LIMA — Don Miehls and his wife, Christel, each have a sense of bravery, unmatched by any other.
Miehls was born in 1929 in Fort Jennings. He lived in Delphos during his school years and Lima after his stint in the Navy. Currently they live in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Miehls was just 17 years old when he joined the Navy, which put him in during the end of World War II.
“I thought I could see more of the world if I joined the Navy,” Miehls said. “I was transferred from Virginia to San Francisco, and that was Treasure Island, a beautiful area. From that point we took a ship to Long Beach, California, and then a train to San Diego and I was at the amphibious naval base. I then was transferred to the USS Pickaway. I was assigned to several ships but the USS Pickaway was the main one, and then I was on the USS Iowa, the battleship. I served on it.”
Because he joined toward the end of the war, he wasn’t involved in any direct battles, but there were clear dangers.
“When we were in Guam in 1946, there was still Japanese there still fighting when we went in port. And the same thing when we went in to other islands. The Japanese didn’t realize the war was over. So we had to be very, very careful,” Miehls said. “We would go to China and also Shanghai, I was a helmsman going up the Shanghai River and we were evacuating Marines from China. Of course, me just being 17, I really didn’t have the political knowledge of what was going on, other than we were just taking Marines out of China. This was in 1946 and 1947.”
Miehls served a little more than two years in the Navy.
“They wanted me to stay in the Navy, but for some reason, I just had a feeling I just didn’t want to be in the military and make that my career. I just wanted to get out and do my own thing. I enjoyed all the time I was in the Navy. I had a lot of fun,” he said.
“When I was on the USS Iowa, it was a flagship, and we ran in to port in Hawaii. The Hawaiians were so nice that they brought a regular band on our ship, and hula dancers and music and everything. We had a four star admiral on the ship. I can’t remember his name, but it was a flagship. The USS Iowa was the biggest battleship that was ever made at that time,” Miehls said.
After leaving the Navy he worked for one of the largest construction companies building highways in Ohio.
“I worked for them for a couple years actually. Then I entered college,” Miehls said.
Miehls’ wife, Christel, was born in 1931 in East Germany. She crossed the border at night to escape the communist regime when she was just 18 years old.
“The iron curtain was put up. Her parents encouraged her to go to America because this was the great, free country. They knew some people in Van Wert, who were distant relatives. Germany was just finishing the war and the communists had taken over and divided Germany. East Germany was given to the Russians. It was quite a mess,” Miehls said.
Christel crossed in the dead of night and ended up living with U.S. Brig. Gen. Samuel G. Conley near Heidelberg, Germany, before coming to the United States.
“Her uncle was the vice president of Amco Manufacturing Co., based in Coldwater, Ohio. Professor [Cyril G.] Giffin, of Giffin College in Van Wert, knew Gen. Conley because Gen. Conley was from Van Wert. That’s where the connection came with Christel’s parents contacting a distant relative and then Professor Giffin came in, and these things all came together and they explained that it would be great for Christel to come to America,” Miehls said.
Christel moved to Van Wert with Gen. Conley upon his return to the states.
Miehls entered Defiance College and Giffin College in Van Wert.
“I met Christel in Van Wert while attending Giffin College. I met her through one of my friends. We dated for about one year before getting married on June 28, 1952,” Miehls said.
The Miehls came to live in Lima after he was employed by Montgomery Ward. They had two sons, Brent and Dennis, who were both born at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima.
Christel received her citizenship at the Ohio Theater in Lima in 1956.
“She received the oath by a district judge that swore only probably 10 people back then,” Miehls said.
In 1957, Christel’s mother was allowed to visit.
“Both of them couldn’t leave East Germany at that time. Only one parent could,” Miehls said.
Her mother came a second time to the United States in 1975, when the Miehlses lived in New Mexico. They moved to New Mexico in 1962, and currently reside there.
“She came over when we lived in New Mexico. She’s been here twice. She was just utterly fascinated with America. She couldn’t believe when you went in a store that you could just buy everything. In East Germany, at that time, everything was restricted,” he said.
Miehls was transferred to a Montgomery Ward store in California in 1959.
While living in San Diego in 1960, Miehls had the pleasure of driving the lead car for the parade with John F. Kennedy when he was senator.
“That was back in 1960 in October and as you know in November he got elected president,” Miehls said.
Traveling to East Germany
Miehls and his wife went back to East Germany, after obtaining visas, in February 1961.
“Before I went into East Germany I stopped at the American embassy and I talked to the ambassador, I can’t remember his name, and he said, ‘Mr. Miehls, I want you to know if you go behind the iron curtain, there is nothing we can do for you. You’re going to be on your own.’ I said, ‘I just want to visit with my wife and her family. I’m not going over there for any political reasons.’ I never had a problem while I was there. The thing is, when I went in and talked to our embassy there, they simply said don’t talk politics or anything, just enjoy the food and the family. That’s what I did. I never had a problem. I learned what freedom is all about.”
Miehls became a restaurateur and entertainer, later becoming a general contractor and land developer of Fountain Hills Subdivision in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
He and his wife have been able to travel. Some of their destinations have included Central and South America, and all of the European countries. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in Paris; their 40th in Berlin; 50th in Alaska; and 60th on the Baltic Sea in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The couple celebrated their 65th anniversary on June 28. They are hoping to return to Ohio during the month of July to visit friends.
Reach Merri Hanjora at 567-242-0511