at the memorial, takes pictures of every veteran event and makes scrapbooks and poster boards of all the different activities in Royal Oak.”
Wendland, a retired Oakland University groundskeeper, grew up in a family of four boys. His twin brother Roger, served in the U.S. Army in Iceland, and older brothers Bob and Don served in the South Pacific and Korea.
"My father, Walter, was in a train station with his twin brother ready to head off to war when he learned World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918," Wendland said. Walter’s brother Frank was killed just weeks before the end of the World War I.
“He’s a wonderful man,” said Chuck Bonar, a Royal Oak City employee. “He’s very passionate about veterans and history.”
Some of the research Wendland has done includes studying government records and old newspaper clippings to make sure no war dead names were omitted from Royal Oak’s Veterans War Memorial.
Much to his surprise, in 2006, he learned 22 names were missing. He worked tirelessly and the names were added to the memorial, according to Hennessey.
“Many families thanked him for his dedication,” Hennessey said. Having a loved one’s name added after so many years helped families have closure, she said. “He lives his life for that.”
“I did everything I could to get the names added. When the engravers put the names on I took pictures. I spent two days just taking pictures and watching,” Wendland said. “And it dawned on me that when I was 12 years old in 1946, I watched the original 102 names be put on the Word War II Memorial — 60 years later, I’m watching the same thing.”
Today, Wendland will be given the honor of being the Grand Marshal of the Memorial Day parade.
“When we asked him to be the Grand Marshal he said, ‘I can't, I have to take pictures.’ We told him not to worry that we would find another photographer,” Hennessey said. “When he finally accepted, he said, ‘What time do I have to be in line for the parade?’ I asked, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I want to take pictures before and after if I can't take them during the parade.’"
That is the kind of man he is, Hennessey said.
"He is dedicated to being the historian of the veterans in Royal Oak, and even though he is being honored, he still wants to take pictures,” she said.
Mayor Jim Ellison will honor Wendland with a proclamation on Memorial Day for Wendland's years of dedication to veterans and the community.
“I see him everywhere I go,” the mayor said. “He is always there ready to help.”
For anyone interested in Wendland's documentation of Royal Oak's war memorials, a copy of his research is available at the .